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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Trams and Traffic

An errant motorcar straddles the tram tracks and is being removed manually having had an earlier encounter with a Corporation tram.

Media attention given to accidents and incidents involving trams seems to be on the increase - with justification in a lot of cases. The tragedy at Croydon with seven fatalities involving a speeding tram overturning on a sharp curve being foremost in mind. This major event would seem to have been caused by the tram driver losing consciousness. Similar occurrences having been recorded by passengers both before and after suggest massive failings on the part of the Operator's training and oversight. In this case no other traffic or road users were involved.

A further road traffic incident this week brought Blackpool's tram service to a halt at Anchorsholme Lane crossing. No tram was involved but a collision of vehicles at or in proximity to this busy junction highlights inherent problems with road users turning on a traffic light controlled crossing of the tramway. No easy solution is possible given the constraints of road space on either side of the tramway. Slightly further on towards Cleveleys but still in Blackpool, the Lauderdale Avenue crossing over the tramway was the subject of considerable public protest when it was closed off to road traffic but allowing pedestrian crossing. An on again off again situation arose when Blackpool Council workers reopened the crossing to cars very briefly ahead of the light rail launch following legal challenges to its closure; and then quickly closed it to traffic on safety grounds. It remains closed.

It should be remembered that the original tramroad when developed, traversed rural farms and fields along much of its length between Broadwater crossing and the Cabin. Very little habitation existed at the time of its construction along the north fylde coast outside of Fleetwood's core central district and of course Blackpool's northern built up domain as far as the Gynn Inn in those days. Inevitably however land values shot up alongside the tramroad's reservation, with ribbon development particularly in Cleveleys, and Bispham. This gradually expanded and extended through the 1920s and 1930s with only the section from Thornton Gate to Broadwater retaining much of its original character. The consequent upsurge in road traffic paralleling the tram route meant increasing conflicts arising at points where trams encounter vehicles. Closely controlled traffic signals became essential at all these points as part of the light rail upgrade. In all cases, as far as I am aware, the signals give priority to the passage of trams.

Nonetheless the section from Anchorsholme to Rossall Square has seen multiple incidents which have vehicles in conflict with trams or the actual reservation. This is nothing new though. Accounts in the local press over the years from the 1920s record violent encounters between successive generations of trams and traffic crossing in their path - and no doubt this will continue, hopefully in an ever decreasing number.

More recent fatalities in Edinburgh (cyclist wheels trapped in street track groove); and in Manchester - person pushed in front of tram at Victoria Station stop - have brought trams to the fore in the media. I recall myself falling off my bike directly in front of a Blackpool bus on Church Street because my front wheel became trapped in the tram track groove as I passed by the bus when it was stationary. However we have had no experience of criminal acts that involve someone deliberately being pushed in front of a moving tramcar - as would appear to be the most recent case in Manchester judging by the Charge before the Crown Court. Of course there have been multiple incidents of tram on tram collisions, both in Blackpool and on many, if not most other UK tram systems. More recently it seems in Sheffield - but fortunately of a low speed encounter. The most notable event in Blackpool was the head on collision of two Balloon cars at the Pleasure Beach, due it is recorded to a failure to reset points. Numbers 705 and 706 were the cars concerned with 705 being written off and 706 going on to return to its early open top design. During the street tram service years up to the early 1960s, the Station Road junction on Lytham Road was the site of quite a few similar mishaps when conductors on Marton trams continuing on to South Pier along Station Road forgot to return the manually operated points on Lytham Road to the straight forward position for service cars heading south. Grooves in the road surface were long standing and familiar evidence of consequent derailments of Squires Gate bound trams - more or less on an annual basis. Road traffic of course got caught up in tight squeezes with turning trams particularly along the Marton route, where frequent curves saw trams swing close to other road users. At a handful of points (Metropole Hotel northbound and Bold Street curve) quaint traffic warning signs were in place 'Tram Pinch' denoting care must be taken by vehicles passing alongside trams at this point (or preferably not).

Road users still have a habit of heading on to tram reservations notwithstanding the evident lack of road surface when they do so. This seems to be especially prevalent in Greater Manchester on the Metrolink system. Again going back to Anchorsholme there have been several examples of northbound motorists opting to drive on to the central tram reservation when given the chance to do so - and coming quickly stuck. A variety of warning signs and indicators to deter such errant driving has for the most part had its effect, but from time to time unwary motorists find themselves and their vehicle the subject of newspaper reports and media coverage, not to mention frustrated tram passengers and crews. Buses too have their own altercations but that's for another blog.

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