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Gera or the heritage of the GDR

With thanks to the local expert, tramwayfan Jens Geks for his comments

As we look at the city map one thing will be suspicious: there are no tramways at the main railway station! Although in Germany, in most of the towns, the city centre is at the main station, and if there is a tramway in the city, you can be quite sure that it goes there, too. Not in Gera. There isn't a line 1 either! But there are lines 2 and 3. The first thing that came to my mind: I'm sure there had had to be a line 1 before!
Source: Strassenbahnen zu Ulbrichts Zeiten *
And we're right: Gera's network in the former GDR used to be much larger than after the iron curtain has fallen down. On the picture above you can see a freight locomotive on the tramway tracks. These freight trams have carried coal among others from the Gera-Pforten station of the narrow-gauge railways to the local factories until February 1963. Even a pair of overhead wires can be seen in the right corner, for electric trolley-buses, so this means the town used to be well-provided with fixed-track mass transport.

Due to the fact that we were supposed to travel by trams, we had to take a walk or a bus. We decided on the first, we reached Puschkinplatz via Ernst-Toller-Strasse. Right here we can see some lost rails which had been used years or decades before, and been left here. On the pictures above you can see a double track line, covered by asphalt, timidly...

...a few meters beside pieces among the setts, of what used to be a tramway track turning from the De-Smit Strasse to the earlier mentioned ones. To see when the picture was taken, take a closer look on the Stop-sign and its added political message: it was after USA attacked Iraq again. The joke on the picture on the right: you can see in the background that they already build a new tramway line where earlier ones lie beneath the asphalt, the new line 1, which - filling a great space for me at least :-)) - will lead to the main railway station (turning here right of the picture).

But if we take our walk further, line 3 intersects the Johannisstrasse. The tram departs from the central station for local buses and trams, Heinrichstrasse, then it comes up, passes under a building, crosses our promenade and finally leaves under an arcade of another building.

Yes, there is a single track operation here because of building one of the houses, and they also use clambering junctions just like in Schkopau near Halle, in order to divert the trams to the only track. As you can see, it can be installed on tracks with beddings, too, only concrete plates have to be layed before. The former tramway line led behind the houses on the left, through the Sorge, until 1984.

I wondered why the trams of line 3 (a pair of CKD-made KT4D's or their modified versions) go so frequently, more frequently than neccessary according to the number of passengers - but as a tourist, I was just happy about it. Our first workhorse is no. 351 type KTNF8, which was originally a four-axle KT4D tram made by CKD in Prague, but was lenghtened by a four-axle, low floor middle section with bogies, to make an eight-axle, long car. The middle sections of these cars were made at CKD Praha or in the halls of Bombardier, formerly Waggon-Union in Berlin, the small-wheeled bogies were supplied by Alstom, formerly LHB in Salzgitter. The chopper motor control of this car is a type TV14, by CKD.

Interior of the low floor middle section. It has plenty of inner height, that's for sure! :-)

We reached the end station in Lusan, exactly Lusan/Zeulsdorf. The description Niederflurbahn (low floor train) is quite megalomanic, the low floor part is only about 4-5 metres long despite the 46 metre long train of two cars. This is the most they can do by the budget, you can meet these low floor "trains" according to the fixed half-hour-rythm schedule, or in other times by luck.

A more usual looking KT4 train departs back to the city, they are two of the modernized series KT4D M. You can easily see the difference between the modernized cars with chopper control KT4D MC and these: for example looking at their electric coupler covers. The cars with chopper have their coupler covers painted yellow while the cover of the modernized cars without chopper remained the same gray, not to couple the two types together electrically by mistake.

Meanwhile the driver of our previous train gets some brakesand from the silo. You can see the coupler cover of car 356 is painted yellow, this is a car with chopper.

Metre gauge Tatra-bogie.

Trams, having a rest in the end station loop, on the reserve tracks.

This is a Linke-Hofmann-Busch (Alstom) bogie of the low floor middle section with its small wheels.

Despite the place was full of trams, I had a bad feeling: this housing estate (or barrack :-) ) seemed dead, spooky, empty. There were no one on the streets, and it had a reason on its own and not only the bad weather.

Do you remember my first words on the Jena site? This is an example for what I didn't want to believe until I haven't seen: they dismount large, ten-floor block houses in the towns of the former GDR because so many people have moved to the western parts of Germany!

We take line 2. Car no. 305 type KT4D MC is equipped by a TV-Progress chopper by Alstom, the same which is in those ex-Potsdam KT4's sold to the Hungarian town Szeged. We take it to Zwötzen (not to confuse it with Zwätzen in Jena :-) ). We pass under a pedestrian bridge where it gave name to the near tramway stop Fussgängerbrücke. We also pass the main workshop. The picture above was made at the other termius. It seems it was prepared for a heavier duty. That's right: as the local tramwayfan Mr. Jens Geks wrote me: the depot has been in the city until the early nineties, but that was so small it wasn't able to accomodate the tramway trains. The cars slept on the termini at night (in those times there was no graffiti or vandalism). The most of the cars slept here at Zwötzen. In addition to the triple track turning loop there had been four reserve tracks, each accomodating three to four trains. There had been usually three trains on the Zeulsdorf terminus, and a few cars on the streets of the city, too. At the end of the eighties the traffic of line 2 reduced heavily (at that time the line led on the former route from the city via the Zwötzener Strasse), the only reason it remained was the giant reserve field at the terminus. Now the new main workshop is in operation and the line 2 reaches here from the opposite direction, from Lusan/Brüte. This section will also be closed, the line will be shortened back to the Gera-Zwötzen station of the Vogtlandbahn railways where they build a new turning loop. Our improvised passenger calculation, showing the total number of passengers at the separated section of line 2, were the two of us. You can easily calculate that this investment, it's sad to say, will be the same nonsense as the line 2 itself.

This is a closed section further on the Zwötzener Strasse, without overhead cables. This is where the former line 2 used to go towards the city, and where the bus line 25 goes today. We take it back to the central station...

...where we can see a masterpiece of what transferring should have to be. The buses from all parts of town arrived here and stopped at their determinated stops, then stopped their engines. Deadly silence around them. Suddenly, trams arrive from each direction, passengers taking off and on, transfering on the buses. The trams leave the place, then, seeming like on a central command, the engines of the buses start up at once, then the buses leave the central station, too, after one another, each on their individual routes. Now that's something for choreography!

At the same place, around those houses on the left, there is the "central turning loop" (Zentrale Wendeschleife) which is also one of the directions of the new line 1, towards Zwötzen. Well, not the same track which I showed earlier, the closed section at today's end station of line 2, but a fully new track not far from there.

I kept two images at the end, about those KT4D's in the older livery, these have a different sound: those with a chopper control they squawk, these without a chopper they clack very loud when the course-motorswitches "fall". Hmmm, this livery reminds me the former livery of the second T5C5 prototype car no. 4001, although I haven't seen any color pictures about it yet...

And a picture about the Breitscheidstrasse section of the new line 1, under construction. The busdriver drove pretty dynamicly, we reached the main railway station pretty fast :-).

You missed something on this site, didn't you? Yes, the Gothaer. Despite Gera had more of these kinds of trams, we didn't meet any of them, they haven't even kept any of them conserved for the nostalgic fleet. The reason: there had not been enough place in the small, old depot to store any more historic cars, they had to decide wether they keep a LOWA or a Gothaer in the historic fleet. Due to the historic car would have to be the reserve traction-engine (in case of a normal car stops en route due to a technical failure), and for this purpose a bi-directional car is more suitable than a one-directional (the remaining Gothaer car was one-directional), they voted for the LOWA. Anyway, there have been a Gothaer car reserved in nearly every town, that means it could be purchased later if neccessary, but there is a lack of LOWA's in the former GDR (I read once that the chassis of the LOWA's was not so strong so not surprisingly they rejected and scrapped them quite early). There are only two older MAN motor cars in the historic fleet beside the LOWA, but good news: they brought back a Gothaer car from Jena which had been an earlier fleet member in Gera, after an overhaul that car will run, too!

* The photo is from the book entitled Strassenbahnen zu Ulbrichts Zeiten / Trams in der DDR: Die 60er Jahre in Farbe, published by GeraMond (C) 2002

To Continue: Erfurt: Where have all KT4's gone...? >>>

Text and photos by András Báti, except where otherwise mentioned (C) 2003

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