I've just popped into this topic accidentely, perhaps I can contribute a bit to that questions concerning the switches. I live in Essen, Germany, 40 miles north of Cologne.
German tramway are sort of "standardized" as the same signals are used, the same rules and regulations.
The way that described by DurchRailnut and thirdrail was used up to the seventies. Nowadays things are much more technified (or better, computerized): each tramcar must have (and has) a transmitter which continuously transmitts data about the car, the route, delays etc.
It is necessary because if the tramcar enters either an underground section or a "high-speed area" (faster than 35 mhp, up to 60 mph, which in fact is high speed for a tram car) then the signal system has to know how to handle this car.
Side effect is that the route information can be used for setting the switches. In the approach area of each automatic switch there is a antenna (between the rails, under the surface) which receives the route signal. So the switch "knows" where the tram wants to go to.
If this procedure fails the engineer has two ways to get around.
1. There are switchbuttons in the cab. Appoaching the switch and pressing the needed button will set the switch semi-automatically.
2. The full-manual work. As mentioned each tramcar has a switch lever ("switch iron"). For obvious reasons a tramway switch cannot have a classical lever like railways. The mechanism is under the surface. There is a hole in the surface; through that hole you can reach the mechanism.
German tram engineers like that procedure, especially in ice, rain and snow
I hope that was not too much. If you have further questions just drop a mail. If you are desperately in need of visual information I could send a low res mpg file as attachment.