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Saturday 15 December 2018

Lisbon Tram Crash - What We Know

Yesterday afternoon, a tram derailed in the city of Lisbon. I was aware of the incident but did not think it would make the UK press; well, now it is all over the Sun and Mail, with maximum shock horror added value just to frighten the readers. So, as they stressed in the Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Don’t Panic!
Carris Remodelado tram 576 at the Ajuda terminus of Line 18 ...

Our free and fearless press loves to scare its readers witless over what happens in places where they talk foreign, and especially if they are member states of the hated EU. So let’s dispel some notions right away: lots of Brits visit Lisbon and see the sights all year round. Those sights, as prescribed by every guidebook known to mankind, include riding a tram. This has not changed; riding a tram in Lisbon is not a hazardous occupation.

The Guardian has told thatTwenty-eight people have been injured after a tram derailed and flipped over in Lisbon … It hit a building and fell on its side”, and the Murdoch Sun has screamedA DOZEN passengers had to be extracted from a mangled tram after it derailed and flipped over during Lisbon rush-hour last night … It is understood several pedestrians were also hit while walking on the pavement when the horror crash unfolded”.

Sounds nasty. So let’s pore over some of those boring facts. Lisbon’s trams may look old and quaint, but they aren’t. Although the bodywork comes from old trams built in the 1930s, the trucks and electrical equipment are from the mid 1990s. They are called Eléctricos Remodelados, or remodelled trams. Their braking systems are sound, modern - and reliable. So what happened in yesterday’s incident?

It seems Remodelado tram 576 was descending the long hill of Rua de São Domingos, and should have made the left turn into Rua Garcia da Horta. There were 28 passengers on board the Route 25 journey, which means while the tram was not rammed full, there would have been standing passengers. There are seats for just 20.
... and after coming to grief yesterday afternoon

It’s a dangerous corner, and there has been at least one derailment in the past. What appears to have happened is that the tram did not slow down for the left turn, jumped the track - probably at no more than 20-30km/h - rolled on to its side, and impacted the building on the corner. The vehicle’s body was totalled in the crash.

However, and here we encounter a less scary however, none of those passengers suffered serious injuries, although word is that the driver is in a bad way. Contrary to initial reports, no Britons were involved. This may be because, in accordance with those guidebooks, Brits ride the better-known and far busier route 28 instead, and perhaps the 15 if they are visiting the attractions along the coast at Belém.

But, although there are lots of hills in Lisbon, and those trams ascend and descend most of them, the speeds achieved are generally not high, and the risk therefore not great, Operator Carris carries many thousands of tourists on them every day without any problem. Yes, there are parallels with the Croydon accident, except no-one got killed.

Don’t be put off by the screams of the Sun and Mail. If you can understand the original Portuguese, check out the report in the Público instead (HERE). Most of all, don’t be put off Lisbon as a destination. Or its trams.
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Anonymous said...

Given the British privatised rail system record of mass deaths.....

Dave Holladay said...

Anonymous won't back your comment then - was this meant to be sarcastic?

Key interest would be on running gear (not a bogie vehicle) track geometry, and tyre wear profile - surprisingly this was not reported in detail for Croydon, despite reviews in 2006 and 2008 on factors likely to trigger derailment - especially where the trams may be operating outside the basic safety envelope.

The 1969 Morpeth report (effectively the rail equivalent of Croydon crash) noted that:
1) the train should in theory have stayed on the track, at a speed some 20mph higher than that of the crash (the loco actually remained on the rails)
2) the were 2 track defects which in combination would have provided a trigger
3) a loose and heavy load in the first vehicle to derail would have enhanced the overturning of that vehicle, and consequent splitting of the train etc.

Tram derailments in Croydon (2008) and Edinburgh (2018), where the flanges failed to remain 'engauged' with the rails when a large road vehicle collided with the tram might raise some debate on the flange & tyre interface and its ability to resist the shock load of a collision or corner (with no transition lead-in) taken at excessive speed.