Upper Silesia is the biggest industrial area in Poland. The primary activity is coal mining and metallurgy located around an urban complex of several densely populated cities with the total population 2.6 mln inhabitants. The cities are connected with one of the biggest and the most unique European tram networks which I’m going to describe briefly in this post.
Unfortunately, I do not have any so good map of Silesian Interurbans, as it was in case of Cracow. However, you can find a very good document on Wojewódzki Portal Komunikacyjny website:
The legend is in Polish, so here you can find some translations:
- Red colour - existing 1-track routes
- Green colour - existing 2-track routes
- Gray colour - closed or abandoned 2-track routes
- Black colour - closed or abandoned 1-track routes
- Bold - 1435 mm tracks
- Thin - 785 mm tracks
- Squares - tram depots:
- Green - existing
- Black - abandoned
- Dotted - abandoned (785 mm)
- Circles - balloon loops with similar colouring theme. The dotted circles represent loops with unknown track layout.
- Small squares have three possible meanings:
- Route ending without a balloon loop.
- Change point between 785 mm and 1435 mm routes
- State border crossing (between 1919 and 1939)
The map is equipped with lots of dates. For each route, you have five dates:
- Construction date
- Electrification date
- Reconstruction to 1435 mm gauge
- Construction of the second track
- Abandon date
For each tram depot, there are four dates:
- Depot construction
- Depot electrification
- Depot reconstruction to 1435 mm gauge
- Abandon date
For each loop, there are two dates: construction and abandon date.
(pon) means reopening the specified item again.
Brief history of Upper Silesia
Note that is quite hard to name correctly the lands I'm going to talk about because of historical reasons and divisions into several geographical areas. For the sake of clarity, in this text I included Zagłębie Dąbrowskie to Upper Silesia, formally a part of Lesser Poland, and limited the rest of the area to the current shape of Upper Silesian Industrial Region, cutting off the southern parts, where the trams do not appear.
The history of Poland began in 10. century. The newly formed country had very similar borders to the current one, on Odra and Bug rivers, including nearly whole Lower and Upper Silesia. In 1138, the dying king Bolesław Krzywousty divided the country into five districts, between his four sons (the fifth district was an "extra" land for the senior). This led to the total fragmentation that lasted two centuries. Meanwhile, the western parts were colonized by Germans. King Władysław Łokietek reunified Poland at the beginning of 14. century, but without Lower and most of Upper Silesia.
The mining and metallurgy in Upper Silesia has been developing since Medieval times, although there were actually no wars to take over the control over it and the borders between Kingdom of Poland and German lands was still. However, Poland was being weaker and weaker because of wars and inefficient political system. Finally, in 1772, 1793 and 1795, Prussia, Austria and Russia successfully removed it from European maps. After Napoleonian wars, the new borders were finally in place. Prussia controlled most of the area, Zagłębie Dąbrowskie went to Russia, and small south-eastern parts - to Austria.
In 1788 the first "modern" coal mine was opened in Tarnowskie Góry, with the first steam engines outside Great Britain. It was the beginning of the great development and industrialization of Upper Silesia. Under German and Russian government, small towns and villages were rapidly growing to the sizes of huge cities, as the new mines and steel mills were opened. Germany and Austria lost the first world war, and Russia fought against the civil war. On November 3, 1918 Poland proclaimed an independence and began the process of border forming. After the 123 years of living without their own country created lots of problems, including the real nationality mix. In Silesia, three uprisings took place to gain control over the whole area between Polish and German inhabitants. Finally, Allied arbitration divided the district. Poland received smaller, but more industrialized eastern section with the main city Katowice. Germany reorganized their own part into two provices: Upper and Lower Silesia, while in Poland, the granted lands were given an authonomy as a Silesian Voivodeship. It was the richest province of the newly formed country, producing most of its national product.
World War II brought another border change. After the lost war, the German citizens of Silesia and Pomerania were resettled to the west, and Poland got back to the borders from the medieval times. The entire Upper Silesian Industrial Region for the first time in the history was controlled by a single government.
History of Silesian Interurbans
The increasing population of Upper Silesian Industrial Region created a need to introduce a new mean of transport. In 1891, Kramer & Co. company from Berlin contacted Bytom municipalities, offering the construction of steam tram line and the next year, the contract was signed. The first line was planned between the city of Gliwice in the west, through Ruda Śląska and Bytom to Piekary Śląskie in the north. In 1893, the new law forced important changes in the contract, including the change of the track gauge from 1000 to 785 mm. The entire route was opened in parts between May 24 and December 30, 1894 and was 34,5 km long. It consisted of a single track with passes-by. It quickly occured that the steam engines have to be replaced by horses in the city centres due to the complaints about the terrible noise made by the citizens.
In 1897 and 1898 the first power plants were opened in Zabrze and Chorzów which made an opportunity to electrify the existing tram routes. In 1900, the new route from Ruda Śląska through Katowice to Mysłowice was built together with the catenary. Horses ended their service in 1899, and in 1901 the last steam locomotives were abandoned. The network was 123 km long and was still extended to new locations.
At the end of the first decade of 20. century, the municipalities decided to change the track gauge to 1435 mm. The first route with the new gauge was opened in 1912 in Katowice. It was only 1,95 km long and the depot could contain only 10 cars. It was a part of the bigger plans to connect Katowice with Ligota. Some parts of it were opened many years later, but Ligota does not have a tram even today. The normal gauge routes were also opened in Bytom.
After the first world war, the network was divided by the national border in seven places. The process of reorganizing the property lasted to 1922, but some routes were reconstructed or abandoned. Meanwhile, the new tram companies continued the process of rebuilding the routes to the normal gauge, and at the same time, the cities in Zagłębie Dąbrowskie decided to build their own tram lines, too. In 1922 Sosnowiec, Będzin, Dąbrowa Górnicza and Czeladź established a tram company Towarzystwo Tramwajów Elektrycznych w Zagłębiu Dąbrowskim Spółka z ograniczoną poręką which was bought by Tramwaje Elektryczne w Zagłębiu Dąbrowskim Spółka Akcyjna (Electric Trams in Zagłębie Dąbrowskie S.A.) in 1926. The first route from Sosnowiec to Będzin was opened two years later.
Finally, in 1937 there were:
- 25 km of tram routes in Zagłębie Dąbrowskie (note: they became connected to the rest of the network in the early 30-ies)
- 77 km in Polish Upper Silesia
- 18 km of tracks owned by tram company from Bytom (Germany)
- 36 km of tracks owned by Verkehrsbetriebe Oberschlesien A.G. company (Germany)
On the German side, the conversion to the normal gauge was finished in 1936. On the other side of the border, 46% of the network was converted to 1931, but then the works were delayed for four years due to a financial crisis. Furthermore, some routes with the most dense traffic were given a second track.
After the second world war, the entire network went under the Polish administration. In 1945, German troops caused some damage in the tram infrastructure. Trams in Zagłębie restored their operation on January 19, 1945, in Katowice - February 3, in Bytom and Gliwice - on March 19. In July, the network was taken over by the newly formed national company Koleje Elektryczne Zagłębia Śląsko-Dąbrowskiego. Three years later it was reorganized into a regional public transport union Śląsko-Dąbrowskie Linie Komunikacyjne controlling both tram and bus lines, renamed in 1951 to Wojewódzkie Przedsiębiorstwo Komunikacyjne w Katowicach (Voivodeship Transport Company in Katowice). At the same time, many new routes were opened, and the last 785 mm tracks were closed.
On April 13, 1959, a strange accident happened in Zabrze. The viaduct above the railroad station collapsed, cutting of the tracks of tram line 3 Mikulczyce-Makoszowy. Its southern part with five trams was separated from the rest of the network. Despite the lack of depots and the repair halls, the trams continued to operate on the route from Makoszowy to the railroad station until the new tracks were layed in 1962.
In 1970-ies, WPK began a process of reorganizing and modernizing the tram infrastructure. In 1971, the completely new route layout in Bytom was opened. Another "modernized" cities were Dąbrowa Górnicza, Będzin and Sosnowiec. The existing streets were widened and the trams were given their separate tracks. Unfortunately, at the same time the process of closing down secondary lines began. In 1976, the route from Bytom to Dąbrowa Miejska was closed, however the tracks were still kept and it allowed to reopen a small part of it as a line 38 after the protests of citizens. Between 1979 and 1982, the route to Piekary Śląskie was closed in two stages. Due to the fatal condition of the track under the railroad viaduct, the routes to Rokitnica and Miechowice were abandoned. Once the viaduct was rebuilt in the new location, the designers did not save any place for tram tracks, cancelling the possibility of tram return to those districts. Between 1985 and 1992, lots of tram routes in Gliwice were closed, reducing the potential of the network in that city.
In 1989, Poland managed to break down the connection to the USSR and became a truly independent country with the capitalistic economy. Unfortunately, the transformation process did not went well in case of Silesian trams. The company was eventually privatized and sold to the Silesian cities in... 2007. Meanwhile, the condition of the infrastructure and the rolling stock was worse and worse. The only bigger reconstruction took place in 2000, when the route from Katowice to Chorzów was modernized. At the same time, the first (and currently the only) 17 low-floor trams were bought: Alstom-Konstal Citadis 100, also known as Konstal 116Nd. The reconstruction process has been speeded up in the last two years, after the cities gained the control over the new company, Tramwaje Śląskie S.A. (Silesian Interurbans), but there is still a lot to do. Moreover, the company suffers from lack of the idea, what the purpose of trams in the modern Silesian urban area should actually be. While some cities attempt to reconstruct their tracks, the others close them down. The most notable examples are:
- Shutting down the route from Będzin to Wojkowice in 2006.
- Shutting down the route from Chorzów to Siemianowice Śląskie on January 1st, 2009 (the sad thing is that Chorzów tried to become one of the host cities for Euro 2012...)
- Shutting down the tram communication in Gliwice on September 1st, 2009.
The characteristics of Silesian tram network
Currently Silesian Interurbans are in possesion of 341 km of single tram track which gives us about 200 km of tram routes. Some of them consist of two tracks, but most of them work without any traffic changes for 100 years: a single track plus some passes-by, where a tram can wait for another tram coming from the opposite direction. The tram lines do not change for many years, and a lot of the existing infrastructure is constructed to suit their particular needs. For example, if there is no line that turns left on some junction, there are no tracks to turn left. The control systems are quite primitive and are very unreliable. The switches on the junctions are controlled either manually or through a system called sanki. It requires to decrease the voltage of the current taken by the tram just before entering the junction. In Ruda Śląska, we can see a unique traffic control system on a single track route. On every pass-by, there are two lamps, one for each direction. If the light is on, the tram can enter the shared track. The driver activates the light by getting out the tram and turning the key in a small box with some electric device.
The current rolling stock of Silesian Interurban consists of six types of trams, all produced here, in Silesia.
- Konstal N - a primitive tram produced between 1948 and 1956 by Konstal factory in Chorzów. There are only two of them in a normal service on a line 38 in Bytom, and are the last two trams of this type in Poland in a normal operation.
- Konstal 105N - a popular Polish tram produced between 1973 and 1979 by Konstal.
- Konstal 105Na - an upgraded version of Konstal 105N, produced between 1979 and 1992, the most popular tram in Poland nowadays.
- Konstal 111N - a bidirectional version of Konstal 105Na produced in 1993 for Gliwice. There are only six of them, connected into three trams.
- Moderus Alfa - it is a Konstal 105Na tram heavily modernized by Modertrans company from Poznań.
- Alstom-Konstal Citadis 100 - 17 low-floor trams produced in 2000.
Unfortunately, the entire network is in very bad condition. Most of the rails are ruined and the visitors from other cities are often wondering, how it is possible to drive on something like that. From my visit in Silesia I especially remembered creasy rails on turns and junctions. The rolling stock does not look well, too. Many trams suffer from damages, and are devastated inside. In 2007 and 2008 Cracow was selling old Konstal 105Na trams to Silesian Urbans instead of sending them to a scrapheap, because despite their age, they were looking much better than younger Silesian trams.
An interesting episode concerns Konstal 111N trams. Together with old Konstal N-s, they are the only bidirectional trams in Silesia. They were designed especially for the purpose of viaduct reconstruction in Gliwice which cut off that city from the rest of the network for three years. One of the sides was not ended with a balloon loop, so there was a need to construct bidirectional trams which do not need it to turn back. The designers in Konstal simply took an ordinary 105Na tram, put the doors on two sides and connected the backs of two such trams into a train. There were only six of them constructed ever and since then, they serve in Gliwice tram depot.
In 2006, two 111N-s were lent to Kraków in exchange for two 105Na trams. They were needed due to the partial opening of a new route on Pawia street temporarily not connected to a balloon loop. In Cracow, they stayed there for two years, helping on further track reconstructions, but despite a general reconstruction right after arrival, they were very unreliable and suffered from many problems. The drivers quickly gave them a nickname Gliwice's Revenge which refers to selling the old Cracow trams to Silesia. The revenge was amazing - one day the tram lost one of the engines during travelling through a roundabout. The mechanical engineers were even better, because they fixed it in a few hours, so that the tram appeared on a line on the same day (it was really needed, because there was another, quite long route without a balloon loop).
So far, I have been twice to Silesia: in June 2009 and for the New Year 2010 celebration (in a tram), three weeks ago. Unfortunately, although both of the photo galleries are actually translated into English, I was forced to close down this functionality for a while due to the last DoS attack on my website. When I'll get a new server, I'll reopen them again and put them here, and for now, I publish four photos from June.
Konstal 105Na in Mysłowice. These relatively short trams (13.5 m) can be connected into bigger trains: up to 5 cars, four tested in practice ever, but due to the lack of rolling stock, single units are a very common view.
This is Konstal 105N, an earlier version of 105Na, met in Katowice on one of very few reconstructed routes.
A modernized 105Na tram in the centre of Bytom.
Alstom Citadis in Bytom. It is quite short, having only 22 metres long, and not-so-well designed, as we should expect from Alstom. There were many problems with the very light construction. The interior is also a nightmare. The main disadvantage is the bogey in the middle module which consumes most of the free space there.
Gliwice is the city in the western part of Upper Silesian Industrial Region, and as we remember from the history part, one of two first cities, where the Silesian trams began their service. Between 1985 and 1992, most of the tram network in Gliwice was closed down due to unknown reasons (at least for me), heavily reducing the transport potential. There was only one route left: from Wójtowa Wieś district to Zabrze, and there were two lines that reached it: 1 and 4. In 2007, Gliwice together with other cities in the region, gained actions of Silesian Interurbans company, allowing them to manage it, as they want to. There were plans to build new tram routes in the future, but at the end of 2008, Zbigniew Frankiewicz, the president of the city surprisingly said that trams can eventually disappear from the streets due to the costs of modernization and the disappointment that 'most of the money goes to Katowice'. Despite the massive protests, he forced KZK GOP (the public transport manager in Silesia) to shorten the lines 1 and 4 to Gliwice borders and replace the closed part with buses, operated by entirely his own (I mean "city") bus transport company. The
The last tram left Wójtowa Wieś loop on 3.26 AM on September 1st, and at the same day, the new low-floor buses appeared on the streets. However, both of the tram lines are formally "temporarily shortened", so Silesian Interurbans have kept the tracks and powered the wires to prevent stealing them. In November, a technical tram tested the tracks and managed to reach the loop and get back without any problems. The citizens organized a voting against the president and the city council, but due to the low frequency it was not considered as valid. The president attempts to remove the tracks, too. The infrastructure belongs to Silesian Interurbans, so he cannot simply order to destroy them. Frankiewicz argues that the roads around the tracks are in very poor condition, claiming that Silesian Interurbans should take care of them. They respond that they have no interest in modernizing or fixing the legacy infrastructure that does not earn money. However, Frankiewicz started reconstructing some parts of the roads on his own in December. The workers 'by accident' asphalted the rows in the tram rails and cleaned them after the public criticism. In the last days, the president ordered a survey among the citizens to check 'if the decision on the last public transport reorganization was good'. The randomly chosen respondents could point one of four answers:
- 'It did not help'
- 'It helped'
- 'I have no idea'
- 'I do not use public transport'
47% voters chose the first option, but the president summed up that 'The results of the survey say that there is no need to return to the previous state'. The only hope are the incoming city council elections this year. Until the tracks are still in the ground, everything can be reversed.
One of the biggest European tram networks suffers from many problems and the lack of vision what role it should play in the modern Silesian aglomeration. However, if you get somewhere in the neighbourhood, try to find some time to visit it. Its uniqueness is really worth it.
PS. I had little time to prepare this post, so please excuse me some mistakes and shortened parts. I'll write the rest in my free time as soon as it will be possible.