- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
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 July 11 , 2003 

De-Railed: Only one tram route remains following latest closer

Husik Vartazaryan has driven trams for 30 years.

On June 20, Route 7 of the Yerevan tram network closed, leaving only Route 5 as the survivor among the capital's dinosaur transportation system.

The system began in 1933 and over the years grew to four routes. Two routes were discontinued in December 2001.

Bit by bit, these retro carriages that were in service for more than 70 years are being taken out from use because the State can not sustain them any longer and because passengers are not guaranteed enough safety to continue traveling with them.

"Why leave them if they are so expensive" questions Areg Barseghyan, head of the Department of Transportation, who says there are numerous factors that make trams a burden for the capital roads rather than a service.

Since 1998, when the government discontinued its financial support for electric transportation, trams were consuming much more than they were returning.

Statistics at the Department of Transportation show that for 2002, revenues generated by trams were put at 103.9 million drams (about $179,000), while expenditures for electricity only were as high as 151.9 million drams (about $262,000).

In addition to energy costs, maintenance and salaries make the exotic but expensive transports impractical. Employees are owed three months overdue salaries and the overall debt of the system is 38 million drams (about $65,500).

Once gone, the trams won't return, as rails are being dismantled.

If the system were to be maintained, it would require a complete overhaul, Barseghyan says. "Nobody is even counting how much is needed for renewal because in no case can trams be a profitable business."

The last serious investment was made 17 years ago when Yerevan bought new carriages. Since then only cosmetic repair was performed, and this by tram drivers themselves.

Aged coaches with ripped chairs, decayed floors and sometimes no glass in windows cause comfort and safety problems. And, as automobile and mini-bus traffic has increased, so, too, has the danger to tram riders disembarking in the middle of crowded streets.

But in spite of all the difficulties related to trams, their closure is a tragedy for some. In addition to the 200 employees who lost jobs when the first three routes closed, some devoted passengers are losing a source of cheap (often free) transportation.

For Maro Grigoryan, 40, who is unemployed, trams were the only possibility to move around Yerevan. "I feel outraged because trams were cheap and comfortable."

A standard fare for trams is 40 drams (about 7 cents), compared to 100 drams for minibuses. But 30-year veteran tram driver Husik Vartazaryan says most of his passengers are military, pensioners, policemen - who ride for free.

Once a colorful part of Yerevan traffic, trams are about to be extinct.

While Route 5 runs out its indefinite future, authorities have nearly doubled the number of carriages to 25. The increase is good news for passengers who now only wait about four to five minutes rather than twice that long.

But this good news means new trouble for tram drivers. Daily, they have to accomplish a plan of collecting 11,000 drams (about $19) from tickets. The increase of carriages makes it difficult for each driver to collect his quota.

When Route 5 finally succumbs (and authorities aren't sure when that will be), the city plans to add more buses. Recently 13 buses, a gift from the city of Lyon, began service; another 12 are to begin operation by the end of this month.

While some drivers still hope that one day there will be money for restoring the trams, at least for a route that would serve for tourist purposes, the mayor's office leaves no chance for it. Along with withdrawing the trams, rails are being pulled out too.

Authorities have offered to sell the 1,300 tons of rails at a price of $80 per ton. But because the rails are so old, no one has yet offered to buy them.


According to Agnes
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  Photos of the week
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The National Chamber Orchestra made a tour of Karabakh last weekend, including an open-air performance at the College of Applied Sciences in Shushi. THe Orchestra is back from a recent tour of Moscow and St. Petersburg.



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