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LET THE TRAM TAKE THE CRAM

28-11-2007

Metro

Health and safety seems to go out of the window when it comes to the tram observes Lynn Hawthorne. She loves it as a mode of transport, but hates the “cattle truck” mentality of its operators.

I have always been a big fan of the Metro passenger transport system that links Birmingham to Wolverhampton via Wednesbury.

It’s far more environmentally-friendly than loads of cars on the road and takes the stress out of trying to find somewhere to park. It’s clean and much quicker than the bus, which, although improved, still makes me queasy with all the jars and jolts. It also travels ‘as the crow flies’, which removes the tedium of meandering around housing estates and byways.

But – and this is a big ‘but’ – as it is a vehicle that travels on rails, it has no legal limit on the number of passengers it can carry.

I find this absolutely staggering, but it’s true: I discovered this nugget of information once when, on a ring round of transport agencies, I inadvertently got as far as the Deputy Prime Minister’s office when John Prescott was the post-holder. He wasn’t in.

The reason I was researching the law followed on from a very nasty incident I endured with a friend. We’d been Christmas shopping in Birmingham and mis-timed our journey home. We pulled into The Hawthorns station just as a match was ending. The already-full tram stopped, opened its’ doors and dozens of football supporters poured on.

A small boy in his father’s arms almost got his head caught between the door and the wall as the door opened. The surge of people squashed passengers together and trapped them in seats and in any space that existed. It was terrifying.

My friend, who suffers from claustrophobia, panicked and we struggled to disembark. When we did, it was to jeers and verbal abuse from match-goers, and the driver seemed totally disinterested. We were left stranded in an unfamiliar area in the dark, feeling decidedly shaky.

I wrote to all the bodies involved. To their credit, West Bromwich Albion FC were distressed by our experience and said they were committed to ensuring that fans could travel to and from games safely and did not compromise the safety and security of other transport users.

They hold regular meetings with Centro and the British Transport Police and promised to raise the issue as a serious one.

I have always been careful to avoid end-of-match times on that route in either direction since, so cannot testify whether the situation has improved.

The response from Centro, however, was markedly different. They quoted something once put to me by British Rail when I’d had to stand all the way from Birmingham New Street to London Euston: a ticket is merely a contract to get you from A to B. It does not guarantee you a seat.

Centro also said it had no control over the number of passengers that chose to get on their trams and that they had an obligation to stop at each station and open the doors.

I argued that there should be match-day specials purely for football fans and that the trams should be more frequent at peak times, such as the period leading up to Christmas. Centro chose to ignore that suggestion.

On Saturday (24th November), returning from Wolverhampton was problematic. We waited at The Royal station, having had business near there, and waited for over 20 minutes. When the tram finally arrived, it was jam-packed and I refused to board. We were not given time to check another door before the tram pulled off. We caught the next tram and got a seat.

I am, therefore, having misgivings about the safety of the Metro network. To begin with, it’s expensive and for that money, I expect a seat. But I really must question the ‘cattle truck’ logic of Centro, who again claim that they have no control over the number of people who board each tram.

What if there was an accident? What if there was a medical emergency? Surely squashing passengers together like sardines in a tin-can-on-rails is asking for trouble?

With all the loony health and safety rules and regulations we meet on a daily basis, I find it hard to believe that public transport is still governed by such archaic laws. If there is an optimum safe number of passengers in a car or bus, then it should surely apply equally to trains and trams, rails or not.

Has Lynn got a point?

Have you ever been on a tram – or a train – that you felt was dangerously over-crowded?

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