How Moscow theatres helped launch late-night tram service to Lefortovo and Khamovniki

How Moscow theatres helped launch late-night tram service to Lefortovo and Khamovniki
Photo: The Main Archive Department of Moscow
About 120 years ago, the concerns of theatergoers drew the attention of Moscow authorities. and the Main Archive Directorate tell the story of how the city helped theater lovers and what came out of it.

The booming entertainment industry, the emergence of new theatres and the increasing interest that Muscovites were taking in them laid bare an unexpected problem: public transport, which consisted of tram service at the time, was unable to rise to the occasion. 

Theatrical performances, night shows in parks and various concerts normally ended after 11 pm and some of them even after midnight. Left to their own devices at this time of night, city residents could only get home on foot or by cab. As the city grew and an ever increasing number of people were involved in nightlife, the problem became more pressing. In 1908, the city authorities realised that they had to look for a solution.


Practice makes perfect 

In early September 1908, based on a report by the city electric road traffic service, the city council took a decision to introduce the so-called theatre carriages which were to take home people who stayed late in the city centre: “from Teatralnaya Square to all terminal stops on the radial lines.” Passengers had to pay double the normal fare, and only visitors to the City People’s House in Vvedenskaya Square were entitled to the usual daytime fare.

In summer, theatre carriages were to appear in Petrovsky and Sokolniki parks, at the Zoological Garden and other similar places.

Moscow’s night owls were taken to Maryina Roshcha, Lefortovo, the Serpukhovskiye and Kaluzhskiye gates, Taganskaya Square and Zemlyanka. The number of carriages ranged between 25 and 45, depending on the number of performances and shows and on whether the theatres were packed or not. The fleet of Moscow trams at the time comprised 330 carriages. 

The Department of City Railways’ review of the results of the first season showed that the new service that the theatre-going public was so pleased with had been introduced at the expense of other city residents, something that the department had to take into account when making a schedule for the new season. The shunting of extra trams into the sidings and the waiting times of up to 90 minutes to allow all passengers to embark caused huge delays.


…passengers often had to wait up to half an hour for their carriage to depart only because the track on their route was occupied by several half-empty carriages …

Incidentally, the financial results turned out to be quite satisfactory. Ninety minutes of extra work on less popular routes, for example, from Sokolnicheskaya Zastava to Lubyanskaya Square and to Bogorodskoye brought in 10 percent of daily receipts. The number of theatre carriages did not exceed 10.

Tverskaya Street near Triumfalnaya Square. Photo by P.Pavlov. Moscow, late 19th – early 20th century.

To the benefit of all

The popularity of the late-night tram service might have encouraged the city authorities to introduce regular night service on all main railway routes.

In September 1909, the Department of City Railways came up with a final decision, resolving that after 11 pm, 75 “tram engines without carriages” would run on eight routes at 10-minute intervals. The last tram departed from Teatralnaya Square not earlier than 15 minutes after midnight and not later than 30 minutes after midnight. 

Late-night service

Line No. 3:

— from Preobrazhenskaya Zastava to Teatralnaya Square via Pokrovka Street;

— from Teatralnaya Square  to Preobrazhenskaya Zastava via Pokrovka Street.

Line No. 4:

— from Preobrazhenskaya Zastava to Tverskaya Zastava via Stromynka and Myasnitskaya streets, Teatralnaya Square and Bolshaya Dmitrovka and Tverskaya streets;

— from Smolensky Market to the Sokolniki Police and Fire Station via Teatralnaya Square and Myasnitskaya Street; 

Line No. 5:

— from Preobrazhenskaya Zastava to Teatralnaya Square via Pokrovka, Novaya Basmannaya and Sretenka streets;

— from Teatralnaya Square to Preobrazhenskaya Zastava;

— from Arbatskaya Square to Lubyanskaya Square along boulevards and Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street;

— from Lubyanskaya Square to Arbatskaya Square along Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street and boulevards.

Line No. 6:

— from Sokolnicheskaya Zastava to Petrovsky Park;

— from Petrovsky Park to Sokolnicheskaya Zastava.

Line No. 7:

— from the clinics in Arbat Street to Maryina Roshcha via Teatralnaya Square and Sretenka Street;

— from Maryina Roshcha to the clinics in Arbat Street via Sretenka Street and Teatralnaya Square.

Line No. 14:

— from Krasnye Kazarmy to the Arbatsky Gates via Pokrovka Street;

— from the Arbatsky Gates to Krasnye Kazarmy via Teatralnaya Square and Pokrovka Street.

Line No. 15:

— from the Arbatsky Gates to Taganka Square via boulevards;

— from the Arbatsky Gates to Lubyanskaya Square via boulevards;

— from Taganka Square to the Arbatsky Gates via boulevards;

— from Taganka Square to Teatralnaya Square via boulevards.

Line No. 22:

— from Presnenskaya Zastava to Lubyanskaya Square via Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street;

— from to Lubyanskaya Square to Presnenskaya Zastava via Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street.


In late November, the schedule was revised. At the request of city residents and member of the City Council L. Urusov, a decision was taken to extend the service on Route No. 25 to Gruziny and Zamoskvorechye and to suspend the night service on Route No. 4, as it partly overlapped with routes Nos. 3, 6 and 7.

The scheme incorporating the above changes was effective until 1917, when due to irregular fuel supplies to the electric power plant, the tram service started to run until 11 pm and later until 10 pm. Muscovites wrote letters asking for the resumption of the late-night service they were accustomed to, at least until midnight, however, the opportunity was not offered until much later.  

In 1919, the passenger tram service was cancelled three times, and only in December 1920 was it resumed once and for all.  The tram service schedule that is effective until now was introduced only in 1940. The tram service operated from 5.30 am until 2 am.

Tram No. 6 at a stop. Photographer unknown.  Moscow, 1930s.