Many European cities have been wise enough to retain their trams. Visit any of them and you’ll probably be advised to ride a particular route, which is especially recommended for its scenic quality, such as Lisbon’s Route No. 28, or Belgium’s Kusttram, or Coastal Tram.
Innsbruck, in the Austrian Tirol, is a city of trams. Long before I ever visited, my mental picture of the city always had a tram in it.
Here, the recommended route for visitors is Service No. 6, which heads uphill, past the imposing Schloss Ambras, to the mountain resort of Igls. The scenic quality of this route is somewhat impaired by trees in the early stages, but later allows impressive views of the city below, and later, if the weather permits, of Alpine meadows with a back-drop of the formidable, sometimes snow-capped mountains which flank the Inn valley on both sides.
Sometimes, they run a ‘nostalgia tram’ on this route. It’s not widely advertised outside the city, although time-tables are annotated when a historic tram may run.
I knew that old tram-cars are on display at the Tiroler Localbahnmuseum near the tram-sheds at the old Stubaitalbahn station. But, on arrival, I found that it’s only open on Saturdays. I was just wondering what to do instead, when the four-coach veteran came rattling down the track from Igls. And, a glance at the time-table revealed that the next tram to Igls, in about 30 minutes time, might be a ‘nostalgia tram’.
I grabbed a quick cup of coffee and a sausage sandwich at a nearby ‘Schnell Imbiss’ stall and sat down to wait … and, surely enough, right on the appointed time, along came ‘No.6’, which did indeed consist of the rig I’d seen heading towards town half an hour earlier.
The two coaches drawn by the tram have open platforms at each end, and I found a place on one of these … they’re the best place for successful photography. The fourth coach is a goods-wagon, for heavy packages, or passengers’ bicycles. The conductor … there’s one on each coach, for it’s impossible to pass from one to another while the tram is moving … inspected my ‘Innsbruck Card’ and we were off.
The conductor told me that it was quite common practice to take an old tram from the museum, and run it on one of the city’s routes. The fare you pay is exactly what you pay on the regular trams…. that’s nothing if you bought an ‘Innsbruck Card’, costing about the equivalent of £12 or 20 dollars for 24 hours. It’s good for many museums, the Alpine Zoo and other attractions, as well as all public transport, including cable-cars and a funicular railway into the surrounding mountains … a ride on one of these will amortise the price of the 24-hour card!
This particular set, she said, was hauled by an electric tram which was built for the IVB (Innsbrucker Verkehrsbetrieb = Innsbruck public transport service) in 1909. The two coaches it was pulling dated from 1904 … one passenger wondered if they might have originally been horse-drawn, but it’s more probable that they were designed for use with a steam locomotive.
There’s a café cum souvenir shop at the tram station in Igls, which has a comprehensive display of photographs showing the history of the tramway, or the Mittelgebirgsbahn, as it’s sometimes known locally. Those pictures showed plenty of steam locomotives, but no horses!
I tried to ask the driver some questions, but he replied that all he does is drive the tram. He couldn’t even tell me what gauge the track was … I guessed a metre. I was annoyed, especially since I’d really had to beat my brains to remember the word ‘spurweite’! If I wanted reliable information, he said, I should come on Saturday, when the ‘nostalgia trams’ were crewed by museum staff rather than ‘regular’ tram drivers.
The return trip down the hill to Innsbruck was the last run of the day for the old tram. It would only be going as far as the tram-sheds, where we were asked to transfer to a modern tram to continue the journey into the city. The ‘new’ No.6 was quieter, and its seats much more comfortable than the wooden slats of the ‘nostalgia tram’… but it was nothing like as much fun!