Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why does wet weather stuff the trams up?

When it rains or the weather turns sour, there's usually an increase in the number of complaints about the service. There are several things that aren't usually explained to passengers for whatever reason, and it's only been after people asking that they've discovered the reasons why rain can stuff up the service. I'm not excusing the performance of drivers here or making up bullshit to excuse the company. This is what happens out there.

Firstly, wet weather makes gripping much more difficult. Metal wheels on metal tracks can become quite lubricated with water and this can be compounded by things on the road, such as leaves and oil. I've you've spent time near some track or been up close to a cabin, you might have seen the SAND button or sand around the tracks. The button used to deploy sand in front of the wheels to help increase adhesion. This works great until you're on a curve and the tubes no longer line up with the tracks! If you even look carefully enough, you will find windows just above the floor on some trams indicating the level of sand in that chute. If you live near a depot, about once a week a large truck comes to deliver sand to an upright silo. Yep - sand. And this isn't just dug up from the beach stuff. It's a specific grade that reduces clogging in the tubes and is reclaimed as much as possible. The EPA is aware of this and so long as it's used sparingly, the impact is minimal. You will often find sand around stops on hills or around stops near trees. 

Secondly, there are usually additional cars on the road because people don't want to ride/motorbike/walk/catch public transport when it's raining. Compounding this problem is that people tend to drive at speeds without regard for the rain or slippery surfaces, hence the increase in any accidents on wet days (another issue that can stuff things up - two crashed cars blocking tram tracks). 

Thirdly, we drive slower to account for the slippery track and additional traffic. All the anger and impatience in the world doesn't mean shit to any decent driver if it's wet and dangerous. If we can't brake with the same adhesion as dry weather, we're going to slow down and take it easy. It's better to get there late than not get there at all.

Fourth, points can get silted up. With sand, dirt and all sorts of crap that gets on the road, points can get clogged up and may fail, leading to drivers having to get out and change them manually. Sure, this isn't a huge issue, but miss a set of lights because of it, and it's no help to an already crappy situation.

Fifth, the entire tram can get held up by one person attempting to open or close their umbrella on the step. Not only is this slowing trams down, but it's also rude at best and dangerous at worst. If you can't handle just a tiny bit of rain on your head as you walk the 2.5 metres to the tram door from the shelter (yes, I've seen people pop the umbrella out to do this), don't read the following:

THE HUMAN BODY IS ABOUT 60% WATER. Yep. Not worth it.

I can understand some people who aren't under shelter, but do you have to wait until you almost get on board before you attempt to close it? Or try to open it when you're not even out the door? One drop of water will not hurt you!

Sixth, some people decide that as they left their umbrella at home, they're going to jump on a tram for a stop or two instead. Fare-evader or not, this can slow things down, especially in busy areas such as the city. It's silly though, because in the city there are eaves that shelter most of the footpaths from rain. 

Seven, while designed not to clog and using sand that tries not to, sometimes sand pipes get blocked. And funnily enough, sometimes electrical equipment (yes, trams too) can fail when exposed to water. Trams can and do break down and this can sometimes lead to a shortage of rolling stock. During peak times, most depots are empty and there's not always trams or staff lying around on the off chance something goes wrong (privatisation yay!). So if a tram or two come off the road due to rain-related defects, this can cause other issues around the system, particularly if one of those trams were supposed to be in front of the one I'm driving.

There are a number of different things that can mess up the system during wet weather and many of these can also impact on trains. Yes, it's uber shit when trams don't arrive on time, but we can't control the weather, loading or the traffic. Those passengers who are patient and understanding are much appreciated!


  1. Essentially though, it is the slower and more congested traffic. Umbrellas are a fairly recent problem and I don't know why suddenly no one wants to get a single droplet of water on their hair. My score at trapping an umbrella in a door is sadly zero but I will keep trying.

  2. What about the tracks being completely underwater and not being able to see the tracks? Saw a tram drive right through it yesterday but surely it's risky?

  3. Andrew, they are a challenging trophy that will no doubt make much noise when you catch one.

    Anonymous, indeed it is. The rules state that trams should not proceed through water deeper than 10cm as it, like some Mexican food, can cause all sorts of dramas to the undercarriage (for the record, I love Mexican food). However, measuring 10cm can be a challenging task when driving a tram. Any decent tram driver will be able to tell you where the regular flood areas are. Posting these up at the depot wouldn't be such a bad idea.

  4. Dear MTD,

    Love this blog - I find it very interesting as someone who is semi-interested in becoming a tram driver. I was wondering if you would mind answering a few questions for me:

    Do you look forward to going into work, or does it get really boring?

    What's your favourite and least favourite route to drive and why?

    Do you do the same route back and forwards all day or change around?

    What's your favourite and least favourite tram to drive and why?

    Thanks and keep up the good work:)

  5. Well jeez I always figured wet weather stuffed up trams because it stuffs up everything. Cars, trams, trains, people all have to be extra careful when it rains. Ever got caught in the rain in heels? You'd fall behind schedule too.

    Nonetheless, a million thank yous to MTD for his patience and for explaining things so perfectly. I have the good fortune to live next to a depot (I wonder if I could work there, it would be hang out with trams) but never noticed the sand-trucks. Quite cool :)

  6. Lightning blew a hole in the roof of one of our trams on Collins St the other evening. That tends to cause problems for a tram—as it probably would any other vehicle in that circumstance.

  7. Anonymous, I can't say I look forward to working every day as it does get pretty boring.
    I can't tell you which is my fav or worst route as I'm a little private when it comes to that. Same deal with the trams I drive. I doubt my employer would be happy if they knew who I was.
    Every depot has more than 1 route and there is some variety. But it's no buffet.

  8. R, it makes common sense about the weather, but I can understand people getting pissed waiting in the rain for a late tram. Goes both ways. Thank you for the compliments.

    Alex Peters, yes I heard about that one. It happens about once a year, but the chances of being electrocuted on a tram are up there with being struck by said lightning. Cars have the luxury of tyres breaking the circuit.

  9. Argh, those people that get on and then get off at the next stop drive me mental - rain or no rain!

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