Almaty needs help

Sir - In your news item on Kazakstan (RG 12.96 p786) reference is made to the signature of a letter of intent for Skoda Plzen to rehabilitate the tramway networks in Almaty and Akmola. Some difficulty may be experienced in rehabilitating the Akmola network, as while Akmola has trolleybuses, it has never operated a tramway.

Even to rehabilitate the Almaty tramway would involve much effort. Since the end of the Soviet era, six of the nine routes have closed, and the fleet of 202 cars has diminished to about 55, of which only 36 are capable of operation on any one day. The condition of both vehicles and track is almost beyond redemption, and the local authority sees the future in terms of franchising urban motor bus routes for private sector operation.

That said, it is understood that certain issues have been discussed at central government level concerning Skoda's capabilities in the sphere of electric transport development, especially for Almaty. However, as yet there have been neither specific feasibility studies nor any business plans, nor has there been any discussion about the scale or apportionment of investment. Thus at present electric transport rehabilitation is little more than an idea, although it may gain some tangible shape when Skoda's delegation arrives in Almaty for negotiations.

Some sort of aid package would make sense, as Almaty currently holds the dubious distinction of being the world's only major city which is simultaneously abandoning its tramway and failing to open its metro (on which work ceased in 1993). The national and local authorities might be well advised to consider integrating the still physically intact tramway with the metro tunnels to create a San Francisco style subway-surface light rail network.

T V Runnacles

North Point, Hong Kong