AT 82 MILLION passengers a year, the Grand Boulevard in Budapest is probably the busiest tram route in Europe today. It handles no less than 22 8% of the 357 million passengers moved by the Hungarian capital's transport authority BKV each year.

Tracks on the 8 km semi-circular line, worked by Routes 4 and 6, are segregated from car traffic, allowing the trams to operate at a commercial speed of 13 km/h including 40 stops. At peak hours there are 36 vehicles in operation at 90 sec headways - 'always a tram in sight' - handling up to 9 600 passengers/h in each direction.

To operate this busy route, BKV is taking delivery from Siemens of 40 GT12N low-floor cars, designated Combino Plus (RG 4.06 p204). At 54 m long, these 2 400 mm wide vehicles are the longest low-floor trams in the world. Weighing 69 tonnes (532 kg/m ), each car is powered by eight 100 kW motors, giving 11 6 kW/tonne the wheel arrangement is Bo'2'Bo'+'Bo'2'Bo'. Each car seats 58 and has room for 294 standees at 4 per m there are eight 1 300 mm wide doorways on each side.

The Combino Plus cars are replacing a similar number of 2 300 mm wide Ganz articulated cars dating from 1967-1978, which work in pairs of 26 m long cars. To accommodate the low-floor vehicles, BKV has reinforced the tracks and the power supply system, and modified all the stops.

The first six GT12Ns entered revenue service in July 2006, but unfortunately encountered mechanical problems with the new design of doors, which immediately led to very serious disruption on the heavily-used route. In addition, a number of overhead masts collapsed because of the heavier wiring. Combino Plus became the focus of political protests aiming to prevent the re-election of the city's Mayor G bor Demski. The new cars were taken out of service again while a Siemens team was brought in to address the door problems.

After the mayor was re-elected, BKV Director General Botond Aba stepped down - five months before his contract was due to expire. The Combino Plus cars returned to service after the election, resuming on October 7, at first with Siemens staff on each vehicle. No further serious problems were encountered. By January 17 Siemens had delivered 29 cars, of which 27 had been accepted and 23 were in service. BKV estimates that the Combino Plus sets have increased capacity on the route by around 6%. The cars ride very well, with no sawing in curves and smooth acceleration. The electric braking brings the car to a complete stop, avoiding the need to use mechanical brakes for service applications, and the interior and exterior sound levels are perfectly acceptable. Siemens will maintain the cars for the first two years.

  • LEFT:Combino Plus cars can handle substantial flows, as seen at Blaha Lujza tér stop at 08.20
  • RIGHT: An interior view of the GT12N car