Retrospectives transport

In the good old days

One of the persistent myths is that in the “good old days”, before trains and trams had locked doors, nobody ever fell out.

When the old VR ran the suburban network trains, and stations were manned and had barrier gates, trains had a lot of doors and it was never a problem. Nobody fell out either, people were RESPONSIBLE for their actions way back then.

“The Don” comment, Herald Sun web site, 8:37am 19/9/2011

This is patently untrue.

Exhibit 1

A search of the National Library’s “Trove” archive of newspapers for train fell out finds scores of cases from around Australia, some fatal, some causing only minor injuries, some adults, some little kids.

Man Sustains Concussion.

Thomas M. Hassett, aged 51 years, of Holt street, Richmond, fell out of a train near Werribee on Saturday morning, while leaning out of a door. The train was immediately stopped, and the train crew ran back to where Hassett was lying on the side of the line. He was placed on the train and taken to the Spencer street station. An ambulance then transferred him to the Melbourne Hospital, where he was admitted with concussion and several broken ribs.

The Argus, 5th January 1925

A search for tram fell out also finds many cases.

Exhibit 2

The Brisbane tramway museum has a page about fatal tram accidents; they found a register of what appears to be all of them from Brisbane’s tramway history, from 1897 to 1969 (a few years after trams had been converted to buses).

Their attempted categorisation of the data (it’s not easy to do apparently) concluded that amongst 509 deaths over 70-odd years, 64 were due to “Falls from moving trams”, 59 were from “Alighting from moving trams”, and 25 “Boarding moving trams”.

(The biggest categories were “Collisions with motor vehicles” 110 and “Pedestrians knocked down” 118.)


Many of us fondly remember summer days, riding in trams and trains with the doors and windows open, the cool air blowing through. Many of us fondly remember stepping out onto the running board of trams, jumping off before the tram had come to a stop.

(Less pleasantly, I recall as late as about 1995, riding a V/Line H-set on the Ballarat line, and people kept leaving the double-doors open, leaving a huge gaping doorway that anybody could have easily fallen out of if the train had been moderately crowded.)

Sure, there’s nostalgia. But the reality is there were accidents, people were injured or killed, and the quest for better safety is a worthy one.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

8 replies on “In the good old days”

While I have never heard the figures, I suspected there might have been quite a few falls. As people now complain about delayed trains, and so they should, they need to remember that it is not new. Anyone my age will remember the long waits between Richmond and Flinders Street while waiting for a clear platform at Flinders Street before the city loop was built. If the wait was excessive, people used to just get off and walk. I’ve seen a pram shoot out the door of the tram onto the road when the tram turned a corner. Ah, the good old days.

Getting off of a tram can still be VERY dangerous. The other day I saw a passenger about to step off a tram on Chapel St. only to have a delivery van go shooting past the open tram door and around the corner. Had he taken one more step he could have easily been killed or at best severely injured. The tram driver angerily rang the tram’s bell at the van but it was probably too far away to hear it by then.

Brisbane’s tramway history, from 1897 to 1969 (a few years after trams had been converted to buses).

Buses replaced Brisbane’s trams in a mass conversion after Queen St trams ran for the last time on Sunday April 13 1969.

I have recently become concerned that you can open the doors of present-day trains while they are moving. A group of yobbos occasionally get on my train home on the Belgrave line. A few weeks ago they forced open the doors of Comeng carriages while the train was moving. But last week they simply opened the doors in an Xtrapolis by pulling the red emergency lever. They hung at the doors cheering as the train went on.

They kept doing this between stations all the way to Tecoma, whence they got out (spitting over passengers as they did so) then rode the back coupler up to Belgrave.

No amount of passengers pushing the emergency button brought any reaction from the driver, who surely must have known the doors were open between stations.

@David McLoughlin

A few years back I witnessed a very strong looking bloke force the doors open on a Z-Class on the opposite side to the platform in order to run away from ticket inspectors.

Whilst the bemused reaction of the inspectors was slightly amusing, the guy ran didn’t exactly pause to make sure no tram was coming the opposite direction.

I remember the red rattlers in Sydney with open doors during travel. Those were the days where many passengers would hit the platform running as the train pulled into a station, some would fall and some of those would end up between the train and the platform, not a pretty site.

Are we living in a nanny state or do ppl need to be protected from themselves?

The other point that people seldom remember is that there are lots more people around nowadays.If there are twice as many people in Melbourne and only one-and-a-half times as many falls, then that’s an improvement, even though the numbers are larger.

I have just been to San Francisco and while their cable cars are cute, I have no idea how they are allowed to run with people hanging off the sides. This in a country that has signs in shops warning you that vinyl/plastic products may cause cancer or birth defects!

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