A question was asked this week by @levis517 about how tram track switches work. It's frequently a question asked by passengers, especially tourists, who seem to quite calmly point out the lack of a steering wheel. Anyway, I've decided to delay (yes, PT puns thick and fast) the article on Short Shunts and instead answer this rather not-so-modern mystery.
There are 2 basic types of points - The first are Manual, where you see us get out with the giant tuna tin openers (called Point Bars) and click them over. The second are Automatic or Electronic. The system is set up in such a way that if electronic points fail, we can always get out and change them manually. Anyway, check out the picture below:
You should notice (if you squint), there are some white dots on the road inside the oblong. One, two, then three. The circle shows a lantern (or set of traffic lights) that indicates the direction the points are set to. In the case of Kew Junction here, if I was a #109 and wanted to turn up Cotham Rd, I would twist the points switch on the console as I approached the first dot. Between the first and second set of dots, there is a transponder that picks up the signal and switches the tracks. If I was a #48 continuing along High St, I would simply not touch the switch, as the default signal is "straight".
This second picture shows the lantern closer and while I have highlighted the opposite set of points, it does give you some idea of how the direction changes. This next pair of photos is a better set:
This shows the approach to Balaclava Rd from Hawthorn Rd. This is a unique junction in the system (and one of only two on the planet) in that a tram can turn in any direction from every direction. You can see the white dots and the lantern on the left indicating the points are currently set for a right turn. If I wanted to go straight, I would simply approach this without touching the switch, and as I pass over the gap between the first dot and the second set, the points would switch over.
Final photo shows the points are indeed set for the right:
That little lantern on the left in this picture indicates that priority turning lights can be activated at this location, but more on those another time.
I hope this clarifies any questions about trams turning. It's a fairly old technology and does have a habit of breaking down (electrics + outdoors + "wait till it breaks" = problems), but on the most part they are quite reliable. Only once have I had a real fright and that was when the points failed to change. I got out with the point bar to change it manually and just as I slipped it into the hole, BOOM! They flicked over. Usually if they fail, a horizontal bar appears. Oh, and if a tram behind comes up too close before the first one has cleared, the points remain set. I should say "usually" because part of our training is that if something can go wrong, it usually does when you're on your last run.
YES, I'VE USED GOOGLEMAPS AND USED TWO EXAMPLES OF AUTOMATIC POINTS. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT I COME FROM ANY OF THE DEPOTS WHO USE THESE ROUTES. I USED THEM FOR SIMPLICITY AND INTEREST. I HAVE NOT REVEALED ANYTHING BEYOND WHAT ANY DECENT DRIVER WOULD DO IF ASKED BY A PASSENGER. IF YOU'RE TRAWLING THE INTERNET LOOKING FOR EMPLOYEES WHO ARE POTENTIALLY CAUSING DAMAGE TO THE COMPANY OR THE GOVERNMENT, I SUGGEST YOU FIND SOMETHING MORE PRODUCTIVE TO DO.