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Moscow's 'Trams Without Rails'

In central Moscow, the humble trolleybus is arriving at the end of the line. The lumbering electric buses, tethered to overhead cables, are a cheap and quiet way to get around the Russian capital. But now, as part of city renovations, Moscow authorities plan to phase out trolleybuses from many central streets this year. According to reports, 30 kilometers of trolleybus routes are due to be dismantled. A dip into the photo archives reveals the long relationship between Moscow and its "trams without rails."


One of Moscow's first trolleybuses, introduced to the city in 1933 
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One of Moscow's first trolleybuses, introduced to the city in 1933 

A trolleybus passes in front of the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in central Moscow in 1945. One advantage of the system is the near-silent operation of the buses' electric motors. 
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A trolleybus passes in front of the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in central Moscow in 1945. One advantage of the system is the near-silent operation of the buses' electric motors. 

Another trolleybus moving through Muscovites in 1945. Although silent operation is good for the ambience of the city, it increases the danger posed to pedestrians. Fatalities from the early days of trolleybuses in Britain came to be known as the "silent death."
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Another trolleybus moving through Muscovites in 1945. Although silent operation is good for the ambience of the city, it increases the danger posed to pedestrians. Fatalities from the early days of trolleybuses in Britain came to be known as the "silent death."

Muscovites queuing to enter a trolley bus in 1947.
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Muscovites queuing to enter a trolley bus in 1947.

A trolleybus moving along downtown Gorky Street (now Tverskaya Street) in 1957.
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A trolleybus moving along downtown Gorky Street (now Tverskaya Street) in 1957.

A trolleybus stop in Okhotny Ryad, near Red Square in 1957.
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A trolleybus stop in Okhotny Ryad, near Red Square in 1957.

Two trolleybuses whisk passengers in the direction of the Kremlin and Red Square in 1966. 
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Two trolleybuses whisk passengers in the direction of the Kremlin and Red Square in 1966. 

A Moscow trolleybus in 1967. As the number of routes increased, the overhead cables became a spider's web of steel -- the bane of photographers hoping for a clean photograph of architecture in the city center. 
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A Moscow trolleybus in 1967. As the number of routes increased, the overhead cables became a spider's web of steel -- the bane of photographers hoping for a clean photograph of architecture in the city center. 

A route running past the Kremlin, photographed in 1968. The electric motors are better for climbing hills than diesel engines -- an important consideration for cities like San Francisco; less important in Moscow. 
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A route running past the Kremlin, photographed in 1968. The electric motors are better for climbing hills than diesel engines -- an important consideration for cities like San Francisco; less important in Moscow. 

A trolleybus and a regular bus on the move in front of Pushkin Square. Judging from the blur in this photo, the fuel-powered bus is moving just a little bit quicker. 
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A trolleybus and a regular bus on the move in front of Pushkin Square. Judging from the blur in this photo, the fuel-powered bus is moving just a little bit quicker. 

Kalinin Avenue in Moscow in 1973. The architecture is changing but the trolleybuses remain much the same.
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Kalinin Avenue in Moscow in 1973. The architecture is changing but the trolleybuses remain much the same.

A trolleybus pulls up at a bus stop on Moskvoretskaya Embankment in 1985. Unlike trams, the buses have some leeway for sideways movement. This eliminates the need for pedestrian islands in the middle of the road. 
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A trolleybus pulls up at a bus stop on Moskvoretskaya Embankment in 1985. Unlike trams, the buses have some leeway for sideways movement. This eliminates the need for pedestrian islands in the middle of the road. 

But the trolley poles have a tendency to pop off, particularly in icy conditions. Scenes like this in central Moscow in 2012 are a common sight in the city. As the driver works on reconnecting the poles, the buses are without power, often adding to traffic woes during peak hours.
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But the trolley poles have a tendency to pop off, particularly in icy conditions. Scenes like this in central Moscow in 2012 are a common sight in the city. As the driver works on reconnecting the poles, the buses are without power, often adding to traffic woes during peak hours.

But despite the disadvantages, there is a certain amount of affection for Moscow's trolleybuses and some locals are preparing a campaign to save the transport, ugly cables and all. This vintage model, photographed in 2013, was part of a parade marking 80 years of service. Officials have announced plans to phase out the trolleybus by 2020, but some central routes are reportedly set to disappear as early as this year. 
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But despite the disadvantages, there is a certain amount of affection for Moscow's trolleybuses and some locals are preparing a campaign to save the transport, ugly cables and all. This vintage model, photographed in 2013, was part of a parade marking 80 years of service. Officials have announced plans to phase out the trolleybus by 2020, but some central routes are reportedly set to disappear as early as this year. 

Inside one of Moscow's sleek modern trolleybuses, a driver walks up the aisle to check her vehicle. The picture was taken on April 13 when rumors abounded that some trolleybus routes would be finished overnight. So far, all of Moscow's trolleybus routes continue to run, but no one knows exactly when buses like this one might disappear from service. 
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Inside one of Moscow's sleek modern trolleybuses, a driver walks up the aisle to check her vehicle. The picture was taken on April 13 when rumors abounded that some trolleybus routes would be finished overnight. So far, all of Moscow's trolleybus routes continue to run, but no one knows exactly when buses like this one might disappear from service. 

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