|Light Rail Transit Association
Light Rail for better public transport
Our presenter was a former BBC news Cameraman and in the course of his duties visited places normally beyond the reach of most of the members. Whilst his main interest has always been steam railways, he also has a fascination with trams, and took the opportunity to film them whenever the opportunity arose during his assignments abroad. He was using some of the first professional video equipment, which was extremely heavy and bulky. The first scenes were shot using Umatic equipment, which was limited to 20 minute tapes.
While filming in Poland just before the end of Communism he filmed trams in Warsaw, Lodz and Krakow. The last of the 2-axle N class cars with trailers were still much in evidence in Lodz.
Next the scene moved to the 5 foot gauge Leningrad system, including a marvelous line up of works cars in operation. From here he visited the Russian town of Voronezh where faded Tatra cars wove their way over badly worn and broken track. The use of telephoto shots served to emphasise the poor state of the permanent way. One of the trams was driven by a formidable looking woman, evoking memories of Ena Sharples as she appeared in early episodes of Coronation Street.
The next scenes were filmed using Betacam equipment in the attractive southern Hungarian town of Szeged, where the fleet at the time was entirely made up of two-room and a bath articulated cars. Then on to Arad in Romania just after the fall of President Ceausescu, to see stately interurban cars in operation, and ex-Geneva Swiss standard cars in Sibiu, complete with their original French signage.
The next visit was to the former German city of Konigsberg, renamed Kaliningrad by the Russians in 1946. This region was closed to most Western visitors for many years due to a strong military presence. Tatra cars were much in evidence on this metre gauge system. Much of the city centre was flattened by bombing during the second World War and the ancient castle was blown up by the Russians to remove a symbol of German power. The ruined cathedral was the only building in the sad looking city centre. The end of the first half of the programme took us to Rome and Munich where our speaker experimented with the use of video equipment at night, with considerable success, although grainier than we associate with today’s equipment. Old bogie cars were still in use in Rome and we also saw the blue 950mm interurban cars.
After the interval Nick treated us to a recent scenic ride on the electric Chemin de fer de la Mure in South Eastern France. This railway was electrified in 1904 and was built to transport coal from the mines in the area. Situated on the edge of the Alps it has many steep gradients, viaducts and spectacular mountain views. Today it is solely a tourist line.
The final film was taken in Indonesia in 1974, where the Dutch built Surabaya steam tramway was still operating. With much blowing of the whistle the tiny tram loco and carriages sped through crowded streets at considerable speed. One of the two well maintained surviving locomotives was built in Britain.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Nick Lera for recording these fascinating images and for taking the trouble to edit them for our benefit.
John Laker, 18/01/05
London Area – 17th January 2005
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