Amid the daily online and media coverage of the viral infection affecting everyone there is an image on SkyNews website of streetcleaning in Istanbul along a tramline with a once typical tramcar in the background. In fact this is close to the terminus of the heritage tram service running to Taksim Square which I visited last year. The service is held down by a single car traversing the almost deadstraight track from the incline station at Tunel to the important public space at Taksim Square and adjoining park.
A fenced off track adjoining the Square and terminus of the service serves as the depot (area) being completely open but overseen by a watchman 24/7. The tram is one of several of the Istanbul system's first generation single truck cars in original red lined out colours. A modest collection was held back by the operator upon closure of the early system - and stored out of public gaze over several decades. Fortunately this allowed a handful to be made available for what has become a very popular heritage service traversing a busy commercial street ending at the large open square. Being double ended and of course with limited capacity - the tram operates more or less as a shuttle service with no passing loops or track connections.
German built centre entrance two axle car on display at the Koc Museum - signage for the Kadikoy service and period livery. An early horse car stands alongside.
The frontage of a standard Istanbul tram in closeup - also on display at the Koc Museum. Note the neatly tiled floor.
Elsewhere in the city and its metropolitan districts several standard gauge lines have since been opened with a mix of different articulated cars, mostly running as coupled units. They traverse many of the streets and districts formerly used by the first generation tram network. A large museum collection is privately owned and operated by the 'Koc Foundation' - an offshoot of a major Turkish construction conglomerate. The displays of cars, trains, models, ships, and much more include several Istanbul trams - exceptionally well maintained.
Further from the centre of the city is the suburb of Kadikoy which acquired its own vintage electric tramway in the past decade. A circutous single track line traverses narrow winding streets through residential and commercial neighbourhoods - this time with its own depot. In order to provide period rolling stock, the Istanbul authorities purchased a small fleet of two axle 'Reko' and similar Gotha trams from east German systems. Repainted in the same traditional Istanbul red livery, they are used on the Kadikoy 'circular' tramway passing by the Ferry terminal and main subway line station. Unlike the Taksim line Kadikoy is able to run more than one tram at a time during busy peak periods. I was fortunate in being allowed to inspect the newbuild depot and workshop which also has an external storage track. The interior of a Gotha built car as used on the Kadikoy service gives an atmospheric flavour from east germany of all places. The windows may well have been altered to provide greater ventilation and standing passengers would no doubt have been grateful judging by the number of 'strap hangers'.
A classic tram in a wholly different setting - the depot cum workshop building in view on the left at Kadikoy.
Some of these cars were originally operated in Jena, a small system which I had visited previously during the 1990s and here too allowed to inspect the very same cars, (or their cousins) in the postwar tram depot. Of course all the former DDR era cars have now done from Jena (excepting museum examples) and a whole new generation of low floor articulated trams operate on a system which has been extended since my visit. The online Skynews feature with its Istanbul heritage tram in clear view does much to bring back my own impressions and pleasure from my visit to Istanbul - time well spent. Highly recommended as and when travel restrictions are lifted. All Images : John Woodman