How the Budapest Tram System Uses Long Streetcars Successfully

If you haven’t already, make sure you read this post first before reading this one, it goes into great detail on how a streetcar can be successful in cities when done correctly. If you already have, then great – this post will expand on that and look at longer versions of streetcars, which are operating today. The long streetcar in the picture is the Budapest tram (capital of Hungary), and it is currently the longest running streetcar (or tram) in the world. In Europe they call streetcars trams, but they’re the same thing as streetcars. When referring to Budapest, I’ll be using the word tram, and when talking about implementing it in the United States, I’ll be using streetcar.

Analyzing The Newest Budapest Tram Car

Believe it or not, the Budapest tram is no different than many of the streetcars operating today. It is made by CAF and the model is the Urbos 3. There are many cities in Europe and the United States who are currently using the Urbos 3 as their tram or streetcar. The only difference is the length of the train: it is 3 times the length of a small, 3 car tram. This tram is 9 cars long (55.9 meters/183 feet) and can fit up to 500 people on a single tram. That’s a lot of people.

Let’s look at the Urbos 3 a little more carefully. The car’s exterior design fits in beautifully for a modern, futuristic form. It’s not like a tram out of the 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s at all. But what’s more impressive is what’s on the inside that makes it very easy to board and get off. All of the door entrances are level with the platform with no steps, making it easy to get on, take a bike on board, or getting riders with wheelchairs/disabilities on board. Once you’re on board, you’ll notice the lighting and how modern looking the car is. There are several seats and standing areas, in addition to places to store bicycles and areas for wheelchairs to lock in for the ride. It also comes fully equipped with air conditioning and electronic TV screens for route information. And for good measure, all cars on the tram have CCTV (closed circuit television) equipped with surveillance cameras.

The smaller versions of the Urbos 3 are exactly the same, just with fewer cars on them. So why make the tram so long?

A Look At Budapest’s Tram System

Budapest may have the busiest tram system in the world. Over 393 million people take the tram every year. That right there is your answer to why they ordered longer trams. Anyway, continuing on, Budapest streetcar network has about 33 different lines, covering 97 miles of track, meaning their tram system is completely built out. And that’s been the case for Budapest since the 1880’s when their trams began to run on electricity rather than horses.

American cities also had very extensive streetcar systems too in the first half of the 1900’s. But all the old American systems closed, while Budapest’s remained strong. Why is that, and what happened? Well, in America, the automobile took off in popularity, and eventually the streetcars were so low in ridership they were forced to close. That never happened in Budapest, and what happened there can be seen all throughout Europe: the tram system was very popular, and it always has been. Part of this is because the way European cities are laid out in comparison to American cities, and another part is because European cities including Budapest kept up with maintenance and replacement of trams. People use trams more often in Europe because so many people live, work, and play in relatively close proximity inside the city. This trend is changing in America slowly but surely.

A Speed Analysis Of The Long Budapest Tram

According to CAF’s website, the 9-car tram can travel up to 43 mph. That’s more than enough speed for a streetcar to work. It would probably be unlikely that it would be going that fast through urban streets, but if it were going on a divided boulevard just outside the city, those speeds could be achieved safely.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky. What happens when a tram that long approaches a corner or tight curve? You probably guessed it, it has to slow down significantly, almost coming to a halt. And actually it’s not entirely the streetcar’s fault, it’s the existing track that’s already there and was designed for much shorter streetcars. Rebuilding the track would cost a significant amount of money, so they designed the individual cars so that they could handle the tighter curves without derailing.

The Economics Of The Long Budapest Tram

Like I said earlier, over 393 million people ride on Budapest’s 33 tram routes, which comes out to about 1,077,808 riders every single day. So the cost of investing into the longer Budapest tram trains is worth it, because overcrowding is an issue. The longer trams make it possible to fit more people on one train. CAF says a maximum of 563 people can be on the long tram at once, which is impressive. Budapest ordered 12 of these long trams, and with so many riders, it is well worth the investment, it makes sense. And these longer trams can fit on the system because the tracks are long enough between traffic signals, meaning they won’t cause gridlock.

But what about American cities? Can’t they adopt long streetcars? The short answer is no. Let’s use Cincinnati’s streetcar system as an example. The long tram is 183 feet long, and it would cause gridlock between 2nd and 3rd streets because there’s less than 183 feet between them. It would also cause gridlock at the current stations and the streetcar would stick out in traffic, causing gridlock. And finally, all of the stations are built for 3 cars, not 9. All of that is for the best, read this article to know why. Kansas City’s streetcar faces very similar issues as well. Many of the newer American streetcar systems were designed for 3 car use, simply because either ridership projections wouldn’t justify it, or the area between streets is not long enough in some locations (less than 183 feet apart).

How Long Streetcars Like The Budapest Tram Could Work

For any existing streetcar system, the ridership would have to be justified to use them, along with the space needed to fit one. For new streetcar systems, cities that have the capability to hold a streetcar that long w/ high ridership projections could definitely use them. Any curves on the track would have to be long in order to maintain speed and reliability. The futuristic city I’m creating (Starwood, Texas) will use the long streetcars with the longer curves. It can be a very strong economic power for an urban core that needs to move large numbers of people to shorter distances easily and quickly.  And when it’s used correctly, it’s an amazing thing to watch.

Brian Cole

I'm Brian and I'm the founder of TransportationOfTomorrow.com. I have a strong passion for fixing America's transportation infrastructure problem and traffic flow issues. I ultimately want to see the American economy grow as far as it will go, create massive amounts of jobs, and in that way help the quality of how people live.

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