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Zürich celebrates its new tram museum

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A grand opening

schnellaeufer tram HBThe morning of the 26th May saw twelve heritage trams start, each from a different Zürich terminus, and converge on the newly pedestrianised riverside promenade – the Limmatquai, along which they formed a parade. From here they ran to the new museum at Burgwies. For the rest of the day (and on the next), heritage trams shuttled visitors between the town centre and the festivities taking place in and around the museum. Both the museum and the trams were packed. Zürich’s new tram museum couldn’t have had a better start!

40 years in tram preservation

The event marked a fortuitous coincidence of two anniversaries: 125 years of trams in Zürich and 40 years of Verein Tram Museum Zürich (Zürich Tram Museum Society), TMZ. The latter traces its founding to 40 enthusiasts who, despite initial scepticism by VBZ (Zürich’s tram operator), saved a number of trams from scrap. The early restoration projects took place under cramped conditions in the corners of various depots. Housing the growing collection was also a perpetual challenge. The trams had to be distributed over spare lengths of track in different depots, where it was not always easy to establish access for society members, let alone the general public.

a museum in the makingAs the society name suggests, the establishment of a museum had been a goal of TMZ from its founding, and successive society chairmen did not tire of reminding decision makers and the public of the fact. The preservation of trams cannot be a goal in itself, they argued, but can only be successful if it takes place visibly and with broad public support. In the early years the vision must have seemed rather utopic, but as the society grew from the 40 founding members to the 700 or so it counts today, its means and influence grew with it. The dream finally came true in 1989 when a museum was opened at Wartau. This tiny depot had barely enough space to hold the five smallest cars. It was, however, a stepping stone to greater things: It raised the society’s visibility and permitted the operation of a regular heritage service, bringing visitors to the museum on the days it was open. Even more than helping recruit new members or attracting sponsors, such activities built considerable public appreciation of and sympathy for TMZ - without which the next step would not have been possible.

A new museum

burgwies interior In a city where both the prices of and the demand for real estate are high, and especially in an area as attractive as that around Burgwies, a disused tram depot is a sought-after asset. As VBZ gradually withdrew from the building in the 1990s, several organisations and companies started to express interest. TMZ was able to put its popularity to good use in arguing its case before the town council. It is a tribute to both the confidence the authorities have come to place in TMZ’s abilities, and the popularity of the heritage trams themselves, that in 2005 the city council voted unanimously to permit TMZ to move into the larger of the two buildings that constitute the depot. The smaller has become a supermarket.

The old museum at Wartau opened its doors for the last time on 29th October 2006. The building will remain in TMZ use, however, with rebuilding as a workshop and parts store currently in progress.

lisbethli tram burgwies From the beginning of the planning of the new museum, it was clear that this was to be more than old trams in an old depot. A mezzanine floor has been installed along one side of the building. Besides providing an interesting viewing gallery, it features a model tramway layout recreating real scenes from Zürich’s street past and present, and a study area where a selection of documents and photographs can be viewed. The lower level houses the museum shop and various facilities.

The financial implications of fitting out and maintaining the new museum involve a certain gamble, with TMZ stretching its resources to the limit. Support has been received from a variety of generous sponsors and also lottery funds. However, the project’s long term success will depend on visitor numbers.

Heritage fleet

TMZ’s collection today features 22 cars including six trailers and three works trams, the vast majority of them operational. This number does not include the nine heritage, restaurant and party trams operated by VBZ. TMZ’s collection does not exclusively feature trams in the city’s iconic blue and white livery; two trams been restored to represent the private companies that originally owned them. The green car of Zürich Oerlikon Seebach (1897) and the yellow car of Limmattal Strassenbahn (1900) add colour and variation to the fleet and are popular among visitors. The latter provides an interesting contrast to city-liveried 102, a car that never ran for a private company, but is of an essentially similar design. Further cars document the most important milestones in Zürich’s tram history, from various phases of the development of the four wheeler, through the 1930s Elefant-type bogie car to the Swiss Standard Tram. Both variants of the latter are represented. The most recent addition is a Karpfen-type bogie tram and matching trailer, which were still running in public service earlier this year.

standard tram BurgwiesWith modern low-floor Cobra trams arriving at the rate of two a month, time is running out for the Mirage articulated type of 1966-9. TMZ intends to save a coupled pair. Other projects include the replica of an open-balcony 1898 tram, and a replica toast-rack trailer that could also be used as a horse tram. Many parts for these projects have already been secured.

The author, in his guise as a conductor on the heritage trams, has frequently observed people – both old and young – so enthralled by a passing historic tramcar that they boarded spontaneously, even though it wasn’t going where they wanted. Sympathy expressed for the museum project has also been huge. Such public support is encouraging and should help the new museum to a successful start.

Visiting the museum

the author as tram conductorBurgwies museum is open Wednesdays to Sundays (from November to March on Sundays only). Heritage trams taking visitors to the museum run every half hour on the last weekend of every month in the summer, picking up passengers at Paradeplatz, Bellevue and other city-centre stops. At other times, the museum can easily by reached by catching tram number 11 (for Rehalp) and alighting at Burgwies stop.

For up-to-date opening times and schedules, please check the tram museum website on

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