Driver appears at fault for runaway tram on busy Prague road

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An investigation has been launched by accident experts into how a runaway tram took off onto a busy Prague road leaving its desperate driver trailing behind. The almost unique case appears to be down to human error, and has sparked questions about driver training.

Its sounds like a comedy scenario: a tram driver gets out of his tram, only to see it set off down the track on its own. He tries to run after it but it is too fast. He flags down a cyclist and takes his bike, but then falls off during the pursuit. After cutting through roads and crossings, the tram eventually comes to a stop a kilometre away.

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That, however, is the description of what happened in a Prague suburb on Tuesday evening and is now being investigated by the country’s rail inspectorate.

Inspectorate spokesman Jan Kučera describes what appears to have happened: “The investigation has established that the tram was stopped at the depot where there was no electric current. The driver got out and tried with some colleagues to move it on a bit further, so that it could be connected to the current again. Unfortunately, he forgot to turn the control switch. So when the tram was under the overhead wires again it started moving off on its own. The driver tried everything he could to catch up with it, but was unable to do so. Fortunately colleagues realized the tram was moving without a driver and called for dispatching to cut the current.”

Before that could be done the tram had exited the depot in Prague’s Motol district, crashed through a metal gate in its way and gone onto the number seven tram route along the Plzeňska street, one of the busiest roads in the capital. Its short journey took it across four pedestrian crossings, with another tram around a minute ahead of it on the track.

Although the investigation is far from completed, Mr. Kučera says that at this stage human error seems to be to blame for the runaway tram. The driver’s failure to switch the controls meant the automatic brakes and cut off systems were not functioning. Prague’s transport authority is making no comments ahead of a final report, which could take up to two months.

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Media reports say that the driver was a new recruit in his fifties with only a few months of experience under his belt. They add that such new recruits face a steep learning curve and a lot of stress getting used to the various types of tram in the city transport authority fleet.

The only similar incident since the inspectorate was created in 2003 occurred two years ago in the country’s second city, Brno. Then it was a technical fault with the tram itself that sent it onto a busy section of the track in the centre of the city eventually crashing into another tram. There were no injuries.