[as of 05.2003]
The city of Saransk is located some 500 km south-east of Moscow. It is a capital of the Republic of Mordovia and it is approximately 320 000 inhabitants strong. The city is situated away from any major routes and railroads, and thus is largely unknown and often underestimated. It was closed for foreigners until 1996, with the author, the US citizen, experiencing some difficulties with local authorities and the FSB (the KGB's successor) even in 2002, as he was stopped by the militia, and held for questioning during collecting data and making pictures. The city is also very conservative, which in Russia means pro-Communist. This could be noticed in the local culture of law and order still being obeyed, old regime still remembered by way of street names, the proud grandeur of the official buildings, and social services still maintained with certain eagerness. Luckily, the latter includes public transportation. The city itself is clean, surprisingly green, but dominated by the sprawling developments of standardized apartment blocks. Saransk remains relatively poor, but within Russian average standards.
The trolleybus network was opened on January 29th, 1966 with the initial route between the Depot 1 and the Main Railroad Station. The latter routing is now covered by modern Lines 1 and 2. The system had seen a gradual expansion throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, with services extended toward the massive new developments of apartment blocks, and toward the factories. It had seen some service cut backs in the mid 1990s, as some services to the factories were put on weekday only schedule, Line 16 to Televizionniy Zavod was suspended, and low ridership Lines 1 and 2 were temporarily cancelled. In 1999, however, the new 12 km long suburban line to Orbita was opened, serving the Republic of Mordovia Exhibition grounds. The operation has gotten a boast with the highly publicized acquisition of 30 new ZIU trolleybuses in 2000 / 2001, which, for instance, allowed for Lines 1 and 2 to reopen.
Nowadays Saransk has an extensive trolleybus network covering the entire city. Lines in the city center go through well-kept neighborhoods dominated by buildings of so-called 'Stalinist' architectural style. Lines leading toward the suburban developments of modern apartment blocks pass through a core of wooden private housing encasing the city center. The latter supplies an unusual rural character to most lines. There are paralleling trolleybus lines built toward the same neighborhoods, which provides alternative routing options. One of such lines, however, the Lyambirskoe Shosse extension that was previously served by Lines 3 and 4, now remains unused. Suburban neighborhoods themselves offer views of trolleybuses with standard dull apartment buildings in the background. The excess of greenery throughout the city, however, compensates for architectural dullness and provinciality. The long Line 10 goes via the belt highway through the city's outskirts. Some formerly popular suburban extensions to the factories nowadays see only occasional service. One extension, to Televizionniy Zavod, former Line 16, is now abandoned. A long 12 km line to Orbita follows a rural highway through a village-like setting.
Extensive reliable trolleybus service at well maintained intervals is provided.
The approximate peak headways are:
- Lines 5,7,8 - 5 min.
- Lines 3,4,10,11,12,13 - 5-10 min.
- Lines 9,10 - 10-15 min.
- Lines 1,2 - occasional service.
- Line 18 - 53 min., 1 vehicle.
- Lines 5A,6,14 - weekday service only, sporadic service.
All of the above headways, however, are often disregarded due to a peculiar dispatching practice. The system has 4 dispatch outposts located at the strategic points throughout the network, but not necessarily within the path or at the terminals of trolleybus lines themselves. Thus selected runs scheduled for a layover, or runs directed so by a dispatcher, either deviate from a regular path to reach the dispatch location, or get delayed at the dispatch at route's midpoint with passengers on board. Moreover, some runs simply discharge passengers at the dispatch, and get held for a layover. For Lines 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11 and 18 two different routing patterns officially exist - a regular pattern, and a pattern with a detour to the dispatch. For Lines 3, 4, 12, 13 and 14 three different patterns exist – a regular pattern, and patterns with detour to dispatch locations at both ends of the line.
About 60-70% of all vehicles are equipped with the huge antennas on the roof as a part of a local positioning system, which is unusual in Russia for the system of such size. Also abnormally for Russia, the emergency response trucks are stationed on duty at 6 strategic locations throughout the network, brining down the response time to under 5 minutes. Interruptions due to de-wiring or rolling stock breakdowns are more than common occurrences.
Among other Saransk peculiarities, one might note the fact that every trolleybus gets a complete internal wash over upon every layover at the dispatch location. Many bus shelters have unique architecture, with each design not repeated even once throughout the system. Also of note, is a bus lane via Gagarina Ul. in the city-bound direction, possible for mass transit vehicles only.
There are about 150 trolleybuses between 2 depots (the actual number is probably the most well-kept local secret). All vehicles are ZIU-9s, except for 4 known articulated ZIU-10s (2005, 2085, 2095 - noted; 2111 - is known to exist) and 3 Belarus-built AKSM-101 trolleybuses (numbered 2001-2003). The oldest vehicles are of borderline 1970s/80s deliveries. Some oldest vehicles are completely rebuilt locally, with two different resulting designs noted. These specimens are distinguished by the large additional structure on the roof which houses the electric equipment. The newest 30 ZIU-9 were delivered in 2000/2001. The lowest fleet number noted for Depot 1 was 1004, the highest number was 1187. The lowest number for Depot 2 was 2001, the highest number was 2190. There is no correlation between the age of vehicles and the fleet number, as fleet numbering is distorted, with old available numbers commonly assigned to newly acquired vehicles, and many numbers missing at all. Overall, the fleetscape happens to be a strange assortment of new pleasantly maintained vehicles, and old shabby corpses on wheels. Some older vehicles show body frame disfigurements due to the old age. Mechanical breakdowns are common almost hourly occurrences. Because of that, the system seems to be operating in a hole-patching mode.
The length of the entire network is 148,3 km. The overhead seems to be of a very basic design, as the network was apparently built rather cheaply. For instance, all terminal lots, except for the Elevator Terminal, are equipped with one set of wires only, thus forcing all vehicles to layover with their poles down. The infrastructure is notably old, the wire is critically saggy in many places. De-wirements are a part of routing operation.
Despite old rolling stock and helplessly old infrastructure, the sizable acquisition of the new rolling stock in 2001 conveys optimism. So are the plans for a complete replacement of the fleet of trolleybuses with new vehicles that surfaced in local media in 2003. The local government policy and controls over public transportation remain strong, the operation is meticulously maintained with means that are available, and there is a notable pride in local trolleybuses as a mode that makes the city look more viable. After all, the long new trolleybus line was built to the new flashy exhibition grounds of the Republic of Mordovia, apparently in accordance with the modern commonly popular within Russian provincial towns practice of showing off by means of trolleybus network's development. The rationale behind it is understandable: Saransk doesn't have its own metro, well, at least it has trolleybuses.