Even after 140 years of existence, electric trams are still very popular all over the world and demand for them is increasing due to the trend towards green technologies.
Trams are a highly efficient means of urban transport over short and medium distances, both in terms of energy efficiency and the number of passengers they can carry.
Although this year we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first tram from our company’s workshops, the Škoda brand has been speaking to the world of trams for 100 years. Since 1922, many types of trams, whose key components and systems have carried the Škoda brand, have been running through the streets of many Czech and Moravian cities. These were mainly the traction motors that powered the trams and the controllers that were used to control the tram’s power. Trams with components manufactured in Škoda factories ran in Brno, Pilsen, Prague, Jihlava and many other cities. The modern history of Škoda began after the end of tram production in ČKD in 1997, when part of the technical capacities was transferred from Prague to Plzeň.
Trams have always thrived in the Czech Republic (or indeed Czechoslovakia). Local engineering companies were able to almost completely supply the domestic market while still exporting trams worldwide. From the beginning of the twentieth century until the mid-1990s, Ringhoffer’s factories, which were later nationalised and moved under the ČKD Praha ownership, were among the world’s most important players in the field of urban rolling stock manufacturing. Tatra trams (marked with the T designation and serial number) were sold by the company to many countries around the world (namely Eastern Bloc countries due to the political situation at the time). With more than 13,000 cars sold, the T3, produced between 1961 and 1997, is not only their best-selling tram but also the world record holder for number of trams sold.
After 1989, the internal structure of ČKD Praha proved unsustainable under the new economic conditions, and despite repeated attempts to restructure, most of the companies and production ceased to exist or were absorbed by competitors. This posed an existential threat to the tradition of tram production in the Czech Republic; the last tram model developed under the Tatra brand, the T6C5, was produced only as a prototype in one single exemplar.
A new chapter in Czech tram history was being written at that time by Škoda Plzeň, now Škoda Group. Since 1995, its subsidiary Škoda Dopravní technika has been modernising older Tatra T3 trams under the type designations 01T and 02T. Through these projects, Škoda Plzeň took up the baton from its successful predecessor.
At the time, Škoda had experience in the production of traction motors, which are the heart of every modern tram, supplying major manufacturers since the early 1990s for use in trams in Lisbon, Kassel, Bonn, Cologne, and Philadelphia.
At the same time, Škoda engineers were working on another project: together with Inekon, they were developing the first prototype of their own tram. This was presented to the public under the name Astra (designation 03T) at the 39th International Engineering Fair in Brno in 1997. This tram was a three-unit tram with two bogies and could run on tracks with a gauge of 1,000 – 1,600 mm, its maximum speed was set at 70 kilometres per hour, and its cars were partly low-floor. With this tram, the history of modern trams in the Škoda production in Pilsen had begun.
Astra trams (later sometimes referred to as Anitra) found their place on the streets of Brno, Ostrava, and Olomouc, among others. Five of the seven transport companies in the Czech Republic that operate tram transport expressed interest in the new Škoda trams and a total of 48 were produced and delivered between 1997 and 2005. In 2001, modified versions of these trams (designated 10T) also reached the USA, where the licence for their production was transferred. Visitors to the cities of Portland and Tacoma, for example, can see them in operation.
The first major step that Škoda Dopravní technika took after 2000 was to change its name. In 2004, the now internationally-renowned Škoda Transportation brand was born. The company’s first focus of the new millennium was on developing its export capacities, leading to the successful delivery of nine sets of Elektra 06T bidirectional trams to Italy in 2006-2007. With two Elektra models (the 16T and the bidirectional 19T), Škoda Group also had success in Poland, where 48 tram sets were sold.
Škoda did not forget about domestic passengers at that time, though. In 2005, they could take a ride in the first of the new generation of trams known as Elektra, as the Elektra model 14T, co-designed by the Porsche Design Group, among others, entered into operation in Prague. Only two years later, the derivative model Elektra 13T first appeared on the streets of Brno.
Although the Elektra trams were a success both at home and abroad, Škoda Group management decided to take a decisive step forward. As a result, a completely new generation called ForCity was launched in 2008. Over a decade’s worth of valuable design and engineering experience was clearly reflected in this new generation of trams.
A new feature of these models was the partially pivoting bogie, which allowed the trams to be driven more smoothly in steep lines and tight curves. In addition, ForCity trams are barrier-free and have a passenger-friendly interior layout.
Prague has become the largest customer of these trams. The management of the local transport company ordered 250 sets from Škoda in Pilsen, and the same type 15T (with only partial modifications) was subsequently ordered by Riga, Latvia. Other models of ForCity generation then found their homes in Turkish, Hungarian, Slovak and Finnish cities. So far, Škoda Group has sold nearly 500 trams of this generation and its development continues to this day.
However, tram production is not only based at the Pilsen production site. Over the years, Škoda Group has teamed up with strong partners whose experience in the industry has had a significant impact on the development of the entire group. Thus, new trams are being built under the Škoda Group brand at production sites in Ostrava and Šumperk. Škoda trams are also produced abroad, specifically in Otanmäki, Finland. In the land of a thousand lakes, the Artic model was also manufactured, which combines the concept developed by the Finnish part of Škoda Group and the advantages of the ForCity generation. The ForCity Smart Artic trams have been operating in Finland and Germany, with a total of 73 trams so far, with more trams currently in production. In total, Škoda is now working on tram deliveries for 13 European cities.
Pilsen (12+10 option), Ostrava (35+5); Bonn (26+12); Bratislava (30+10); rnv – Mannheim, Ludwigshafen, Heidelberg (80+54); Brno (5+35); Helsinki (52+0), Tampere (8+38). Three cities have ordered trams in total: Frankfurt (Oder), Cottbus and Brandenburg an der Havel (35+6).
In total it is up to 475 new Škoda trams!
In the last decade, the development of digital technologies has begun to make its mark on public transport. In 2013, Škoda Group therefore joined forces with a respected manufacturer of proprietary solutions in the field of rail vehicle control systems, with the establishment of the Škoda Group Digital Centre six years later. The development of advanced digital solutions are now running at full speed. In addition to the production of the latest systems for train guidance, diagnostics and service, the Digital Centre is dedicated to the development of its own anti-collision system for rolling stock, which is one of the most important subsystems for a fully autonomous tram. In fact, Škoda Group is already working with O2 Czech Republic, INTENS Corporation and the University of West Bohemia on a project to develop an autonomous tram.
The success of our trams is reflected not only in the number of sets sold, but above all in the number of kilometres the trams ran on the streets. A list of the five cities with the highest mileage in the past year is as follows:
Škoda trams are currently operating in 19 cities:
This article was originally published by Škoda Group.
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