What happens when a wheel falls off a tram?

What happens when a wheel falls off a tram?

I was 16 years old before I ever saw or rode in a tram.  That’s because I grew up in Perth, Western Australia.  Trams operated in Perth from 1899 to 1958.  I was born in 1967, so they were long gone before I was born.

So, the first time I ever saw a tram was in Melbourne when I was 16 years old.  And they really were a novelty for me!  It was so strange riding in this ‘thing’ that was like a train on tracks, but drove on the road like a bus.

It didn’t take much to amuse me back then.

I didn’t stay long in Melbourne, and soon I was back in Perth – tramless.

Many, many years later, I moved to Moscow.  Moscow has a wide range of public transport – buses, trams, trains (both the metro and above ground for suburban lines, and long-distance trains), trolley-buses and taxis.

We’re fortunate enough to live close to all of these forms of public transport – which is good because we don’t have a car here.  We use mostly the metro, but from time to time, usually at weekends but also to go to some lessons, we use the trams.

The trams fan out from metro stations to take people to places that the metro doesn’t go to.  They’re mostly old, and slow, although they are now being replaced by some really new, really modern ones.  Still slow, but shinier than the old ones.

Break down

Sometimes, trams break down, or a car crashes into them. They can’t move anymore, and, because they’re on tracks, the trams behind them can’t go anywhere.  They stop too.  And then if you’re a passenger you have to get out and walk to your destination. 

Here’s a photo of 6 trams lined up due to a broken down tram (which isn’t in the photo). One evening I counted 12 trams lined up waiting for an accident to be cleared, and there were still more coming.

6 trams not going anywhere

A few times I’ve been forced to walk home after lessons, when trams have had accidents and have been pushed off the tracks.

Here’s one I passed as I walked home one night. A car had crashed into the side of the tram and pushed it off the tracks

And one time recently I couldn’t go to a lesson at all, because no trams came.  I waited for a while, then people started coming, walking along the tracks, from the direction the tram should have come from.  They told us that there’d been an accident, so, no trams.  No lesson.

So, how is a tram that’s had an accident dealt with?  What’s the procedure for getting a tram ‘back on track’?

Well, I’m not sure about all cases, because I usually don’t have time to stick around to find out. But in one particular case we managed to find out.

We were out for a walk one evening, and we saw a row of trams, stopped on the track.  Further down the street, we found out why.  A wheel had come off one of the trams.

A line of trams like this means only one thing
An accident, and blocked tracks

What happened next?

We stood at the side of the road with a lot of other people, me taking photos, and watched the process.  It involved a lot of workers, extra equipment, and time.  We were there for an hour watching the spectacle.  It was slow, but we couldn’t leave before we found out how it ended.

The wheel had partly come off and the tram was off the tracks

The workers seemed to know exactly what they were doing, which made me wonder how often they have to do this kind of work.  How often do trams break down, or have accidents, and need the emergency guys to come and help them move?  I don’t know the answer, but in Moscow I think it’s quite often.

First, they waited for a truck to come and help them. Then the heavy work started.

The truck arrives

So, we stood in the cool evening air, watching them do their job, getting the wheel away from the tram, getting a trolley under the tram to replace the wheel, getting it back on the track, and moving it away – back to the depot for repairs.

Here’s the story in photos

The truck is going to connect to the tram
It’s a serious job, using 2 large steel tubes
Still in the process of connecting the two together
Waiting for the next step
The truck lifts the tram off the ground
The wheel then comes free and falls off completely
Now, to remove the wheel
The men on the left are moving the wheel, it’s way too heavy to lift
The wheel is now safely out of the way – so, what’s next?
Now they have to get the tram mobile again
They use a kind of trolley to replace the wheel that’s now missing
The trolley fits on the rails like the other wheels
They then have to lower the tram onto the trolley
A bit of sweeping the tracks while they’re waiting
And the trolley’s in place and the tram is towed away, along the tracks to the depot for repairs
A closeup of the trolley in place and the tram on it’s way
Now the other trams can continue their work

So, next time you see a broken down tram, know that there are competent workers and equipment to take care of the job and get everything back up and running again (even if it takes a bit of time). But do be careful if you’re driving around trams – give way to them and don’t cause an accident!

Have you ever seen a tram on the tracks which couldn’t move? Do you have any tram stories? Tell me about them in the comments.

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Barbara Radisavljevic

These look a lot like the electric trolley cars, known as the red cars, I remember from my childhood in Long Beach, California. They discontinued them in 1961 — a year after my high school graduation, and ripped out the tracks about the time I became an adult. They wanted more room for cars and busses. Before that the red cars had been the main means of transportation in the Los Angeles area for decades. Ironically, now that people are eager to ride the rails here again and a more modern rail transport system has been built.

Ellen Hawley

I never gave any thought to tram breakdowns and how much more complicated they are than bus breakdowns. It’s one of those things that’s obvious once you know about it and invisible until then. Thanks for taking us through the process.

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