The long trip to Vityaz or the story of the Moscow tram system

September 22, 2018

And thirty Vityazies, in armors shone,

Come out of the clear waves in a column

Alexander Pushkin

Moscow has had more Vityazies than Pushkin’s Lukomorye for quite a long time now. This week Moscow received its 201st low-floor Vityaz-M tram. The capital’s tram fleet will be completely upgraded by 2024.

Over 1 million passengers use the Vityaz-M trams each week. This article tells the story of how Moscow’s Konka which started 150 years ago was transformed into a cutting-edge tram system.

Amusement ride or mode of transport

The predecessor of the Moscow’s tram is the Konka, a wagon pulled by horses along tracks. It carried 15–16 passengers. The city’s first temporary tram line linked Iverskiye Vorota (Gates) and Tverskaya Zastava. It was laid in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Peter the Great. The line was built and operated by Guryev and Novikov, Moscow entrepreneurs. Still it was more of an amusement ride than a mode of transport.

In April 1872, a project was approved for the construction of several lines of horse-drawn tram lines. The concession for implementing that project in the next 40 years was granted to the company owned by Count Uvarov.

The Konka was a rather cheap type of transport. A lower-deck ride in a double-deck carriage cost ten kopecks, while an upper-deck “imperial” ride – only five kopecks. By the way, only men could ride in the upper deck, because it was considered that women wearing puffy dresses could not ascend the narrow winding stairs without violating the rules of etiquette.

Falkenried and Ringhoffer

In 1899, the first electric tram route was opened in Moscow. It ran outside the capital’s borders at that time – from Maslovka to Petrovsky Park. Soon, the line was extended to Tverskaya Zastava. The tram was relatively fast reaching speeds of 25 km/h.

Still, not everyone was inspired by this innovation. For example, chief of police Dmitry Trepov was outraged by the fact that common people could travel across the city faster than his best troika.

The first payment system was rather complicated: the tram line was divided into four sections each consisting of several stops with a ride fare of five kopecks. This meant that a ride along the whole route cost 20 kopecks.

First trams were foreign-made. On 7 April, 1899, West German Falkenried trams were introduced on the line. By the end of 1899, Czech Ringhoffer tram cars had appeared which are considered to be the predecessors of the famous Tatra trams,” says Gennady Narykov, guide at the Moscow Transport Museum.

The first carriages were wooden and narrow – only 2.2 metres wide. Benches were placed longitudinally in the carriage. In 1909, Russian tram carriages were introduced. The most famous was the lamp car which got its name from the lamps on top of the carriage.

Attached carriages, the “blue carriage” and universal carriages

At the end of the 1920s, KM (Kolomna power-operated) and KP (Kolomna attached) tram carriages were designed. As the names imply, the latter was attached to the former. Each carried up to 60 passengers which meant that a two-carriage tram could transport up to 120 riders at a time.

An interesting M-36 model appeared in 1936. It was known as the Blue Carriage due to the colour of its body. It was the first metal (non-wood) tram carriage. Canted corners, three doors and one lamp made the car design state-of-the-art. The carriage was also 30 cm wider which allowed it to feature soft seats mounted transversely in the car.

Moscow trams continued to operate during the Great Patriotic War, even on 16 October 1941 during the critical day for the defence of Moscow, when the Moscow Metro stopped operating.

“They say that if the city’s tram system is working, the city is still alive. Moscow trams continued to operate while transporting regular passengers, as well as the wounded and cargo,” says Gennady Narykov.

After the war, Tushino aircraft factory started producing a universal body for trams, buses and trolleybuses similar to American pre-war buses. The model was named MTV-82 which stands for Moscow Tram Vehicle. Later, production was transferred to Riga. The carriages had a full metal body with soft seats. They were very popular not only in Moscow, but also in other Soviet cities. In Moscow, they were in operation on most lines until 1981.


Another legendary tram model was also borrowed from a US-made carriage. In 1932, the Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) streetcar was developed especially for New York, and it became very popular all over the world. The body shape was considered optimal. In the 1950s, the Tatra Plant in Czechoslovakia bought the PCC production licence and started manufacturing its own similar carriages. That was how the Tatra carriages, which were so popular in Moscow, appeared. This model was mostly known for its smooth ride and convenient controls.

The Tatra-2 tram hit Moscow streets in 1959, followed by the Tatra-3 in 1963. These upgraded models continue to run today.

“They have been overhauled, and all the old components have been removed. They feature new sheet metal, and state-of-the-art motors and control systems. But they look like the good old tram,” Mosgortrans Deputy Chief Engineer Sergei Matveyev explained.


Today, Moscow’s tram fleet features around 850 trams, 640 of them used every day. Almost 200 trams are the newest model called Vityaz-M. They first carried passengers in March 2017. The three-section articulated cars are designed with the latest technologies that make a tram ride more comfortable: low floor, air conditioning, USB ports for charging mobile devices, information monitors, satellite navigation systems, CCTV cameras and a modern operating system.

At first Vityaz carriages were manufactured at Tver Carriage Works, but production was moved to a new plant in St Petersburg.

“Vityaz trams include the latest technologies. There are some details that a rider might not notice For example, the window area is very large which provides a panoramic view,” says Sergei Matveyev.

LEDs and door opening buttons

The new tram carriages have substituted incandescent lamps with LED-based lighting, from the interior lights to the headlights. According to the Mosgortrans deputy chief engineer, some of this is expensive, but very energy-efficient, and beautiful and stylish at the same time.

“Having the same lighting efficiency, LEDs consume approximately five times less energy than incandescent lamps and at least two times less energy than xenon lamps. All the best manufacturers use LEDs,” he notes.

Another innovation that riders needed to get used to is the door opening buttons: they also help save energy and ensure a comfortable ride. When it is cold outside, it makes no sense to open doors no one will use: it is a waste of heat.

Vityaz cars are equipped with top-of-the-line operation systems, and the wagon construction ensures that the tram runs as smoothly as possible.

Information monitors

The information monitors inside the car show passengers the tram route, the name of the next stop and the distance to it. It also displays messages on any changes in the system, information about possible changes to routes, and important notices from municipal services.

Sergei Matveyev says that the stylish appearance of tram carriages is the result of work done by designers and transport experts. The winner of the Moscow tram tender offered various alternatives for colour and endcap design (front and back of the carriage).

In June, the turnstiles were removed from all Moscow trams. The new six-door Vityaz carriages did not have them in the first place: passengers enter the carriage through any door and use the validators near the doors to pay the fare.

“The removal of the turnstiles in the trams was not a spontaneous decision, it was a long process. At first, we tested the new system on all lines operated by the Krasnopresnensky tram depot. The number of passengers increased by about 15 percent due to higher average tram speeds. People realized that they did not have to crowd near the front door and stand in lines. It is much faster and easier without turnstiles,” says Sergei Matveyev.

At first, many passengers were glad that they could ride trams for free. The city had to use more ticket inspectors and organise a major awareness campaign. Now, there are fewer fare dodgers.

By the end of 2019, there will be 300 Vityaz-M trams on the streets of Moscow. The terms of these contracts state that the supplier shall carry out the maintenance for the next 30 years.


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