Driver’s eye view of tram hazards

The dangers faced by Blackpool tram drivers as they travel up and down the promenade.

The dangers faced by Blackpool tram drivers as they travel up and down the promenade.

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Keep off the tracks and give our new super stealth trams a wide and safe berth, urge drivers and transport chiefs alike, after incidents have highlighted the dangers anew.

The elderly chap in the mobility scooter gives a cheery salute.

He’s just ahead of us, on the line running parallel with our tram track.

It means he’s facing away from the line of traffic – and could be potentially oblivious to any tram approaching from behind.

One can only hope he has good hearing.

The trams are equipped with bells and horns to sound the alarm but what if, as some drivers maintain has happened, one of the scooter’s wheels traps in the rim of the track?

That’s the risk facing cyclists too – the scourge of trams right now as any regular passenger or tram driver will tell you.

Bob Mason, director of delivery for Blackpool Transport, says he’s one of the 1,086 potential hazards faced by tram drivers every year.

Bob reckons most occur between North and South Pier.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests we have around three incidents which come too close for comfort a day... not so much near misses as what might have beens.

“We run 362 days a year so do the maths – 1,086 hazards.”

Trams are fitted with CCTV on a 24 hour loop which can record and replay any accidents – or near misses.

“It also features large in driver training,” adds Bob. “It’s safety first. We have signage, we have audible warnings, but you can’t legislate for lack of commonsense or outright stupidity.”

Even on a routine run out to Gynn Square and back, on a quiet midweek day, the kids back at school, the town booming mostly at weekends, the dangers on the track are visible.

Cyclists first and foremost, mobility scooters, pram pushers, shopping trolleys, runners, pedestrians. All are hazards to drivers, passengers and themselves if they choose to stay on the line, rather than merely cross it.

Most see it as simply a means of getting from A to B by the most direct route available – even if it is reserved for several tons of tramcar which take a fair bit of stopping.

Dangers arise in areas where it’s harder to get off the line and onto adjacent walkways – such as near United Utilities works at Manchester Square, where pedestrians may find themselves boxed in.

It is crossing another form of line – for it’s illegal. It’s in breach of the road traffic regulations act, says a spokesman for Blackpool Council, rather than Blackpool Transport Services.

“Section five and eight of the act make it clear that pedestrians and cyclists must not enter a road line route or any other route reserved for trams.

“Other sections, 30-40, specifically refer to mobility scooters in that hey must obey the same road traffic rules as pedestrians and cyclists.

“There are signs up along the tram tracks and designated crossings.

“It’s particularly hard to enforce because those who breach it tend to get off the line fairly quickly if they spot police.

“But it’s very dangerous particularly for those cycling within the so called road line.

“In Fleetwood the tramway joins the main road and becomes highway but people tend to be more aware there.

“There are so many designated cycle lanes and areas for people to walk, we fail to see why the tram track should be used by anything other than trams.”

But one driver adds: “You get problems in Fleetwood too, not so much in the centre, because people are on their guard there, and just glad the trams are back but with kids crossing the line where it’s fenced off, or just walking along.”

The success of our new £100m upgraded trams, running from Starr Gate to Fleetwood again for the first time since September 2009, has exceeded all expectations. More than 1.4 million passengers boarded the trams between April, when the new tramway was launched, and the middle of August. That’s 20 per cent higher than transport chiefs forecast.

The new trams are not as noisy as the rattling heritage trams – and they had their share of clashes with the unwary and shared the infamy of the Coronation Street episode which featured Alan Bradley’s death by tramcar.

Blackpool Transport customer services co-ordinator Bryan Lindop stresses: “It all comes down to commonsense, essentially. We just need to heighten awareness and The Gazette can assist with that.”

Priority on a road can change at any time which means motorists should always be on their guard for, say, roadworks, or diversions caused by flooding, or new traffic calming or one way systems.

The tramway has lost several of its old vehicular crossing points – but the concrete barriers across the old path hasn’t stopped some motorists from still trying to cross there, to the peril of themselves, and their property. That’s already happened this year.

Many runners and cyclists also listen to music as they jog or cycle along the Promenade.

It may help them focus on the task in hand but the ear phones muffle outside sounds.

“I worry constantly as to whether they will hear my tram coming,” admits one driver.

Much the same goes for a generation bent on staying in touch with workplaces and loved ones at all times via mobile phones.

Pedestrians regularly cross busy roads with phones clamped to their ears or even texting as they walk. And that happens on or while crossing the tram lines too.

Transport chief Mason adds: “We see it all – and nobody wants lessons learned the hard way.

“It can be a very stressful environment for our staff and they suffer as any other driver would if caught up in an incident or having just avoided one.

“No driver wants to find himself in that position. Some take some time to come to terms with it.

“We need awareness to increase substantially. I don’t think we need more signs.

“Warning signs are out there. This is a light rail network and people wouldn’t dream of taking the chances they take here or the actions for which they are responsible on any other light rail network.

“I expect the same standards of safety consciousness as people would show around, say, the Tube. We do all we can to keep drivers, passengers and other people safe, but you can’t legislate for stupidity or arrogance or indifference.”

On two trips out on the trams – one within the driver’s cab, the other as a passenger – a whole series of hazards are observed: three mobility scooters, including the chap with the cheery wave, one elderly chap pulling a shopping trolley along the line – again walking in the direction in which the tram behind him is travelling, pram pushers, pedestrians, runners and cyclists.

One cyclist, oblivious to my camera, paces himself against our tram, on a parallel track.

As Mr Mason points out: “Just one wobble, that’s all it takes, and he could fall against us, or under an oncoming tram.”

jacqui.morley@blackpoolgazette.co.uk or tweet her @jacquimorley