Thanks to Aid Effort, Sarajevo Now a Working Tram Museum

Posted on August 3, 1999

Sarajevo. When most people think of the famous Balkan city, it evokes two responses. That of a city in flames during the 1992 to 1995 war and of a much earlier time when a young Serb called Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and lit the fuse that set the world at war with itself between 1914 and 1918. Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was prior to the war a multi-cultural, thriving metropolis of nearly half a million people. For the past four years, the Bosnian government with help from the international community has been gradually rebuilding the shattered infrastructure. And high on the agenda of the authorities in the Sarajevo canton has been getting a workable public transport system re-established. In 1995 the city was literally in ruins, its buildings destroyed during the Serbian siege and with no functioning utilities. Although some trams did run sporadically, even at the height of the conflict, there was no effective system of public transport. Peoples’ priorities were having enough food to stay alive, avoiding being shot and staying warm. There was little requirement for them to move from A to B. The main drag that cuts through the city earned the nickname of “Sniper Alley.” For it was here that anything that moved—including women and children—was shot at by snipers in the hills and mountains around the city, lying as it does in a natural valley through which runs the River Bosna. All the more remarkable, then, to see the main thoroughfare today where trams and cars run throughout the day, giving the surface appearance, at least, of normality. In fact, Sarajevo is something of a tram-spotter’s paradise. Part of the aid that the international community has supplied to the city is trams. Many of the variants and types being used can be seen in the rest of the world only in museums and the colors and liveries of the different vehicles is quite a striking sight. The uniform color of the city transport authority is a confident yellow, which stands in stark contrast to the grayness of the city, many of whose buildings are pock-marked with shrapnel holes and often partially destroyed. Different cities from around the world donated surplus rolling stock; there are trams in Sarajevo that started their service life in Germany, Portugal, Spain, the United States and even Japan. Getting the public transport system back into operation was a key priority to enable people to travel to work and help rebuild the economy. Virtually the entire city’s tram fleet was destroyed during the war, when the main depot was mortared and shelled. Electricity was restored on a 24 hours a day basis only in the past nine months and this has made the job of running the tram network a great deal easier. Aid from the international community has flowed into the country following the formation of the General Framework Agreement for Peace, which was signed in Dayton, Ohio, at the end of 1995. The Dayton agreement ended the war and paved the way for rebuilding Bosnia, which has three ethnic groupings: Croats, Bosnian Muslims (Bosniacs) and Serbs. There is still a substantial military presence in the country as part of the Stabilisation Force (SFOR), the main contributors to which are the US, Britain and France. The military operates its own fleet of buses in the Sarajevo area to move its soldiers between their places of duty and their quarters. Money has also been made available for new, modern buses in and around Sarajevo which operate in tandem with the tram system and provide feeder routes for areas where there is no track, or the track was destroyed during the war. Some use is also made of trolley buses, which again extends the capability of local public transport by being able to run in parts of the city where it is not possible to lay track. The demands on the public transport system have not been as great as before the war for the simple reason that there are fewer people. While no accurate census has been undertaken, it is believed nearly 200,000 people left the city, never to return. As a consequence less capacity is actually required on the city’s networks. Sarajevo is basically a linear “long, skinny city” and has no network of suburban trains although some of the longer distance routes into neighboring Croatia are now being reopened. There are also a number of private bus companies in operation but these exist for longer distance journeys and are not considered part of the city’s urban transportation system.

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