Take a Tram

Alya Balaeva

The tram is probably the most poetic form of public transport. On a bright sunny day in early spring in St. Petersburg you might take a recently completed tramline, route 56. You will be unwittingly faced with how much the appearances of trams have changed over the years, but the true soul still remains, connecting passengers to an iconic past.

Tramways were the only public transport during the siege of Leningrad. The tramway is a legendary symbol from "A Streetcar Named Desire" by Tennessee Williams. "Le Tramway" is the latest novel by Claude Simon.

The French writer comes to mind on route 56 as it is his compatriots at Alstom, in partnership with Transmashholding through their joint Russian-based company TramRus, who supplied these trams to St. Petersburg last December.

The technical term "fully low-floor" (specifically designed for Russia) ensures the convenience of passengers. It is free for children, old-aged people and people with disabilities to ride the tram.

Now these innovations are available only for those who live in the south of the city. All four new trams follow route 56 ­— from the plant Severnaya Verf to 12 Marshal Kazakov Street.

From the point of view of a tourist, the short route is unlikely to be considered the most attractive, because it lies amidst the post-Soviet industrial landscape. This region speaks to the true spirit of the city more than the ceremonial pretentiousness of the historical center.

Our trip of watching the transformation of the urban and social environment begins from the first stop near the plant. Here, the conductor for today's ride, Galina, is getting into the streetcar.

The pleasant, youthful woman tells passengers that the new trams are very popular among commuters. People often take pictures of the trams. Some of them even come to the south of the city just to ride route 56.

The proof is coming. At the next stop a resident from Moscow, Alexei, is taking the tram. A pensioner, Alexei says he has not seen such modern trams even in the Russian capital.

He promises to tell his whole family about the technical improvements in St. Petersburg. Also, Alexei is taking photos, including an ever-popular selfie.

Outside the window at this time, gray buildings reminiscent of Soviet constructivism roll by. It is the real concentrated form of the poetic urban landscape.

The tram is heading to the Avtovo subway. Here a group of schoolchildren jump into the streetcar. They have seen the new tram already, and they react less passionately than they did before.

But Sasha, one of the boys, says the route was not chosen by chance. After school they are going to see a brand new blockbuster at the local shopping mall Continent. They could have chosen another way to get there, but the children decided to ride the modern tram once again.

Indeed, they can start their transformation into spectators right here. There are three TV screens in the tram. On this trip, these particular passengers are the lucky ones. They have a chanced upon the showing of the cartoon "Hedgehog in the Fog" by Yury Norstein, a real masterpiece of Russian and world animation.

This cartoon stirs up childhood memories not just for many Russians. In fact, it was an inspiration for the Oscar-winning director, Hayao Miyazaki, for his famous film "Spirited Away."

Meanwhile the tram is heading to the final stop on Marshala Kazakova Street, where it turns around. There is an opportunity to communicate with the driver Yury. He was the first driver in the city who learned to manage the new generation of trams. Now all the students are learning from him.

Yury speaks enthusiastically about the technical aspects of trams and tells a funny story. Once while he was doing a transport safety test, he reached a speed of 98 km/h on the special part of the road. This was recorded by the traffic police`s camera.

Traffic police officers, viewing the record, could not believe to their eyes that a tram could achieve such a high speed.

Yury has not yet found essential disadvantages of the new trams that have been specifically designed for Russia's infrastructure and climate. The driver hopes that soon not only St. Petersburg, but also other cities will be provided with such modern trams.

Conductor Galina shares her impressions on how the new trams affect the passengers. She believes that people really start to behave quite differently.

The Soviet term "tram politeness" on the updated tramways gets an updated meaning, too. Russians, who often don't smile at strangers, in fact become more sociable and open.

Of course it is up to the mind of a particular individual to find something either "beautiful or ugly" (despite the opinion of others or the reality), but the environment also plays a role in social transformations. When an innovative kind of public transport appears in a dormitory suburb, it must have a positive effect on the people who live there.

Russia - France 2015
Russia - France 2015
Welcome to Russia-France business supplement, devoted to strengthening bilateral relations between Russia and France.
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