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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Taksim - Tunel Heritage Tram

I persuaded the street vendor to blow his bubble toy as the tram passed hence this slightly different perspective of 115 in action. Note the bow collector !

For tram enthusiasts this is possibly the most well known tram service in Istanbul given that there is much to choose from. I made two visits to this operation earlier in the week - and on both occasions was overwhelmed by the numbers of people 'promenading' up and down an entirely pedestrianised lengthy roadway. Taksim Square at one end dominates this part of Istanbul and is quite a volatile location given the crowds gathering for frequent public and political events. Armoured cars and water cannon can be seen parked just off the square with wary heavily armed police circulating around the area. The French, British, Swedish and Russian diplomatic legations are located along Taksim (although not in close proximity!) and all have manned barriers in front of their properties - with the Taksim tram trundling past.

Approximately just over a mile of a gently descending incline from the square is the other terminus - Tunel with both ends of this single track metre gauge tramway providing an essential tourist experience. Given the volume of pedestrians and single line - perforce a single tram manages to provide the service but always completely filled and enterprising locals hanging on to the rear platform and dash. The open platforms have trellis gates usually people hanging on to steps and anything they can grip An ad hoc spur off the Taksim Square terminus leads to an anonymous siding hidden next to apartment and office buildings. Here a fenced off area allows the tram to be stabled with a continuous guard at the gate. There is little in the way of information or background history to the tramway at this location unfortunately.

My wife expectantly awaits the Funicular car's arrival in its special anniversary livery.

However the Tunel terminus ending in a stub with passing loop alongside - offers an illustrative facade depicting the tramway and its linked funicular (actually a rack? incline) which provides a three minute steep ride from the busy lower scene just off Galata Bridge with noisesome constant arrival of ferry boats across the Bosphorus serving other parts of this enormous city. The T1 high frequency tram service crosses the bridge (along with flows of constant traffic in both directions). The Funicular as it is called - celebrated 144 years with its two cars (a middle loop allows a high frequency service) is well patronised; conveniently depositing customers at the Tunel tram terminus immediately outside. A replica traditional Istanbul tram shelter is sited very close by (no glazing) adding to the character of the area. I well commend those with transport persuasions to make a point of visiting the Galata Bridge area during peak hours to get the full flavour of the city's enormous energy.

Whilst in earlier years the Taksim tram service - marked clearly in all tourist guides was very much a practical adjunct for visitors (and residents) it is now more of a Disneyland experience giving unique colour to a vibrant and surprisingly upmarket retail street. Actually getting on the Taksim tram is a trial in and of itself. These are two axle vintage cars of limited capacity having to move very slowly in sedate fashion through crowds all the way from one end to the other. Free of external advertising and well maintained in traditional Istanbul red lined out livery - the car is the closest thing to how the first generation tram system must have looked. As I understand it there are several survivors in operable condition, all similar, some with matching trailers as well; however my two visits caught just a single car making its slow progress traversing the long straight pedestrian thoroughfare.

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