The Prague tramway network is traditionally the backbone of the city's public transport system. Despite the development of the metro from the 1970s and the continued expansion of the bus network, trams continue to perform a central role, carrying broadly one third of passengers. With a route length of over 140 km and a fleet of around 800 trams, it is one of the world's largest tram systems.
Tatra T3 Heaven
For the enthusiast, and even for the casual observer, what singles out the Prague tram system as being something special is the predominance, even today, of the iconic Tatra T3 tram and its derivitives. This is a design dating to the beginning of the 1960s with a heritage linked (via the T1 and T2) to the innovative American PCC design of the 1920s. In mid-2011 around 70% of the Prague fleet, that's around 670 trams, consisted of T3 types, but by November 2016 that was down to some 400 trams, about 55% of the operational fleet. Surprisingly, more than a third of the 1,193 T3 trams delivered to Prague between 1962 and 1989 survive today in one form or another, although many have new bodies. The last unmodernised examples of the standard T3 were withdrawn in 2012, and only a handful of the later SU/SUCS model from the 1980s remain in service in more or less original condition. Their numbers are reducing fast as new larger trams are being delivered. The majority of T3 types have modernised traction equipment. Some 69 have brand new bodies built since 2001, some with low-floor areas, but even these retain the classic T3 shape. The different subtypes are examined below.
Prague therefore has the biggest fleet anywhere of T3 trams, which is appropriate considering they were built in Prague, in a factory now demolished to make way for the huge Nový Smíchov shopping centre. To put this into context, however, the vast majority of T3s were actually exported to Russia, thanks to Comecon centralised purchasing during the Soviet era. Of over 14,000 built between 1962 and 1989, a huge 11,353 were delivered to 34 different Soviet fleets, Moscow alone having had 2,069 and Kiev 923. They did not feature in the large St Petersburg fleet as they chose to build their own trams.
In Russia, over 1,800 T3 trams were still in service in 2016 (Metro Report 9/16), representing around 25% of Russian fleets, but numbers have certainly dwindled due to heavy usage, poor track, poor maintenance and gruelling weather. In the Czech Republic, the policy of keeping the T3s going by modernising and rebuilding has been necessary for financial reasons, and the tram undertakings (notably Prague and Ostrava) have built up considerable expertise in this area, as have a handful of engineering companies keen to diversify in the post-Communist era.
FLEET SUMMARY: Tatra T3 types
The T3 fleet can be summarised as follows (information is current as at November 2016):
T3 Original and unmodernised
Deliveries of the standard T3 to Prague consisted of 901 cars built from 1961 to 1976. In July 2011 only three unmodernised examples were still in service, dating from 1973-76, used as the rear car of a pair (with pantograph up) and carrying their original fleet numbers 6863, 6892 and 6921, based at Strašnice depot. Their final journey was in December 2011 when 6892 and 6921 were withdrawn from route 22. [More T3 photos]
T3 number 6149 built in 1962 is on display at the Střešovice transport museum, restored to early 1960s condition. This has recently been joined in the heritage fleet by 6102, the first production tram from 1961.
Details of the original deliveries of T3 trams to Prague are as follows: T3s of series I and II were numbered 6102-6327 (delivered 1962-64, though 6102 dates from 1961), series III trams were numbered 6328-6505 (delivered 1964-65), series IV trams dating from 1966-68 were 6506-6715 (also 6138 and 6164 replacing accident or fire damaged trams with the same numbers). No trams were delivered in 1969. Series V trams were delivered 1970-71 numbered 6716-6810 (also replacements 6289 and 6779 in 1970/72 respectively), and the final batches (also series V) were delivered 1973-76 numbered 6811-6992 (together with replacements for 6163, 6457, 6736, 6795 and 6798). That gives a total of 901 including the prototype.
Photo: the interior of unmodernised T3 tram 6909, still in service in September 2010 but withdrawn in 2011.
T3SU and T3SUCS The second coming of the T3
Following delivery of the last standard T3s in 1976, a gap of several years ensued, and a suitable replacement for the T3 was still not available. However, they were still being built in Prague for the Russian market, and these later T3s were therefore based on the Russian version (SU = Soviet Union). The initial batch of 20 were designated T3SU and delivered in 1982 numbered 7001-20. These were built using spare parts or uncompleted trams. Only two unmodernised examples remain in the fleet (down from 12 in 2010) but both are withdrawn. They carry their original numbers.
It was decided to resume deliveries, and 272 further T3s of type T3SUCS were built for Prague between 1983 and 1989, numbered 7021-7292. They were basically the Soviet Union version (SU), but with slight modifications for the Czech market (hence CS). The T3SUCS trams were delivered in batches numbered 7021-70 (1983), 7071-7150 (1985), 7151-90 (1986), 7191-7252 (1987) and 7253 - 7292 (1989). Some of the latter (7253, 7272-92) did not enter service until 1990. Numbers are dwindling fast; there were 214 in July 2011, 77 in September 2015, but as at November 2016 only 38 survive, just 15 of which remain in the operational fleet.
The main difference between the standard T3 and the SU or SUCS version is the all-enclosed cab (also found in modernised T3s), since the driver's partition stopped short of the ceiling in the standard version. There were also some other modifications to deal with the more severe weather conditions found in Russia.
All of the unmodernised T3, T3SU and T3SUCS trams had/have a small route number box at the front, as opposed to a full-width display on modernised T3R vehicles. In July 2011 there were around 230 largely unmodernised T3/T3SU/T3SUCS types in total, making up a third of all T3 types and around 22% of the total fleet, whilst in November 2016 there are 40 trams, only 15 of which are operational, being T3SUCS allocated to Žižkov depot. Ride on them while you can, as they are rapidly being ousted by brand new Skoda 15T trams. Note the total size of the operational fleet is reducing as new larger trams replace old ones: 961 trams in December 2010, 721 in November 2016.
Photo: 7172 heads a pair of T3SUCS in advertising livery on route 22 in September 2010.
T3M and T3M2-DVC The first modernised T3s
The T3M trams were the first T3s to be modernised with TV1 thyristor control equipment, replacing the mechanical system in the standard vehicle. DP Praha converted 102 trams between 1973 and 1981, even whilst new T3s were being delivered, and they were given new numbers 8005-8106. Tatra themselves would not supply trams with electronic equipment at the time.
In 1996-98 those with the worst corrosion were given new bodies in the standard T3 style and reclassified T3M2-DVC - there are 18 of these and they retain their 8xxx fleet numbers, namely 8009, 8015, 8051, 8053, 8063, 8067, 8068, 8072, 8074, 8076, 8077, 8079, 8080, 8082, 8083, 8087, 8088, 8089. All are allocated to Hloubětín depot. T3M and T3M2-DVC trams can be identified by the equipment box on the roof, just ahead of the rear door. All 18 of the rebodied T3M2-DVC trams remain in the fleet, but only seven T3M trams are left (excluding number 8029 below), two of which are operational.
T3M 8029 was damaged in an accident in 2001 and was subsequently rebodied by Pars Nova using parts from an Olomouc tram, entering service in 2003 and redesignated T3M2-DVC. Some design features from the T3R.P (see below) were used. This non-standard tram has been used to try out various types of equipment including, in 2005, a new type of seat upholstery.
Photo: T3M2-DVC number 8077 on route 15 in Vysočany (September 2010). In 2012 this tram became a prototype for a new electronic passenger information system.
T3R.P The standard upgrade
The T3R.P is Prague's standard modernised T3, consisting of 315 vehicles converted between 2001 and 2010. They account for more than a third of the entire fleet. They have Progress thyristor control equipment, hence the P in the type designation.
Most have as their origins standard T3 or T3SUCS cars built from 1966 onwards, although a handful of earlier cars from 1962 to 1965 have also been modernised to T3R.P (many of the earlier T3s were withdrawn in the mid 1980s whereas later examples have mostly been modernised). 35 cars were modernised by Pars Nova a.s. Šumperk, whilst the bulk were converted at DP Praha's main works.
Trams have been renumbered on modernisation into the series 8211-8245 (rebuilt by Pars Nova) and 8300-8579 (rebuilt by DP Praha). They can be distinguished from unmodernised trams by the full-width destination blind at the front.
Photo: T3R.P number 8554 at Barrandov turning circle (September 2010).
T3R.PV and T3R.PLF New versions of the T3
Both of these later types have new bodies due to extensive corrosion of the originals, and are therefore to a large extent brand new trams using refurbished T3 trucks. The traditional method of control by foot pedals is retained. The new bodies (designated VarCB3) were built by local company Pragoimex and are based on the distinctive T3 shape using modern methods of construction. There are 35 T3R.PV built between 2001 and 2007 and numbered 8151-8185.
A later variation on the design is the T3R.PLF which has a low-floor section around the area of the central door. They were built from 2006 to 2010 and there are 33 of this type numbered 8251-8283. They are easily identified from a distance by their maroon and silver livery and silver flashes either side of the central door. Certain T3R.PV and T3R.P vehicles carry the same livery to run as a pair with T3R.PLF trams. All T3R.PV and T3R.PLF trams are allocated to Strašnice depot, except for two PLF at Hloubětín.
Photo: T3R.PLF number 8276 at Barrandov showing low-floor area in centre (September 2010).
In addition to the operational fleet, around 19 T3 trams are in the current works fleet, known as Pracovni and numbered in the 54xx or 55xx series. The majority are training cars (Cvičné). Each depot has at least one works car, whilst the training fleet is based at Pancrác depot. The central works at Hostivař has two of the works cars.
Photo: driver training tram 5524 is of type T3R.P. It joined the training fleet in 2008 and is seen here at the Zborovská tram stop in Smichov in October 2009.
FLEET SUMMARY: Other types
The rest of the fleet consists of around 414 trams (48% of the total), up from 259 trams (27%) in mid-2011. They can be divided into four categories:
KT8D5.RN2P Articulation 1980s style
Distinctly angular in design compared to the T3, the KT8D5 is a three-section articulated tram built by ČKD Tatra from 1986 to 1991, concurrently with the later T3SUCS cars. Prague took 48 of the KT8D5 between 1986 and 1990, numbered 9001-9048. Unusually for Prague, they are bidirectional trams with a cab at both ends and doors on both sides.
In a gradual modernisation programme which lasted from 2004 to 2014, all 48 trams were modernised to type KT8D5.RN2P. The last unmodernised examples were taken out of service in 2013. This is a thorough upgrade with many new parts, including new TV3 traction equipment. The central section has been discarded altogether and replaced by a newly built low-floor section. Fleet numbers were increased by 50 on modernisation so they are now numbered 9051 to 9098.
Note that unlike Brno, Ostrava or Bratislava, Prague did not purchase any of the earlier articulated design, the K2, which had a family resemblance to the T3.
Photo: KT8D5.RN2P number 9095 crossing the 'grand union' junction at Palmovka (September 2010).
Tatra T6A5 1990s successor to the T3
This unidirectional design was built by ČKD Tatra from 1991 to 1997 with a total of 296 being built for five different Czech and Slovak fleets. Prague was the biggest customer, taking 150 of the third (and most advanced) series between 1995 and 1997, numbering them 8601-8750. Withdrawals are underway, with 118 remaining in the fleet (13 of which are withdrawn). They run either as single trams or in pairs, largely depending on the route.
An oddity dating from 1998 was fleet number 8600 which was designated T6A5.3. Looking very much like a normal T6A5, it was in fact an experimental rebuild using some T3 parts as well as elements of the T6A5. It was withdrawn from the operational fleet in 2011.
Photo: T6A5 number 8725 at the Olšanské Hrbitovy terminus of route 5 (September 2010).
Skoda 14T Trams for the new Century
These 60 high-tech low-floor trams were built by Skoda in Plzeň and delivered between 2005 and 2009, numbered 9111-9170. These were the first new trams for Prague for several years. The 14T is 30.25 metres long and has five separate articulated sections. The cabs of these unidirectional trams are partitioned off by glass screens and have their own external doors. They are often known as "Porsche" trams due to the involvement of that company in the design. All 60 were initially allocated to Motol depot, which then ran only 14T and T6A5 trams for several years.
Unfortunately, various design aspects of the 14T trams have proved unpopular with the public - for example the lack of a door at the front of the tram (it's only for the driver). The long overhang and uneven axle loads have also proved problematic, plus there have been many expensive gearbox failures. Despite the trams being relatively new, all were withdrawn in 2014. However, a programme to modify the trams commenced in 2016 and 18 had re-entered service by November, the rest remaining in store.
Note that fleet numbers 9101-9104 were used for an unsuccessful ČKD Tatra low-floor design known as RT6N1 built in 1997, following testing of a 1993 prototype. Due to regular failures they were withdrawn from passenger service in 1999 and spent most of their time out of use, despite an attempt to improve and renovate one of the trams in 2004, designated RT6N2. All four were sold in 2009. Other RT6N1 trams were delivered to Brno (4), where similar problems were encountered, and Poznań (10).
Photo: Skoda 14T number 9147 at Hlavní station (September 2010).
Skoda 15T ForCity The latest design
Latest deliveries are of a new Skoda type designated 15T ForCity. These have been specifically designed with the Prague network in mind, in an attempt to avoid the problems of the previous 14T design. They are 100% low-floor unidirectional trams with three sections and a length of 31.4 metres. Maximum speed is 60 km/h. There are 61 seats and capacity is up to 300 passengers.
A prototype numbered 9201 was delivered in 2008, whilst deliveries of production trams numbered 9202-9325 commenced in late 2010. Trials with passengers commenced in October 2010 and the first 15T trams entered officially into passenger service in February 2011. 250 Skoda 15T trams were ordered, and the first 125 were delivered by 2015. Initially allocated to Pankrác depot for routes 11, 18 and 24, they are now operating on a variety of routes mainly from Pancrác and Vokovice depots.
Following renegotiation of the contract in 2014, the final 125 trams numbered 9326-9450 (delivered from 2015 onwards) incorporate air-conditioning and wi-fi as well as detail design differences, and are designated 15T4. As at November 2016 trams numbered up to 9393 had been delivered, with the 15T4 series being allocated mostly to Motol depot, with a few at Vokovice. Deliveries are expected to continue until 2018.
The new Skoda trams are rapidly replacing older types. The large capacity of the new trams means that one new vehicle can replace two of the old T3 trams.
Photo: Skoda 15T number 9211 at Strossmayerovo námestí in July 2011. These new trams made a brief appearance on route 17 in July/Aug 2011.