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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Tram Disasters

The findings of the inquiry into the Croydon tram derailment earlier this year killing seven passengers and injuring fifty focussed on the apparent temporary loss of consciousness of the driver just before his tram headed into a sharp curve on a track junction. This loss of life in a tram disaster was the largest in the UK over several decades. The last notable fatalities came about in a collision between a Glasgow tram and a reversing truck which led to an electrical fire and conflagration in the 1950s.

Blackpool fortunately has been free of such events although of course people have died in collisions and accidents involving trams through the years, but not in multiple numbers in a single occurence. A list of fatalities was kept in a log in Rigby Road offices with a brief one line cursory description of the cause but always with the fleet number of the tram or bus involved. Our title covering the 1940s (Municipal Transport in War and Austerity) listed the deaths involving Corporation buses and trams throughout the decade.

Two Blackpool trams (double deckers) overturned without fatal injuries to crew, passengers or passers by. In fact there were remarkably few injured in either case - both being Standard cars. Two Blackpool buses similarly were involved in incidents in which they overturned; one travelling past Stanley Park with a full load, and the other whilst negotiating a road junction near to Grange Park and being hit by a car. Whilst passengers were taken to hospital for treatment, none were seriously injured.

Two individual fatal accidents worth recalling involved a passenger on the top deck of an open tram who was hit by a dislodged trolleyhead and fatally killed, whilst the other dealt with a lady who lost her hat in the wind on the top deck of a tram and in an attempt to retrieve it fell over the staircase railing into the roadway and died.

Two Blackpool Balloon cars (705 and 706) were famous or infamous for a headon collision at the Pleasure Beach turning circle. The cause being a points left open and the driver of one of the trams expecting to continue southward on the main track - was swept into the path of an oncoming car heading in the opposite direction. In fact open points were a particular problem at the Station Road junction on Lytham Road when

South Pier bound cars needed to turn right across the Lytham Road route with manually operated points, always needing to be returned to the straight ahead position by the conductor of the South Pier bound tram. This was frequently the cause of mistakes and grooves in the tarmac attested to wayward bogies veering off onto the roadway as evidence of more recent occurrences.

Derailments at speed were rare fortunately, although one tram almost headed on to the Middle Walk near to the Gynn due to vandals having inserted metal poles into the rail, whilst other cars found themselves heading away from predestined grooves due to a build up of sand, particularly on Central Promenade. Trams running into the back of each other were not infrequent in an era when high frequency services with plenty of 'Extra' workings during the season were a common sight. A noteworthy accident I almost witnessed (a few minutes after the event) involved the road junction at the former Regent Cinema on Church Street on a foggy morning. In this case a Lytham St Annes Leyland PD2 double deck bus was caught 'amidships' by the front of Marton Vambac 10 as it headed into town. The bus managed to limp crablike on to Talbot Road Bus Station where I saw it pass by at a somewhat odd angle. The tram ended up at Rigby Road Depot to be eventually written off, the first of that class to be scrapped. Again, no fatal injuries resulted. The Croydon incident would seem to have triggered a sweeping review of the current practises in light rail operation - and justifiably so given the event itself and its consequences for the unfortunate passengers involved. Below:

A glancing blow on the front of a rail coach - photographed in Rigby Road Depot by the Author, details of the incident and number of the tram long passed in the mists of time.

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