She looked about twenty. She sounded upset on the phone. She wasn’t quite sure where she was going, and her phone battery was running out. The heat in the tram was stifling. She hung up and started to sob. Then she collapsed.
She mostly fell downwards, and didn’t seem to bump her head. A couple of people helped her sit up, someone with first aid knowledge told her to sit with her head between her knees. Someone else called out for water. From somewhere in the crowd a bottle was handed to me, and I held it in front of her so she could drink from it.
We were packed into the 67 tram like the proverbial sardines. Apart from a mass of heat-related train cancellations, the Sandringham line had been suspended, apparently due to a disturbed man at Balaclava station threatening to jump from the bridge, and hundreds of railway refugees had crowded into the Swanston Street tram stop to look for other ways home. Just my luck to be on that line that night. Inevitably the first 67 tram that came was a Z-class — for the non-gunzels that means short, and in this weather, hot — and people headed to Balaclava and all stations beyond tried to cram on. It was further down St Kilda Road that the lady fainted.
She seemed almost apologetic, but we urged her to stay calm, to drink the water and take it easy. It was too crowded to get a message to the tram driver, and we kept on rolling down the street, stopping at what seemed like every single traffic light.
We talked to her, worked out where she was going. She made another phone call. Elsternwick. Yes, this tram goes to Elsternwick. Glenhuntly Road — a hotel? Yes, we go right past the Elsternwick Hotel. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to get out and sit and wait for a less crowded tram? No, she was in a hurry. It’s about twenty minutes. … Ten minutes … Almost there … This is your stop. Thank you. You’re welcome — hope your evening improves.
I went a couple more stops, to Elsternwick station, where trains were running further south. I’d been delayed by perhaps 30-40 minutes, but it could have been much worse.
So what are the root causes here?
Acting Premier Rob Hulls demanded an explanation. The short version is that the fleet and infrastructure aren’t designed to handle Melbourne’s hottest days. And it’s the government’s responsibility to upgrade it.
The Comeng trains (which accounts for more than half of the total train fleet) has air-conditioning which overloads on hot days. They’ve always been like that. Despite the fact they were all upgraded in the last few years, nobody thought to upgrade the air-con.
And the incident at Balaclava? Probably unavoidable, but why do the contingency plans take so long to get under way, and why are the alternative routes often so poor — with trams and buses inevitably stuck in traffic (evidently the Roads Minister doesn’t yet quite grasp that tram/bus priority should mean the trams and buses get priority over cars), and most bus routes infrequent and not shown on most maps?
Melbourne depends on the public transport network to move hundreds of thousands of people a day. Sure, problems happen, but it shouldn’t fall apart when the weather gets hot. The system has to be better.
PS. Channel 9 story
Connex fined over train cancellations