The past and the future of mobility: Munich and its tram

Trams, self-powered rail vehicles that run on tracks built into city streets, have been a fixture in the public transportation system of the Bavarian capital since the first horse-drawn streetcars appeared in 1876.[1] The tram system was essential for Munich’s industrial and physical growth around the turn of the century; however, after the World Wars the Munich tram system was in shambles. Yet, today the city is in the midst of a tram renaissance: the out-dated image of the tram is being overhauled while its technology is being retrofitted to face the mobility challenges of the modern city.

The boom and bust of the Munich tram

In the 1950’s and 60’s the Munich tram system reflected the city’s rebuilding spirit. A nearby factory created the M-Wagon which would be the face of the Munich tram system for the next forty years[2] and the city began building the first new tram lines since the end of the war. As the tram lines recovered, the city flourished. Then to accommodate the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games, Munich built extensive underground metro lines. Both the U-Bahn and S-Bahn systems were opened and over the following two decades tram lines were closed or replaced by the new, more modern underground lines. The Munich tram lines continued to decay until the early nineties when the city council decided to revive and modernize the neglected lines.

The plans for the Munich tram

The Munich Transportation Association (MVG) is following a trend in Europe by extending tram lines instead of underground lines because trams are substantially less expensive to build and much more versatile.[3] Cities like Munich can build several tram lines with about 400 m between stops and multiple transfer locations drastically shortening door-to-door travel time compared to most underground lines. The MVG will invest 50 € Million in 2013 to build new lines, reopen previously shutdown lines, and improve the fifteen existing lines.[4] Other monies will pay for eight new Avenio trams from Siemens that will be able to handle more passengers than the existing cars. Furthermore, the MVG is working on a project that could revolutionize tram systems. They want to complete a city loop that has been in existence - but unfinished - for decades. The unfinished part of the loop would cut through the city’s beloved central park, the English Garden, and authorities and citizens alike are worried that the overhead tram cables will destroy the idyllic landscape. To preserve the garden’s serenity, the MVG in connection with Stadler Pankow GmbH is working on a tram that runs on a lithium ion battery. In May 2011 a prototype set a world record as it ran 16 km on battery power alone.[5] The MVG imagines that such a tram could traverse the English Garden on battery power and then recharge using the electrical lines along the rest of the route. But someday, of course, this technology could make electrical lines obsolete adding to the ease and efficiency of building and operating new tram lines. With technological advances like the ion-battery-operated tram and with the determination to retrofit an old, but reliable means of transportation, Munich has high hopes that its tram lines can deal with the city’s impending growth and mobility challenges.

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