History of public transport in Ostrava
The Public Transportation System is an integral part of the life of each modern town. Its development is always closely related to the economic and political trends in the entire region and the Ostrava Region is no exception. Periods of calm and unrest have been present here as anywhere else, which obviously translated into the public transportation system. The history of the Ostrava Public Transportation System may be indicatively divided into the following periods:
- Beginnings of the Public Transportation System during the Era of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy (1894 - 1918)
- The Calm Years of the First Republic (1918 - 1938)
- Hard Times Replete with Changes (1938 - 1948)
- Municipal Transportation during the Socialist Era (1948 - 1960)
- Bus Preference Period (1960 - 1978)
- Return to Electric Traction (1978 - 1989)
- Municipal Public Transportation in the Changed Conditions (1989 -)
Beginnings of the Public Transportation System during the Era of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy (1894 - 1918)
The town of Moravská Ostrava and surroundings, toward the end of the 19th century, saw the emergence of one of the biggest industrial regions in Europe. As the population, as well as the number of mines, iron works and engineering factories grew, the question of an appropriate design of passenger and goods transport in the region was becoming ever more urgent.
The railway connecting Ostrava with the rest of the Europe in 1847 could not be used to a large extent due to its routing outside of the densest areas. Hackney carriages, carriages and, later on, omnibuses, were not affordable for most people. The already shabby roads were subjected to further deterioration by the traffic of tens of heavy duty carriers, the cattle was driven to the slaughterhouse through the streets of the town, most of which did not have any paving or sewage.
The initial project involving construction of a steam rail leading from what is now the Central Railway Station to the Palace hotel saw the light of the world as early as in 1882. Although never implemented, the concept did not fall through and was eventually taken advantage of by the Brno based local railways company operating a steam tram in Brno. On the Emperor’s birthday, 18 August, 1894, operation of the steam tram was launched on the line from Přívoz to Moravská Ostrava - Vítkovice. In addition to passenger transport, the line also allowed goods transport. Mostly, that involved a direct transition of the railway carriages to the tram grid, which had (and presently still has) the same rail gauge as the railway, 1435 mm.
In 1896, a branch line from the Moravská Ostrava Město railway station, located opposite to the present Palace Hotel, was commissioned, leading via the square to the Bridge of the Empire (the present Sýkora Bridge). The construction of the line went on in 1899 with the commissioning of the railway line leading to Lhotka, since 1901 known as Mariánské Hory.
The emergence of the municipal transportation system gave rise to a number of constructions, which further contributed to the increased population mobility. Following the erection of Ostrava’s first power plant in 1897, preliminary works were commenced in preparation for the electrification of the steam tram, the capacity of which gradually ceased to cover the ever increasing requirements. The first electric trams appeared in the streets of the town on 1 May, 1901. The 15 electric carriages were supplied by the Polish Sanok based wagon-works. That contributed to a marked increase in the quality of passenger transport and the steam engines were assigned to the ever growing goods transport.
In 1907, the Mariánské Hory track was extended up to Svinov and moreover, the Mariánské Hory – Vítkovice link was completed, which amounted to the laying of the foundations for the Ostrava Tram Network as we know it today.
Moravská Ostrava was not the only town that lacked connection with the railway station outside of the town centre. In nearby Bohumín, the Council were also confronted with the need to provide such a connection. New Bohumín was rapidly growing around the railway station founded in a swampy forest in the cadastral territory of the ¦unychl town, while the old Bohumín faced rapid decay. Therefore, the two towns were linked by a narrow-gauge 760-mm horse track was launched amidst celebration, on 22 December, 1902. A year later, the drive changed for steam, and in 1916 for electricity. On that track, too, both passenger and goods transport were operated, serving the local enterprises, yet due to the narrow gauge of the rails, low-loading trailers were used. The only exception to that was the railway siding leading to the present-day Rybena, which was constructed as a three-rail system.
The Polish (and, later on, Silesian) Ostrava was yet another town in need of connection to the railway network, and the town built its own low-gauge 760-mm steam track leading from the present-day Gagarin’s square to Hru‘ov. The operation was launched on 9 January, 1904, and in addition to passenger transport, the track primarily covered the need for coal transport from the Trojice mine to the Hru‘ov-based chemical plant.
The Ostrava – Karviná electric track faced complications at the outset. Although the two Councils on the track advocated construction of a normal gauge track, the narrow 760-mm gauge was opted for in the end. The reason for that was the pressure applied by the Ferdinand the Emperor’s Northern Track, who covered the railway sidings to many a mine in that area and therefore justifiably feared competition in the coal transport market. The traffic on the local electric Ostrava - Karviná (MDOK) line was launched on 6 April, 1909. Initially, the locals approached the new transport vehicle with a great deal of mistrust, although very soon the line started to be used on a large scale. On 1 November, 1911, MDOK also took over traffic on the Polish Ostrava – Hru‘ov line; the Zárubek – Polish Ostrava link was constructed and the entire line was electrified.
The mayor of Bohumín and member of the Provincial Assembly, Dr. Karel Ott, promoted, from 1903, construction of a network of narrow-gauge electric lines in the Bohumín and Karviná regions. The concept started to be implemented on 2 September, 1912, with the Silesian Regional Railways (SZD) commencing traffic on the Polish Ostrava – Michálkovice line. In 1913, the Fry‘tát (now, Karviná 1) - Karviná (now, Karviná - Doly) - Doubrava - Kopaniny - Dolní Lutyně - Bohumín with a branch line to Kopaniny – Orlová were constructed. The structural activities were completed in 1914 with the opening of the Bohumín – Hru‘ov section. SZD at the same time took over, from MDOK, traffic on the Hru‘ov – Polish Ostrava line, which allowed for the direct electrified transport between Ostrava and Bohumín.
The last municipal line completed during the era of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire involved the minor Vítkovice – Zábřeh line. The owner was Vítkovické horní a hutní tě·ířstvo, which completed the line in order to allow for the import of foundry sand from the sand mines in Zábřeh. Following some efforts by the Zábřeh Council, passenger transport was introduced on the line, beginning from 3 July, 1913. It was covered by a three-axle Komárek-design steam carriage. The name, "Komárek" (Mosquito) soon became a nickname for the entire line and the later electric trams pertaining to the Vítkovice iron works.
The issue of municipal transport is closely related to the emergence of a very important railway line. On 8 December, 1911, traffic was launched on the local line leading from Svinov to Klimkovice. The owner of the line was the Klimkovice Council and the traffic was served by up to 6 pairs of trains a day.
The operation of all of the lines above was interrupted by the First World War. A large proportion of the operating staff were recruited to the front and the lack of non-ferrous metals rendered fleet maintenance a difficult task. Further development of the tram network was put on hold. Most of the lines were in poor technical condition towards the end of the war and the fleet required major repairs.
The emergence of the independent Czechoslovak Republic on 28 October 1918, was quick in raising some initial property issues. Many companies were partially or fully owned by Austrians and controlled from Vienna. The status quo was averted by the nostrificiation, which involved a change in property relations to the benefit of Czechoslovak entities.
The Brno Local Railways Company moved its headquarters to Ostrava and changed its name to Moravian Local Railways Company (SMMD). Moravská Ostrava gained a 60% interest in the newly emerged company. Towards the end of 1919, 4 new engine carriages were supplied, becoming models for further supplies and reconstruction of older vehicles. The renovation programme started in 1921 and was completed in 1932.
Beginning in 1922, SMMD was trying to take over the Svinov - Klimkovice line and introduce electricity-driven traffic, in which they succeeded in 1926. The growing traffic necessitated a gradual change into a two-rail system on the Přívoz – Vítkovice line, taking place from the early 1940’s. The municipal development also brought about the cancellation of the local railway station, depot and workshops in the centre of the town, where new buildings were erected on Křivá Street which opened in 1929. The same year saw the extension of the Vítkovice line via the new villa district in Zábřeh (the so-called Dru·stvo) to Bělský Les.
In 1930, SMMD introduced a new transport vehicle in the streets of the town – the bus. Soon after, several lines were introduced to serve those parts of the town where no direct connection to the tram network had been established, while it was the line terminating at the Petřkovice Bridge that displayed the highest frequency. The Petřkovice extension was prevented by the Ministry of Post, which operated a post bus line on the route.
From 1928, the Vítkovice Iron Works built a new Jubilee colony in Hrabůvka, which was at once connected to their railway network. Passenger transport at the Zábřeh Post Office - Hrabová branch line was launched on 5 October, 1930. In doing so, the licence for the Mariánské Hory – Bru‘perk line was used, with the licence having been previously obtained by the former Mayor of Zábřeh, Dr. Palkovský, later transferred to the possession of the Iron Works. As steam transport was costly and, moreover, largely anachronistic at the given time, a decision on the electrification of the line was adopted. The electric operation along the tracks from Vítkovice to Zábřeh and Hrabová was launched on 29 March, 1934. The company’s own workshops produced motor and traction carriages for the "Mosquitoes" inspired by the modern N-type Viennese trams. Silesian Regional Railways did not make any more additions in its narrow-gauge network. Following the repair of the tracks and carriages damaged through insufficient maintenance during the War, the fleet was being gradually expanded so as to cover the ever growing frequency. Similar was the case on the local Ostrava - Karviná line and the Municipal Electric Railway in Bohumín.
Yet, SZD did build one more line – it was, however, a normal-gauge line in steam traction leading from Svinov to Vřesina, Dolní Lhota and Kyjovice - Budi‘ovice. The line was commissioned in steps during 1925 - 1927. Soon after, it was the weekend recreational traffic that reached such an intensity that preparatory works commenced that would eventually lead to the line’s electrification. The bold plans, however, were marred by the economic crisis and the subsequent outbreak of the war.
One more railway track was completed during the First Republic era; one that was destined to become an important part of the Public Transportation Network later on. On 15 June, 1925, the railway track initially leading from Opava to Hlučín was extended to Petřkovice. Plans to further extend the line to Ostrava were under preparation, yet never materialised.
The Munich Agreement signed on 30 September, 1938, literally became a tragedy for the industrial Ostrava Region. While Germany annexed all territories on the left bank of the Odra River, Poland took hold of the entire Karviná and Bohumín regions for a while before being itself assaulted by Germany on 1 September, 1939.
The SMMD line from the bridge over the Odra River in Svinov to Klimkovice appeared in the German territory and was under the administration of the Czech-German Parity Commission. The Svinov - Kyjovice line went fully under the German administration.
The local Ostrava - Karviná line was divided into the Czech and Polish part in Petřvald. The Poles later seized several motor driven vehicles, tore the rails out along the boundary section and cut off power supply for the Czech part of the line. The lines of the Silesian Regional Railways lying on the Polish territory were operated by ©lšskie Kolejki Krajowe. The Hru‘ov - Slezská Ostrava - Michálkovice lines remained possession of the Moravian and Silesian Region before being sold to SMMD in 1943.
On 14 March, 1939, in the afternoon, the German army annexed the Ostrava Region. The infamous era of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia began. One direct impact upon transport was the introduction of driving on the right. Use of the German language was ordained in official contact, a regulation the staff were trying to avoid. Many Czechs joined the resistance movement, yet often ended up in GESTAPO cells. Yet another tragic chapter involved the persecution of the Jews, who were effectively denied the right to use public transport in 1940.
On 1 September, 1939, Germany launched its attack on Poland. Germans gradually renewed continuous traffic on the Bohumín and Karviná lines. The industrial plants and mines were involved in the war industry, as a result the numbers of passengers started to drop dramatically. The transport vehicles and lines were steadily overloaded and the supply of new motor driven and traction carriages for SMMD was far from sufficient. The Vítkovice Iron Works appeared in a somewhat better situation, where, thanks to its privileged position in the war production, the plant could continue in the piece production of trams for their lines. The war economy’s difficulties had a marked effect on the bus transport. The buses were refit for substitute fuels (wood-gas, coal-gas) and the frequency was drastically limited, especially due to a lack of tyres. As part of the war saving action, a large number of stops were put out of use.
Shelling became a serious threat. The largest Ostrava raid took place on 29 August, 1944, delivering a particularly heavy blow to the centre of the town. Several trams were severely damaged or destroyed.
On 30 April, 1945 the Ostrava Region was liberated by the Red Army. Works at removing the consequences of the war and renewing transport began immediately after that. The situation was particularly complicated due to a large number of bridges destroyed by the withdrawing Germans, who had also taken all operable buses and the only one that was preserved in hiding was swiftly seized by the Red Army. Tram and bus transportation was roughly restored to its pre-war condition as late as in 1946.
The pre-war property arrangements were restored. SMMD’s purchase contracts for SZD lines were declared void save for the Kyjovice line, which was connected to the tram network. The electrified operation was launched there in 1948.
In 1947, the board of directors of SMMD adopted a decision thereby dissolving the company and transferring the property to the Ostrava Municipality. In the same year, the Municipal Electric Line in Bohumín was incorporated within the Silesian Regional Railways.
The Communist revolution in February 1948 and the subsequent law on communal enterprises yielded conditions for a merger of all Public Transportation providers in the Ostrava Region. In May 1949, Dopravní podnik města Ostravy (Ostrava Transportation Company) was established with retrospective effects from 1 January. The basis of the new company was the Moravian Local Railways Company. During the year SMMD, SZD and MDOK merged. The Vítkovice Iron Works opposed assigning the "Mosquito" under the centralised administration up until 1953.
Soon after that, proposals started to appear to interconnect all lines and improve the traffic situation. The most significant project involved the construction of the Přívoz - Petřkovice line and electrification of the successive Hlučín railway. Tram transport was launched there on 29 December, 1950. Buses started to be used in serving the Nová hu¶ construction site, pegged to become a major traffic issue in the years that were to follow. In order to improve the service of the centre of the town, trolleybus transport was introduced as well; the operation was launched, amidst festivities, on 9 May, 1952.
Development of heavy industry and construction of new housing estates in the early 1950’s led to ever more stringent requirements for public transportation. Despite the ongoing supply of new trams, the situation had to be addressed by way of purchasing older carriages from Prague. Construction of housing estates in Poruba already amounted to a major burden for the freight tram transport, which had to carry approx. 40,000 trainloads of structural material. The newly supplied buses were put to a hard test at the NHKG construction site where, overcrowded with the site staff, they were wading through the muddy roads.
The narrow-gauge Ostrava and Karviná lines were mutually interconnected. The Michálkovice tram line was, on one hand, replaced by a trolleybus line, yet the growth in traffic and the construction of new housing estates in Karviná brought about the necessity to acquire new narrow-gauge carriages. Although the narrow-gauge system was divided later on, it was the dominant means of transport in the Karviná region during 1950’s.
A marked improvement in public transportation arrived with the introduction of a single tariff in 1953. Yet another positive action involved the purchase of 44 modern T1-type trams – the so-called "Irons", later added to by a hundred T2-type carriages. The new trams mainly appeared on the new Poruba, NHKG and, later on, Zábřeh lines along the Plzeňská Street. A new modern fleet maintenance depot was built in Poruba.
The importance of bus transport grew steadily. The new ¦koda 706 RO and, later on, RTO models mainly served the newly emerging residential and industrial areas where trams had had yet to be introduced. First express and parallel bus lines started to appear as well, posing a direct competitor to the trams. It was mainly on those lines where buses with trailers were used.
Trolleybus transport replaced the former narrow-gauge line to Michálkovice, Hru‘ov in the area of the present-day pedestrian zone. The operation was covered by robust three*-axle Tatra T 400 trolleybuses added to, later on, by smaller ¦koda 8 Tr carriages that were even used with trailers for a short period of time.
Residential development in the area of Hrabůvka a Zábřeh was hitting peak figures at the onset of 1960’s, with the simultaneous Poruba development. In addition to trams, the new housing estates were still more often served by buses. Buses also replaced trams on many single-rail lines. In association with the construction of the so-called Polanka link (ČSD line from Svinov to Kunčice) in 1964, trams ceased to frequent the Sand Mines and left the contemporary Zenger and Rudná Streets. Towards the end of 1960’s, lines leading to the Bělský forest and a section of the Kyjovice line via old Svinov were put out of use. Many new tram lines were designed, yet only a proportion of them were built. In 1969, new central workshops for repairs of trams in Martinov were opened.
The withdrawal of single-rail tram lines went on during 1970’s as well. In 1975, the Hrabová - ¦čučí line was cancelled and on New Year’s Day in 1978, trams finally ceased to frequent Klimkovice. Railway freight transport was cancelled in 1972. In contrast, new lines were constructed to serve Hrabůvka and Vý‘kovice.
Trolleybus transport was the one that suffered most as a result of the establishment of the pedestrian zone in the centre of the town in 1967, having lost its frequented section. The trolleybuses were scheduled to be withdrawn altogether by 1969. That, however, did not happen, fortunately, thus making way for the fleet to be gradually replaced with ¦koda 9 Tr carriages.
The bus preference was further highlighted by the tariff re-organisation as of 1 July, 1967. The fares were now non-transferrable; therefore, a number of bus lines were extended to the centre of the town or merged into a diametrical shape.
The narrow-gauge lines started to be removed. By 1967, the Karviná line was gradually withdrawn. The Bohumín trams operated on the Ostrava line were maintained for some time before being ceremoniously withdrawn on 1 October 1973. The most valuable vehicles were assigned to the Brno Technical Museum. The main reason for the withdrawal was the overall obsoleteness of both the cars and lines. New housing estates were being built here and there, lacking connection to the tram grid. The older estates along with the tram lines frequently suffered from the effects of undermining. ČSAD buses replaced the narrow-gauge trams.
Bus transport underwent the most intensive development. The former Hranečník narrow gauge tram depot was adapted to accommodate buses, new garages were built in Poruba. New modern concept buses appeared in operation in mid 1960’s, Karosa ¦M 11, during late 1960’s the RTO trailer bus sets started to be replaced with cellular Ikarus 280 carriages. Bus transport was gaining a still greater share in public transportation, especially the new Poruba districts where the projected construction of new tram lines had been abandoned.
Beginning 1 July, 1978, the so-called mechanical check-in of passengers was introduced with a view to speeding up the traffic. All cars were equipped with shredders, which the passengers used to stamp their tickets purchased in pre-sale. Yet, the payment discipline displayed by the passengers proved below expectations and the revenues decreased a great deal.
The need for a quality change in public transportation in Ostrava and the increase in oil prices following the energy crisis brought about a new concept of the advantages provided by the electric traction in comparison to buses. A study drafted recommended that the tram network be converted into a speed tram system supported by trolleybuses to a larger extent than had been the case previously.
It was mainly the trolleybus network that underwent major extensions. In 1979, lines leading through the Fifejdy housing estates were opened and operation on the parallel bus lines was reduced. Yet another line was opened in Heřmanice in 1985.
Tram lines were developed in the southern part of the town. Linked to new residential development the Hrabůvka tram line was extended up to Dubina in 1985. The transport from Zábřeh and Vý‘kovice was speeded up, to a large extent, from 1987, by the Vy‘kovická Street link. The first stage in construction of the tram line along Místecká Street involved the commissioning of the line 18 track in 1981. With no successive lines towards the blast furnaces, however, the new track was but of marginal importance only.
The bus network underwent some extensions as well, yet not to the detriment of tram transport. The only exception to the rule was the cancellation of a tram line leading to Hlučín in 1982. The scheduled introduction of trolleybus transport in that domain did not materialise on the grounds of a lack of investment funds. Yet a gradual renovation of the tram line leading to Kyjovice was commenced, and on 22 February, 1986, the line was opened ceremoniously with the operation of old two-axle trams, the last of their kind in our territory.
New types of vehicles appeared in the streets. Following the supply of T3 type trams, three-cell high-capacity KT8D5 type trams were supplied. The trolleybus fleet was modernised by the addition of ¦koda 14 Tr cars, and cellular ¦koda - Sanos and ¦koda 15 Tr cars. The bus fleet was improved with the addition of Karosa B730 series buses, later on in cellular designs.
The entire transportation situation still left a lot to be desired, though. Power and oil consumption was centrally limited as well as purchases of new vehicles. Yet another factor involved a lack of drivers. Public transportation therefore continued to encounter limitations and its quality gradually deteriorated.
The fall of the totalitarian regime in November 1989 confronted the public transportation system with new challenges. First and foremost, the need arose to increase the efficiency of the public transportation economy as much as possible and get prepared for the competition threat posed by personal transport, which soon began to translate itself as a decreasing number of passengers and a growing number of passenger cars in the streets.
The loosening of the economic terms allowed for a more independent tariff policy in public transportation. A zone tariff was introduced, the mechanic shredders were replaced with electronic markers, the tickets were changed for a time reference system allowing multiple transfers. The emergence of the Ostrava Integrated Transport System amounted to a major milestone. The harmonisation of tariffs with the suburban bus lines markedly increased the attractiveness of public transportation. The coating of the public transportation vehicles was changed to blue and while and the issuing of time schedules in books became matter of fact as well as the diligent care and maintenance of the stops and the openness of the public transportation system vis-a-vis the general public.
The routing of the lines was changed to a great extent. The intention of the ongoing changes is to allow a simple and more lucid system with priority given to environment-friendlier transport formats.
The early 1990’s saw the completion of the new trolleybus lines in the area of Silesian Ostrava and other projects are ready to get underway. The modernisation of the trolley lines has speeded up the passage of trolleybuses through crossroads, thus removing the well-founded criticism of the particular transport format.
The operations were severely disrupted by the 1997 floods. The fundamental communication system of the town was disrupted, power supplies interrupted. The collapse of the public transportation system of the town would have been imminent if it had not been for the effort by many of the staff of the Ostrava Transport Company. The flooding caused damage of millions of Crowns not only in property of the Ostrava Transport Company. Some parts of the town suffered an exceptionally heavy blow and lives were lost. The operation of the Public Transportation System could only be fully restored after several weeks due to the destroyed roads and bridges.
Substantial changes are underway in the tram segment. The older cars are continuously modernised as to comply with the stringent passenger requirements for comfort. An important milestone is the commissioning of a tram line along the Místecká Street at the turn of the millennium.
The introduction of low-floor trams, trolleybuses and buses amounts to a principal turning point in transportation. The trend, ongoing all around the world, is an important factor in increasing the attractiveness of public transportation.
Ostrava public transportation enters the new millennium as an indispensible public service comparable to those provided in the most advanced European countries. Continuous quality improvements and adaptation to the needs of the public are the priorities of all public transportation staff.