We all have that one strange building we drive/cycle/walk past every day on our way to work, wondering what we could find inside. Often we never find out, unless we go out of our way and investigate. For me, it was two small warehouses with tram tracks leading to them, which I cycle past on my way to work. On a sunny day in June one of its large, metal doors was slightly ajar. At first I cycled past, but then suddently decided to stop and turn around to catch a little glimpse of what was inside. That’s how I learnt about a little known attraction: the Amsterdam Tram Museum.
Stephen’s surprise tour
As I see a handful of beautifully restored trams, a young man greets me as he walks towards me. “Do you want to have a look inside?”, he asks me invitingly. Of course I couldn’t resist.
The young man introduces himself as Stephen, and as I proceed to take a few photos, he passionately starts telling the stories behind every single one of the trams. Most (still running) trams in the depot are from the 20’s, a few of them from the 50’s. There are a few models from the 60’s as well, but they are out of service. The red trams on the picture above is a mid-50’s tram from Vienna, which coincidently I’d seen a few weeks earlier on my trip to the Austrian capital as many of them are still in service. The tram in the middle is an old Dutch tram from 1929, that was running as part of the city’s public transport network until 1967.
The work of volunteers
Stephen tells me that he is a volunteer at the Tramway museum, which this depot is part of. Together with a handful of other volunteers he fixes up old Dutch and non-Dutch trams. He paints them in their original colours, fixes the broken ones using original parts and makes sure the interior looks presentable as well, even paying close attention to thing such as window stickers, vintage advertisements and original signage.
When I finish my tram driver training my dream is to remain working here, restoring and driving these vintage trams on the museum route and around Amsterdam — Volunteer engineer Stephen
These trams then get rented out for weddings (the trams are counted as official wedding venues) or for business functions or parties, and on Sundays between April and October it’s possible to take a ride on the tram on its historical 7 kilometer rail route between Haarlemmermeerstation (where the depot is located) and Bovenkerk (to the south of the city). As the rails are connected to the regular public transport rail system, it’s even possible to jump on one of the tourist trams that runs a route all through the city on Sundays in July, August and September.
I follow Stephen to the other depot, where I encounter a bit of my own nostalgia. One of the 1959-built yellow trams that was still around in my childhood is parked here. I learn that these were in service all the way up to 2004, when they got replaced. Seeing one of these trams makes me vividly remember the metal squeeks whenever it made a turn, the sound of the warning bells and the hard plastic seats.
It’s wonderful to see how everything was engineered in the old days. It wasn’t all electronic like it is now; I guess you can best compare it to driving an old car. As a kid, I loved studying all the tram’s cabin lights and button, imagining myself driving one. While that dream might not be realized, Stephen did explain how all the levers and buttons worked on this lovely old tram, and even offered to take this picture!
Visit the Amsterdam Tram Museum
If trams are your thing, or if you simply want to see Amsterdam from a different perspective, do visit the Amsterdam Tram Museum and get on one of the tram rides. There aren’t any official tours of the depots, but the volunteers are friendly and very passionate about their job. They will be happy to tell you a bit more about the history and state of the trams, or even give you a peek inside. Your best chance would be on Saturdays, as that’s when the renovations take place.