MILAN (AP) — Against the backdrop of Milan's 19th-century stone architecture, a fleet of nearly 90-year-old trams contribute to the aura of a bygone era that still permeates the city from certain angles.
A full 125 of the original 502 trams built from 1927-1930 are still in service in the Italian city -- having survived a World War II depot bombing and the test of time to ply the rails alongside sleeker, modern models.
Powered by electric lines overhead and following metallic rails, the welded carriages first call attention with their rattling sound, then with the screech of the breaks. Inside, passengers sit on slatted wooden benches against panoramic windows, jostling along the city's tramways at a maximum speed of 38 kph (23 mph), while the driver works brass levers from a glass-enclosed cabin.
Most are a distinctive orange, but one has been painted green and has been retrofitted with linen-cloth covered tables to host 20 diners for an atmospheric dinner service every night. While eating an Italian meal prepared by the on-board chef, passengers ramble past some of the city's most famous sites, including the Sforza Castle, the triumphal Arch of Peace, the Duomo cathedral and La Scala opera house.
The trams were built in Italy based on an American design by Peter Witt, the former Cleveland transition commissioner whose aim was to facilitate quicker boarding by having passengers enter from the front and exit from the center doors. Nine of the Milan originals have been exported to San Francisco where they are in service to Fisherman's Wharf.