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80 years of Pilsen trolleybus / Chapter 2

 

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2   The Post-War Boom

 

The majority of trolleybus lines in Pilsen were built in the first decade after the war. This was helped by the perfect combination of the EECP’s preparedness and the quality of the local development and production of trolleybuses, as well as the most up-to-date Swiss technology of overhead trolley lines. [57]

2.1       The Expansion of Trolleybuses

The roots of success

Skvrňany and many other areas were destroyed by the bombs dropped by the Allied troops. The production in the Škoda Works ceased, and the city’s transport system found itself practically at ground zero. The EECP Director, F. Mlynařík, presented his vision of the development of the trolleybus network to Pilsen’s Revolutionary National Committee. As soon as 18 June 1945, the city leaders approved the construction of three trolleybus lines and the commission of 25 trolleybuses. The production of the new trolleybuses for Pilsen became one of the first large contracts that saw Pilsen’s Škoda works reorientate from its previous war manufacturing activities back to civil production. The new vehicles, except for the last one, were supposed to be the same as the existing ones in principle, the only difference being that a third door would be added allowing passengers to alight from trolleybuses faster. The new lines were to run along the following routes: 1 Doudlevce – Lochotín – Bolevec, 2 Božkov – Railway Station – Skvrňany and 3 City Spa – Bílá Hora. The EECP concept planned for four trolleybus lines (with two branches), four converter stations (out of which two were intended to be used by trams as well) and three trolleybus garages (Slovany, Cukrovarská, Doubravka). A tram service was to be retained only on the double track between Bory and Slovany. As for the overhead trolley lines, ‘moveable suspension wires of Swiss design would be used instead of fixed suspension wires. The new suspension wires would facilitate speeds of up to 60 km/h and guarantee perfect contact between the pole and trolley wires with no sparking, so people would be able to listen to the radio with no disturbance along the route [32]. Pilsen was set to have the biggest trolleybus network in Czechoslovakia before 1948, with 22.3 km of trolleybus lines and 35 vehicles.

 

These bold plans were made under conditions that were not very easy. For example, on 17 December 1945, tram and trolleybus night services had to be restricted due to an order issued by the government that concerned saving electric power. In 1946, four out of ten trolleybuses had to be laid up and remained unused due to tyre shortages. A command requesting the division of the EECP was yet another blow; on 7 March 1946 the entire profitable power-producing part of the company broke away. Fortunately, none of the above stopped the efforts of what by then was the Public Transport Company of the Statutory City of Pilsen (PTCP), which was led by František Mlynařík until his death.

 

(p. 50) Masarykova Avenue in Doubravka with war vehicles and fixed suspension wires on overhead trolley lines. [62]

(p. 50) Italian elegance meets Czech functionalism in Doubravka. The 1933 villa of Pilsen’s architect Karel Tomášek became a popular backdrop for factory images of Škoda trolleybuses. The 1946 picture shows a Milan OMS-Isotta-TIBB vehicle repurposed for a transport service in Most-Litvínov. [57]

(p. 52) A 3 Tr2 vehicle at the City Spa with passengers boarding on route A going to Doubravka. One of the first Škoda 706 RO buses can be seen lurking in the background. [57]

The new Božkov – Skvrňany line

The Ministry of Transport granted planning permission on 20 March 1947, even though the PTCP had not secured permits from the relevant house owners to use their facades for anchoring cross-wire suspensions. In addition, the final location of stops was to be specified at a later date, and so was the way of how railway flyovers and underpasses would be navigated. Today, we can only dream of the authorities and legislation being as flexible and action-ready as they were then. The construction work progressed fast. The line opening ceremony was held on 28 October 1948, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the formation of Czechoslovakia. At this opportunity, a new two-digit numbering system replaced the system which used letters for distinguishing the trolleybus routes:

 

10 City Spa – Doubravka

11 City Spa – Central Cemetery

12 Božkov – Skvrňany.

 

The construction of route 12 was a challenging project in which a range of problematic areas had to be tackled by putting temporary solutions in place. The question remains on whether it would have been possible to get permission and build it in such a short time frame in the years that followed. The roads in the Eastern Suburb were in a bad condition, and the Pilsen – České Budějovice railway line had to be crossed via a wooden flyover that was temporarily adapted for this purpose. It was not possible to establish the route elsewhere, because the roads were impassable and there were high-voltage overhead lines. Nevertheless, the new trolleybus line increased the level of Pilsen public transport by leaps and bounds. Replacing the Božkov bus service and the outdated single track leading to Skvrňany, twenty roomy and comfortable trolleybuses set off to run along one direct and fast route. As expected, others claimed credit for this achievement: ‘The events of the revolution culminated with February 1948, when our working people took over all the power to govern this country. Our transport workers did not stay aloof either and unanimously joined in the efforts to build socialism. They were able to take part directly in the management and leadership of their company.’ [4] The 6.5-km line was divided into several isolated sections, and the only power to run the line was supplied from a rectifier station located in the hydroelectric power station in Denisovo Embankment (Hydro). Despite the use of modern overhead lines, the maximum speed was set at 40 km/h. Still, the journey time was only 22 minutes, including 17 stops. A total of 35 Pilsen trolleybuses waited till spring 1949 to be relocated from Slovany to Cukrovarská Garage.

 

(p. 52) Trolley wires are being fitted in front of the Božkov terminus in late summer 1947. [57]

(p. 52) Coming to Božkov, the line had to negotiate a wooden bridge above railway tracks. [57]

(p. 53) At the beginning of 1948, trolley wires were mounted in U Světovaru Street as well. [57]

(p. 53) The snowy plain looks nothing like the junction of U Světovaru Street and Koterovská Avenue. [57]

(p. 53) Assemblers finishing the line in Koterovská Avenue; the panorama of the Petrohrad quarter can be seen in the background. [57]

(p. 53) On the other side of the city, a trolleybus line runs through Hornická Street, running parallel to a single track that is nearing its lifespan. [57]

(p. 53) Unlike the original tram tracks, trolleybuses continued over the bridge above the railway line to Cheb. [51]

(p. 54) In Skvrňany, the line terminates in a small loop using tubular armatures from the Swiss Kummler & Matter system. [57]

(p. 54) The turning bay in Jiráskovo Square used by extra vehicles to boost services was designed later, on 2 July 1947. [51]

(p. 55) The U Práce junction was the first crossing of trams and trolleybuses in Czechoslovakia using the Kummler & Matter system. [52]

(p. 55) The route 12 opening ceremony held on 28 October 1948. The initial frequency set at 15 minutes was quickly becoming shorter in the years that followed. [51]

(p. 56) Permission to use the Božkov – Skvrňany line permanently. [51]

(p. 56) The trolley line crossing at the Skyscraper (Mrakodrap), an intersection where routes 12 and 13 met, was designed in 1947 as a simple crossing of two trolley lines and one tramway leading to the workshops. The shunting operations of the incoming and outgoing traffic could not do without re-routing trolley poles in the middle of the junction. [51]

(p. 57) The first two-axled 6 Tr2 135 trolleybus in Pilsen’s transport system at the end of 1949 and beginning of 1950. By then, the Skyscraper junction included a new line coming from Anglické Embankment. [57]

(p. 57) The atmosphere of Stalinova (present-day Americká) Avenue in 1950. The Skyscraper junction was named after the tenement shown on the right-hand side of the picture. The double-track line crossing of routes 12 and 13 was newly fitted with bidirectional arcs on the side closer to the railway station. [52]

Celebrating birthday with route thirteen

New route preparations started on 13 February 1946 when the design plans of a new converter station were outlined. The new Doudlevce – Bolevec line, which was to be 6.9 km long and include 20 stops, made allowances for a branch line going up to Košutka; this branch was designed to be 1.4 km long and have 3 stops along the route. Planning permission to build the lines was granted on 26 July 1947. The new line could only use a small part of the equipment from the original Doudlevce – Lochotín electric tracks, such as some suspension wires attached to houses. Two tracks of overhead trolley lines with a flexible suspension system had higher demands. The electric tracks were preserved between Republic Square and the workshops in Cukrovarská Street. It was proposed that a turning bay used by trolleybuses arriving from Košutka would be situated in front of the savings bank.

 

In early 1949, the PTCP was transformed into a communal enterprise. On 1 April 1949, a shunting line was introduced, going to the trolleybus garage from the City Spa, passing through Anglické (at the time called Charkovské) Embankment and Americká (Stalinova) Avenue. From 11 April 1949 onwards, it was used to provide a direct route for workers travelling between Doubravka and Skvrňany in the mornings, afternoons and evenings. Route 13, operating between Doudlevce and Bolevec, was launched on Wednesday, 29 June 1949, replacing not only trams but also the Lochotín – Bolevec shuttle bus service.

 

(p. 57) The last 3 Tr3 134 trolleybus launching the route 13 service on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Pilsen tram service. [51]

(p. 58) The functionalist building of a nationalised insurance company became the seat of the Communist Party after the February 1948 coup. A 7 Tr4 156 trolleybus with a trailer is pulling into a garage. The first use of articulated trolleybuses, operating on route 12, dates back to 23 October 1949. [58]

(p. 58) The standard length of cantilevers used in Kummler & Matter design plans was 6.55 metres. To allow a wider clearance between the road and masts, a solution proposing to extend the cantilevers to 7.8 metres was designed. [51]

(p. 59) A new Škoda 7 Tr3 trolleybus is driving up Lidická Avenue towards Bolevec, passing a villa quarter. [57]

(p. 59) To build a line going over Roosevelt Bridge, atypically high masts were erected from the ground under the bridge structure. A 3 Tr3 trolleybus leaving Roudná is heading towards the city centre. [63]

(p. 60) Thanks to the good-quality architecture of the First Republic era, the section of Lidická Avenue between Procháska’s Institute and Higher Economic School became a gratifying motif of presentation pictures featuring new types of trolleybuses. This particular picture shows a 7 Tr3 made for an unspecified customer in 1952. [57]

The Košutka route is launched

The main reason why there were delays in the building of the line was a shortage of Mannesmann masts (seamless steel traction masts). In 1949, 26 tonnes were used on the building of shunting lines on the Embankment and in the garage. A further 8 tonnes were not delivered to Pilsen at all, because decisions regarding the distribution of steel were made by the state raw material committee. The construction work was completed in the end, and voltage was supplied to the wires on 6 November 1950. On 14 November, a technical and police test was conducted using trolleybus No. 107, and trolleybuses operating on route 14 set off the following day. They were running at 20-minute intervals on the Košutka – Kopeckého Gardens route, and the vehicles designated for commuting workers continued further to Doudlevce.

The longest route to Černice

Back in 1949, plans were in place to extend the tram tracks from Slovany to Černice. Preparatory works to introduce trolleybuses started in 1950. Large volumes of trolley armatures were ordered from Kummler & Matter. The design plans of the Slovany – Černice and Doudlevce – Slovany trolleybus lines were approved by the Ministry of Transport on 27 March 1951, although the Doudlevce – Slovany route was originally intended to operate as a workers’ service only. The most critical point on the route was Malostranská Street, which had a gradient of up to 10.5‰ and the width of the road was only 4.5 metres in certain parts. The police issued a requirement for the speed limit to be at 15 km/h, and at times when the road was covered with black ice, the traffic had to be stopped altogether. However, the new trolleybus line shortened the journey time to the Doudlevce division of the Škoda Works by up to 30 minutes. Because there were not enough masts in Malostranská Street, reinforced concrete was used instead. The PTCP started to produce many new features themselves, such as cantilevers, mast clamps and machined armatures. The conditions were made yet more difficult in 1953 when a monetary reform was carried out. The uprising of Pilsen’s residents was violently crushed. It was only thanks to the PTCP that the construction of the line, which was 4.6 km long, could be completed. On 12 October 1953, a test was conducted using a fully laden vehicle No. 112. Special instructions were issued for the operation of the new Doudlevce – Slovany line: ‘Because it is not allowed for two trolleybuses to meet in the ascending Malostranská Street, traffic control signals have been fitted in both directions. Lamps have been placed in the middle of the arm of the overhead trolley lines. Both lights are turned on and off at the same time. If the signal lamp is off, a trolleybus can drive into the area, and in doing so, it goes over a contact point. This automatically turns on the lights at both ends, so no other trolleybuses can enter the risk area, whether they are oncoming or following behind. When the trolleybus leaves the area, both signals are turned off automatically.’ [51] To cope with the amount of new switch points and crossings, a principle was established where driving into or from a branch line was done with live wires, whereas when going in the other directions the vehicle did not draw current from the trolley wires. On 18 October 1953, route 13 became Pilsen’s longest line, stretching 10.8 km and providing a trolleybus service between Bolevec and Černice.

 

(p. 62) ‘The mystery’ of the 25th vehicle ordered in 1945 was solved by a two-axle Škoda 5 Tr vehicle drawing. However, there was no mention of any vision to build a Černice line in the official documents at the time. [57]

(p. 63) Černice residents are offering their help with digging the holes for the foundations of masts to serve route 13. [51]

Bringing trolleybuses to Nová Hospoda

By 1954, Pilsen was served by as many as 63 trolleybuses and 16 trailers. For the first and last time in the entire history, the number of trolleybus passengers reached that of tram passengers. Trolleybuses transported 22.9 million passengers per year and covered the most kilometres out of the three modes of transport. Stretching along the state road leading to Domažlice was the largest compound of Pilsen’s Škoda works. In addition, more production plants were being built, which led to plans to extend route 12 from Skvrňany through Zátiší to Nová Hospoda. Local surveys had to be conducted repeatedly to determine the site where a turning bay in Nová Hospoda would be built. Other discussions were held regarding the level crossing on the Pilsen – Domažlice railway line. The PTCP had to cover the building costs of swapping the existing full-length barriers for two half-barriers which could be lifted under trolley wires. The entire trolleybus line was then designed to run along the completely straight, 6-metre wide, I/26 state road. Masts were erected directly between the trees along the avenue to ensure they would not damage the treetops and would not stand in the way of any future plans to widen the road. Due to the overall shortage of steel masts, reinforced concrete masts were used instead. Finally, on 16 December 1954, the overhead trolley lines were finished and received voltage. Two days before Christmas, a fully laden vehicle No. 108 drove along the line. The oldest Škoda 3 Tr trolleybuses were providing a trusted service throughout the entire decade after the war. To supply power for the line, a new converter station was built in the Zátiší settlement. ‘Trolley wires are attached to masts and wall hooks along the whole length, using support cables and wires in a flexible manner, in accordance with the time-tested Kummler-Matter system. The power lines crossing the body of the line at kilometre 0.467 are secured by a double support net, and the overhead lines are situated 6.2 metres above the rail head, in compliance with the regulations and an agreement with Czechoslovak State Railways.’ [51]. The Skvrňany loop was preserved. New overhead lines were attached to it using a switch point and crossing. The new section was 2.88 km long, making the total length of route 12, including the extension, 9.5 km. The passenger service started on 2 January 1955. Initially, only every other trolleybus went to Nová Hospoda, at 15-minute intervals.

 

(p. 64) A 3Tr3 121 trolleybus in Heldova Street is ready to depart. [74]

2.2       Limits and Boundaries

The vision of the city’s modern transport system based on the cooperation between high-performance tram and trolleybus transport was fulfilled before 1955. Today, we stand in awe that both means of electric public transport, which was already eco-friendly back then, covered 90% of all transport operations.

Overcrowded garages

Rapid growth was soon met with a wealth of limitations. The construction of new lines was faced with raw material rations. Expensive armatures made in Switzerland were no longer supplied. The capacity of Cukrovarská Garage was exceeded twofold. New bus garages were housing trolleybuses as well. Many vehicles were stationed under the open sky, such as in the area below the central workshops, while trailers were parked outside the garage in Černická Street in front of an old hall. In order to re-establish Slovany Trolleybus Garage, the PTCP even resorted to starting construction work to build a shunting line in Slovanská alej Street.

Bold plans to be shelved

An increased level of interest in expanding tram tracks was emerging in response to both the intensive building of flats and the volumes of employees commuting to the Škoda Works. Still, trolleybuses were favoured as the key player in the overall transport service across the city, so plans were made to extend some of the trolleybus lines to Bílá Hora and Újezd. There were talks about building intercity trolleybus lines that would run to Starý Plzenec and Ejpovice. A two-kilometre extension to Újezd seemed like the most realistic option, for which the Ministry of Local Economy approved an investment on 25 April 1955, intended for the expansion of the converter station in Letná. However, the streets of Újezd were in need of repair, and there was no suitable site to build a turning bay in the area. The line to Bílá Hora, which was designed to be a three-kilometre route operated by eight trolleybuses, was to be powered by a new converter station at Bílá Hora from 1956. However, the Ministry later raised doubts about the necessity of the whole line, and none was built in the end. The Ministry also declined the proposed plan for a tangential trolleybus route that would operate between Doubravka and Doudlevce via Slovany, arguing that the route would only be used at peak times.

 

(p. 65) The plan to build lines to Bílá Hora and Újezd was approved by the Minister of Local Economy on 31 August 1954. [51]

(p. 66) In the first half of the 1950s, a 3 Tr 128 in Hornická (present-day Domažlická) Street is passing a vehicle carrying an oil transformer of the V. I. Lenin Works (Škoda). [63]

(p. 66) A route map from December 1955.

(p. 67) The evolution of the trolleybus network between 1946 and 1955.


 

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