Lodz Regional Tram…

by

… a small step in the right direction.

Pesa 122N articulated tram running past the Poznanski palace in Lodz, photo rkplodz, Lodzka Galeria Transportowa

(Click to see a larger picture in original context.)

On 1 July, the 1st stage of the Lodz Regional Tramway went live with services running from Helenowek to Chocianowice. Only a few years ago, Polish cities like Lodz were cutting down their tram networks and replacing them with buses. One of the bonuses from Poland’s EU entry is that not only does a certain proportion of EU transport funding have to be spent on public transport investments, but also environmental criteria are increasingly important when assessing projects. Currently, Warsaw, Gdansk, Crakow, Wroclaw and Lodz are constructing new tram lines or refurbishing major portions of their exiting networks.

Many Poles view their cars as a personal status symbol, part of the ‘catching up’ that Poland is entitled to after 60 years of enforced austerity. Travelling by public transport is regarded as a socially inferior transport mode suitable only for those too young, too old or too poor to drive a car. For these reasons the promoters of the Lodz Regional Tramway project deserve to be congratulated in pushing forward – in the face of considerable public criticism – with a project designed to get people to leave their cars behind and ride the tram to the city centre.

Lodz is buying ten 33m long articulated trams from Pesa in Bydgoszcz. The 122N class trams are specially designed for Lodz’s metre gauge track have a stylish design, run smoothly and are air conditioned. Thanks to brand new track laid on new stone ballast and a tram priority traffic light system the trams should be able to travel somewhat faster than before. Hopefully, these improvements will help to change public perceptions and attitudes to tram travel.

Several roads are being completely rebuilt at the same time. To see the Poznanski palace scene just two months earlier click here. Given the massive disruption to road traffic that is already taking place, one wonders why Lodz’s transport planners did not go the whole hog and put the tram tracks underground through the city centre, this giving Poland its first semi-metro.

Sadly, Poland wouldn’t be Poland if everything was perfect and we have some serious niggles about how the Lodz Regional Tramway concept is being implemented. Most serious of all is the fact that, while the original concept was that the Regional Tramway would connect the towns of Ozorkow and Zgierz (to the North of Lodz) and Pabianice (to the South) with city centre, a suitable agreement regarding how the costs should be assigned to the three neighbouring towns proved too difficult to negotiate. Unless there is a major breakthrough, the improved tramway will only operate within the boundaries of the City of Lodz, and the vision of providing an attractive alternative to inter-urban car commuting will remain just a dream.

Other niggles: there are no secure car parks at the two termini which would enable people to safely ‘park and ride’; the seats are not designed to the generous dimensions of the Polish anatomy; the tram priority traffic light control is at least 6 months away from going live; there are speed restrictions on the new lines because of road building and the electronics on the Pesa trams seem very fragile. At least one tram on the inaugural day was running without full auxiliary electrical power, which meant no front destination indicator, no air conditioning and a tram full of hot angry passengers. Pesa’s new trains on the Lodz- Warsaw line are also reported to have problems with their electronics, so quality control is one area where the company will urgently have to make improvements.

Still, given the obstacles that had to be overcome, to get this far is quite an achievement. Lodz President, Jerzy Kropownicki, who personally backed the scheme, deserves to be congratulated. Let’s hope the second stage of the scheme, to extend the system to Pabianice and Zgierz, goes ahead as soon as possible.

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