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Melbourne tram collision highlights increasing accident statistics

The B2 class is the mainstay of many of Melbourne’s busiest routes: 2104 (built in 1992) and 2074 (1991) on Swanston Street in February 2013. (Image redit: Liam Davies / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Fourteen people were taken to hospitals across Melbourne and a further 29 were injured when a soil truck collided with a West Coburg route 58 tram on Elliott Avenue on 21 May. The single carriageway arterial road in Parkville is one of the city’s busiest, carrying 35 000 cars per day according to VicRoads data quoted by newspaper The Age.

The force of the accident, at about 08.00 in the morning, severely buckled one side of B2 class tram 2028, derailing it and tipping the truck onto its side. Paramedics set up a triage area at the scene to treat injured passengers and the tram’s driver while police cordoned off the area. Many of the tram’s side windows were smashed in the collision, with dirt from the truck covering its interior. A team of firefighters spent several hours cleaning up diesel fuel spilling from the upturned truck.

Tram services resumed that evening after closure of Elliott Avenue between Flemington Road and Royal Parade.

Route 58 trams automatically trigger a green light for their passage across the junction with Elliott Avenue and a possible fault is believed to be the cause. Yarra Trams is investigating.

A tram and a beer delivery truck collided at the same spot in January 2015, with two serious injuries to passengers.

In a separate incident just 30 minutes before the Parkville accident, a truck derailed an inbound tram at Riversdale Junction in Hawthorn. The road was temporarily blocked after the tram came to rest across the intersection at Power Street.

Melbourne has had its worst period for collisions and injuries on trams in nine years, Transport Safety Victoria figures show. There were 962 accidents between trams and vehicles in 2016, and 61 serious injuries – mainly due to passengers falling inside trams and at tramstops, the latter being a 30% rise from 2015.

Yarra Trams claimed that some of the increase is due to poor road driving habits and higher traffic densities. A spokesperson told The Age: “Many of our incidents are as a result of drivers turning in front of trams or other unsafe road behaviours. We’re working closer than ever with our road partners to improve safety on our network, specifically around vehicle-to-tram incidents and serious injuries.”

The operator has said it is investigating changing the way its trams accelerate and brake, reviewing its driver training and identifying injury hotspots. It is also planning to install more strap hangers on its latest E-Class trams and additional safety cameras to give drivers greater internal and external visibility.

Transport Safety Victoria said distracted pedestrians were an increasing problem and that “the rise of smartphone zombies doesn’t show any sign of slowing”.

Figures from the first quarter of 2017 show 221 collisions with cars, slightly down year-on-year but a 6% increase on 2015.