Our ‘week of hell’

Cramped trams during October half-term in Blackpool
Cramped trams during October half-term in Blackpool
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Tram guards tell of dangerous overcrowding and tourists saying they will never return

Guards on Blackpool’s fleet of supertrams today told of a ‘week of hell’ with dangerous overcrowding, staff verbally abused and furious holidaymakers vowing never to return.

Staff say there were angry scenes among passengers fighting their way on to already packed carriages over last week’s half-term week.

Workers and passengers say some trams set off way over capacity with people packed in, while there have also been complaints about services not running on time because of staff shortages.

And staff say Blackpool Transport, which runs the fleet, has missed out on thousands of pounds in fares because guards simply could not get round to collect money.

Bosses at the firm today pledged a review of the concerns, admitting half-term had been a “very difficult week”.

One guard who contacted The Gazette said: “Half-term has been absolute hell. We should be celebrating the fact Blackpool is busy but all we have had is abuse.

“The trams are only meant to carry 228 people but some have been running way over capacity.

“On the first weekend of the half-term they should have been running at 12 minute intervals. But they were running every 15 minutes because they couldn’t get staff in to work.

“When trams are getting to the platforms and people are being told they are too full and they can’t get on, they are just pushing their way on anyway.

“There was simply not enough trams to cope with the demand.

“Blackpool will be losing loads of money because guards can’t get round. People aren’t buying return tickets because they know guards won’t get the chance to get to them, it’s so busy.

“It doesn’t reflect well on Blackpool in the slightest.”

Another tram guard who contacted The Gazette after the half-term week,said: “It was just horrendous out there. You have no control over people.

“Working at the door people get on and give you abuse because there has not been a tram for 50 minutes.

“I worked last Saturday and every busy weekend during the Illuminations.

“A lot of my colleagues just said it was a joke. No management have come down to give us a boost. They are just that short staffed. We just get abuse all the time.

“There are hundreds of people waiting to get on – you can’t stop them. People were just pushing on. We need more trams and more guards – a more frequent service.”

And another staff member, who has worked for the company for years, said: “There were just not enough trams out.

“There are full families coming up and running full buggies on. Then when they do get on they are complaining about health and safety.

“If we had a crash or something, we are the ones who would get done.

“We must have left more people at stops than we have taken and the guards can’t get anywhere near the customers to get their fares because it is so full.”

A memo sent from management to staff at Blackpool Transport – and seen by The Gazette – said: “We are very much aware how busy it is this week, perhaps one of the busiest half-terms we have seen for several years.

“We do fully understand the pressures you are operating under but we cannot do anything about the volume of traffic in the town.”

Bob Mason, director of delivery at Blackpool Transport, said staff had done a “very good job in what were very difficult circumstances” and he would take any concerns raised by staff seriously.

He added: “It is very difficult with a tram. It is like the tube in London, it pulls up at a station and the doors open. You can imagine what would happen if you try to stop people getting on.

“We will review every different period of the tram operation and try to learn from it for next year. From our perspective, yes it has been a very very busy week. It was probably 20 per cent busier than the same week last year.

“It was very mild weather and it was great for Blackpool. However, we only have a certain amount of staff and we ensured that we were running a 7/8 minute frequency during the Illuminations and in the day time we were running a 10/12/15 minute service at various times of the day.

“As a company we don’t feel there were any safety issues and our conductors and staff did a very good job in what were very difficult circumstances.”

On the capacity concerns, Mr Mason said it was “impossible to corroborate” whether the trams were over capacity, but he insisted his experienced staff would “not compromise safety”.

Asked about abuse aimed at staff, he said: “I’m not aware personally of this but that is not to say that it is not the case and if we have incidents of that we would support our staff wholeheartedly.”

And on guards not being able to collect fares, he added: “Unfortunately there will be cases of that happening, as there is if you are on the last train coming out of Manchester in an evening and the guard can’t get round that train because they have not got the room to move.

“We had two conductors on each tram, and what people need to understand is from this weekend the tram service levels then drop to our run up to Christmas operation which requires far less staff than we require in that one week period.”