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Linz: Narrow gauge, broad vision

Tramways are already important in this Austrian City, but the operators are not resting on their laurels. By C.J. Wansbeek

With a market share of 45%, trams dominate the public transport of Linz, a charming city in central Austria. Work is in progress to further improve the quality of public transport. The delivery of a fleet of seven-section low-floor City Runners has started. A year earlier, the modernisation of the city trolleybus fleet started, with the delivery of nineteen Volvo-Kiepe articulated low-floor trolleybuses. Meanwhile, the tram system is expanding vigorously. This graffiti-free city, where vandalism, aggression and fare dodging are rare, easily qualifies as some sort of transport paradise.

Linz's eight-axle trams are due to be withdrawn over the next couple of years, as low-floor cars enter service. In the meantime they can be seen on route 3 linking Urfahr and Hbf. (C.J.Wansbeek

A very complete transport network exists in this city. Far more services are offered than one would expect to find in a town of this size -- a population in and around the city of only 245 000. Linz never wavered; it has always believe in trams, even though a few weaker urban lines were closed in the 1960s. Fortunately, at Linz there were never dreams of a heavy metro; no energy was expended on such unrealistic options.

Click map for larger image

The public of Linz likes what is has, a surface tram, on reservation or through traffic-calmed streets. There is a tram on the city's North-South tram line 1 every three minutes (during rush hours). Always a tram in sight. No fumbling with luxury names, such as Stadtbahn, or light metro. No image problem. This is a quality tramway. Trams run fast and smooth, with traffic light priority at most intersections.

There is much high-tech behind the running of the Linz tramway system. Trams are computer regulated. The movement of all vehicles, including buses, is centrally monitored. All tram and bus stops have clear displays providing precise information on route numbers, destinations and waiting times in minutes, displayed for each service. Even in rural areas surrounding the city, such displays are mounted on every bus stop. This is public transport of a quality that deserves to become a standard for western Europe.

Linz trams run on 900 mm narrow gauge track, but the tram passenger only feels a very smooth ride in spacious, almost noiseless trams, with correct automatic voice-spoken stop announcements. Should narrow track be maintained as the standard? Recently, Prognos, the Basel-based Swiss transport consultants, investigated the option of a re-gauging of the entire Linz system to 1435 mm gauge. It found that the costs of a re-gauging are too high. Costs far outweigh possible benefits, such as a through-running over the standard-gauge tracks of the interurban tram lines of Linz (described later on). The message is clear: refrain from re-gauging, and forget about a Karlsruhe-style tram-train operation for Linz.

In the pedestrianised Hauptstrasse of Linz, with real-time information incorporated into the Taubenplatz tram stop display. (C.J.Wansbeek

The eastern half of central Linz is occupied by the vast Voest-Alpine steel mill. Smokestacks are seen everywhere. An ugly sight, but the steel works are there to stay, there is no possibility of relocating them. But the fumes are no longer suffocating, as very stringent anti-pollution measures have been implemented since 1980. This has resulted in very clean steel producing techniques. Gone are the belching smokestacks of yesteryear. Linz no longer is dubbed the Chicago of Austria, as before. What remains is a picturesque old town centre. By contrast, the suburbs are made up of drab high-rise housing complexes.

Linz lies on both sides of the river Danube, with the old town on the south bank. There are two tram routes: the north-south service 1, from the University in the north to Auwiesen, a residential area in the south. At present service 1 bypasses the main railway station at a distance of 500 metres. The other tram service is route 3, also a north-south line, which overlaps the central segment of route 1, with the difference that route 3 serves the main station (and terminates there). A new tramline 2, also overlapping the central segment of line 1 and 3, is being introduced to run between University and the new residential area around Ebelsberg in the south-east.

Soon, the central segment of all routes will run in a wide curve in a tunnel, underneath the main railway station. This will make Linz more accessible to arriving train travellers, starting in 2004. All trams will be reached by taking an escalator from the station platform. The new interchange will greatly strengthen the position of services 1 and 2, which run at easy walking distance to 70,000 jobs, and 30,000 school and training posts. Some 120,000 inhabitants, half of local population, resides within walking distance of the tram.

The convenient tram-train interchange is part of a vast regeneration project, which is being realised since November 2000. The railway station is completely revamped, to become the focal point for all regional and urban transport and will be completed with a central bus terminal. Rows of five-storey 19th-Century buildings surrounding the station are being torn down, to make way for a new Service and Administration-Centre of the Upper Austrian Government and the future public transport centre.

This is called Nahverkehrsdrehscheibe, litt. Turntable for Local Transport. The first plans to bring all tram lines underneath the railway station date back to 1976. It took much energy to get a final agreement on the plan, because of the best position of the two ramps ( in or outside the park etc.), the length of the tunnel and the position and planning of the stations in each of the proposed schemes.

The project now underway includes a ramp for the tram tracks, starting in Landstraße (the main north-south city street), near the Goethestraße tram stop. The tram tracks will make a semi-circle underneath the station, and at a point in the south, near Unionkreuzung, they will reach the existing line again. The existing tracks between Goethestraße and Unionkreuzung will be removed. The new 1.9 km long tram tunnel means that four additional trams are required to maintain the service level.

There will be two turning loops, one in each direction, underneath the station, so all tram services may, if required, use the Nahverkehrsdrehscheibe as their terminus, be it permanent (route 3) or temporary. The tram tunnel project costs are paid 50% by the city, the other half by the province of Oberösterreich. In December 2004, the tram tunnel will be fully operational.

By that time, the Austrian railways will have completed the first part of the total remodelling of the Linz main station. The completion of the project will mean that all inhabitants of the entire city can reach the railway station either by direct tram or bus, or with a maximum of one transfer between city lines. This lends credibility to the stated aim of the city of Linz to create Austria's best urban transport system - with trams as its backbone.

The clean lines of the Cityrunner, with its seven body sections carried on four wheelsets.

After Graz, the city of Linz is the second undertaking to introduce the City Runner as the backbone of its tram fleet. This is called a 'reference project'. This means that tramcar builder Bombardier will monitor all developments at Linz, with an eye to selling this vehicle to other cities, such as Lodz (Poland). At present, Linz has 21 City Runners on order (001-021).

A repeat order of 18 seems likely, so by 2009, there will be a uniform fleet composed of 39 City Runners. Some of today's fleet of 42 trams based on a Duewag design will be scrapped. In service are 28 10-axle trams built in the 1980s, and 14 8-axle trams from the 1970s.

Cityrunner technical parameters
Overall length (m)40
Width (m)2.3
Body height (m)3.5
Bogie centre separation (m)10.5
Bogie wheelbase (m)1.85
Wheel diameter (new)(mm)560
Floor height: entrance (mm)
Floor height: interior (mm)
370 - 450
Wheel arrangementBo'+2+Bo'+Bo'
Unladen weight (t)44.6
Motors6 x 100kW
Doors6 x 1300 mm, 2 x 650 mm
Seats74 + 3 folding
Standing (4/m2)151

Designed by Bombardier, the City Runner has much local content, in particular the electric and mechanical equipment, which is delivered by ELIN / EBG with factories in Linz and Vienna. Trial runs started in September 2001. By December 2001, three City Runners were available, for test running. The new trams will also be used to test the brand-new tracks of the Ebelsberg extension (see below). The extension should be ready by the time the City Runners make their first appearance. Delivery of the first City Runner was delayed, but Herr Walter Rathberger, Director of the Transport Undertaking, is confident that most vehicles will arrive on schedule, with the last tram duly delivered in 2005.

The tram network is undergoing a series of extensions. New tramlines will be built to the south-west and the south-east of the city. Politicians are in favour of such extensions. The first extension has a length of 3.6 km. Five news trams are required as the consequence of this extension. It runs from south Linz to Ebelsberg, with tracklaying completed by mid-2001. Inauguration will follow in spring 2002. Included is a section of 350 metres of interlaced tracks: due to space constraints in central Ebelsberg, the tracks will overlap there. The entire Ebelsberg extension is laid on reservation.

This project was time-consuming. Local shopkeepers demanded that no parking space in front of their stores be lost, and the authorities complied. Then the inhabitants of Ebelsberg insisted that the tracks be laid on flat pavement, without concrete strips to protect the trams, so locals can walk over the tracks at all points. This was also agreed.

Hundreds of different track solutions were proposed. It took ten years before actual tracklaying could start. Problems were compounded by the fact that Ebelsberg is separated from Linz by the Traun River. A new road bridge had been built, without any provision for tram tracks. No one foresaw that city trams would ever return to Ebelsberg line. Among the few visionaries was Herr Walter Rathberger, today's Transport director of Linz, who in the early 1980s, against much opposition, managed to keep a long strip of land vacant in the new housing development area of south Ebelsberg, for future tram use. His foresight should be applauded.

Until the arrival of the Cityrunner, Linz's most modern trams were the batch of 16 10-axle cars delivered by Rotax of Wien in 1984-6. 43 is seen at Auwiesen. (C.J. Wansbeek

To complicate matters, the Austrian transport ministry interfered. It said that the Ebelsberg line, on a reservation in the centre of the street, implied a reduction of the space for motor cars to one single strip in each direction. The ministry said that this could be done only after the inauguration of a new alternative street, east of the steel mill, to re-route long-distance car traffic. Until recently, the Ebelsberg main street was part of a national road network. After all, Ebelsberg is in a class in its own, deserving special treatment. All Austrian schoolchildren learn about a battle against the troops of Napoleon fought at Ebelsberg.

It has been decided that in 2003 line 2 will be further extended by 2 km, from Ebelsberg further to the east, to reach Solar City, an office park and residential area, based on energy-thrifty technology. In order not to loose momentum, a further 2 km extension from Solar City to Betriebspark Süd (business park) is now being prepared. From Betriebspark Süd, line 2 may continue some 2 km to the south, to reach the railway station at Pichling. This station will become more important, after the doubling to four tracks of the Westbahn, the east-west principal railway between Vienna and the Tirol.

The doubling of the tracks, to be realised by 2005, will make it possible to introduce new forms of commuter rail service over the main line, in German S-Bahn style. There will be an interchange between trams and railway at Pichling. This will enable commuters to bypass the congested centre area. At some point near Pichling, there will be a Park and Ride near the tram line. Once route 2 runs from the north to Ebelsberg, and is combined with routes 1 and 3, it will bring 70% of all of major destinations within walking distance from one through tramline.

Then there a plans for tracks to the south-west area. If approved, an extension will start at Auwiesen, today the terminus of line 1. It will go further west, crossing the main railway line to Graz, where a tram-train interchange will be created. This will allow many commuters arriving by train to bypass the city centre.

In the north-west, an extension of line 3 beyond its current terminus north of the Danube, seems likely, to reach future housing areas further to north-west. Blueprints have been prepared for a 10-km new tram line, from the main station to the city of Traun in the south-west of Linz.

Click map for larger image

In the south of Linz, there is a dormant electric line. This is the 900-mm gauge Straßenbahn Ebelsberg-St Florian, which comes close to the new tram tracks in Ebelsberg. Or rather, the city tram, withdrawn from Ebelsberg in 1968, is now making a comeback, and will have an end-on junction with the Straßenbahn Ebelsberg-Sankt Florian. The latter belonged to the Stern & Hafferl company, which operates several local and interurban tram lines in Upper Austria. When Stern & Hafferl closed its service, the line to St. Florian was turned into a museum line, and it was preserved intact over its full 10-km length, on reservation, single track, across a stunning, rolling countryside. The terminus is a picturesque village, Sankt Florian. Here, in a baroque monastery, is the grave of the Austrian composer Anton Bruckner.

The city of Linz would accept a weekends-only through-going historic tram service from Sankt Florian to the city centre of Linz, via Ebelsberg, on the condition that all museum trams are equipped with modern electronic detection devices, so the central computer can supervise all movements. At present, there is insufficient traffic demand to justify an upgrading of the Sankt Florian line to become a fully integrated urban tram line; an option was investigated in 2001. The line will stand in reserve, should new residential areas be built nearby. There is no legal framework in Austria, to tie urban expansion to the availability of quality transport, i.e. rail lines. But the prospects for a second coming for the Sankt Florian line are not too bad.

Linz has even more - the Linzer Lokalbahn, or regional link: a standard-gauge electric light railway. This line is 56% owned by the City of Linz. Actual operation is by Stern & Hafferl, under contract to the City. The lines start from a little stucco building in an obscure street, a brisk five-minute walk from the central railway station. The terminus will be relocated to the future transport interchange at the site of the main railway station. The regional lines are very long tram lines indeed, stretching for over 40 km to the west. The countryside there is very pleasant. Alas, patronage is modest, as the area is thinly populated. Recently, modern articulated vehicles were delivered by ADtranz. The city of Linz has no interest in merging the under-used standard-gauge regional lines with the immensely-busy urban lines.

Dipl.-Ing Walter Rathberger

Also city-operated is the Pöstlingbergbahn, lying on the north bank of the Danube. It calls itself Europe's steepest adhesion-only rail line, climbing to the 535-m summit with its pilgrimage church. There are 13 cars available (which carry Roman fleet numbers, or rather letters), but in regular service only two are needed, except on high days and holidays. Everything here looks as if the time stood still since 1898, when the line was inaugurated. It takes 20 minutes to grind up the 10.6% grades of the 2.9-km long sinuous track on this tourist line. At its upper end, one enjoys a fine panorama of the city and the countryside. Coming down special pincer brakes are a safety feature.

The author would like to thank Herr Dipl. Ing. Rathberger for his kind assistance with the preparation of this article. A full fleet list of the Linz tramways and local railways can be found in 'The Tramways of Switzerland and Austria' by R. J. Buckley, available from LRTA Publications.

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