The Tram of Opicina, or as they call it here, el tram de Opčina (pron. Óp-seena), is a beloved icon of Trieste. Part tram and part funicular, these spunky bright blue and white tramcars used to provide regular service from Piazza Oberdan in downtown Trieste to the Altopiano Carsico. The line operated as a conventional, electrically powered tramway for most of its route, with a mixture of embedded rails and reserved roadway. On the steepest section of the line, between Piazza Scorcola and Vetta Scorcola, the trams were assisted uphill and downhill by a pair of cable tractors that operated on a funicular cable system.
The line, introduced in 1902, was initially composed of 5 green-colored electric tramcars with 3 more added in 1903, capable of going 10kph and carrying 28 seated passengers and 10 more standing. Due to a runaway train situation, extra braking systems and safety measures were adopted outfitting the trams with a rack rail and a rotating pinion wheel. In 1928, the cable or funicular system replaced the rack rail.
The original passenger cars were replaced in 1935 with 5 new steel-bodied 4-axle models, painted blue and white, comprised of 50 seats each. These new cars were able to accomodate 120 passengers and reach increased speeds of up to 35kph and were equipped with 3 braking systems. In 1942, 2 more were added to the fleet which, due to wartime shortages, resulted in more austere designs than the earlier models — visible in several small details — most evident among them; the window corners are squared in the newer models. Seating on the cars does not take any consideration for the steep gradient (26 degrees at its max) of the cable section, and unwary passengers tend to slide off them. Each car comes equipped with hooks for carrying bicycles. Tech Specs for aficionados are available on TriesteTrasporti’s website.
Despite a few spectacular accidents since its start, the Tram continued to be well-loved and a popular highlight for tourists coming to Trieste:
1902: Passenger car #2 ran away just after the Cologna stop and headed straight down to Scorcola where it crashed into a house near the Romagna stop.
1944: Partisans placed a mine on the track damaging a tram car.
1975: Tram car #403, another runway train, plunged downhill resulting in its complete destruction.
2016: Trams #404 & #405 collided at the loop in Conconello sending both drivers and 8 passengers to the hospital and suspending service indefinitely.
Service and usage of the tram has dwindled over the years in large part due to the increased bus routes as well as the rise in private vehicle ownership. Only 6 of the 7 blue-and-white trams were running until recently, making 39 round trips per day as compared with the 70 provided 40 years ago.
Of the original set, only cars #1 & #6 survived and are now displayed as a museum pieces at the Railway Museum of Campo Marzio.
However, the lore and the vintage look and feel of the tram continue to beguile residents and tourists alike. There was recently a push to petition LEGO to produce a Tram di Opicina model kit (Check out PRISONBRICK(c)’s site on flicker for their original mock up using lego bricks) . Tourists are routinely disappinted to find that the tram is “still” out of service. Then there are the folk songs written about the Tram and history, there is even a pastry shop, Saint Honore’, that makes chocolate versions of the tram cars.
The Tram is the subject of songs, films and is an integral part of the City’s history. A song commemorating the accident of 1902 – recorded by popular Triestine singer Lorenzo Pilat in 1973, is based on the original folk-song that was set to an Austro-Hungarian marching tune. The first formal arrangment was done by Maestro Zita in 1911. (See the end of the article for the words so you can sing along!) In the original there are many more stanzas (as is the custom, people kept adding to it…!!)
Look for Vintage Tram footage around the 1:13 mark
Here’s a video shot on the Tram featuring another folk-song. The song was written in protest of the proposed closing of the tram in 1977 because it was losing money. Released in 1978, they added an additional stanza ackowledging the “relaunch” of the service– (curious factoid: the reporter, Mario Cordova, later became the italian voice of the actor, Richard Gere):
And finally, the Tram is the star and the setting for a film short shot by a local student:
As of now, the renovation of the tram cars appears to be almost complete and a total overhaul of the track system is underway with a target date to coincide with the many events scheduled around the European City of Science 2020.
Here are ALL the words to the folk song El Tram de Opcina of 1911: