So there we have it: what started out as a mere fantasy when I was four or five years old has actually been realised. I am now a fully qualified tram driver.
“C class” on my certificate means that I can drive these:
and, technically, these too:
I’ll be trained up on another model soon as well.
So, how to sum up the last five weeks?
I’ve had a total blast. There are absolutely no regrets at this stage about throwing in the IT towel. (Not that I have done so fully yet anyway; I’m still spending a few hours each week at my old job tying up those loose ends from two months ago.)
For the most part, everything has been pretty much as I expected: you go, you stop (usually), you need to drive for everyone else on the road, you need to know the city and the suburbs and you need to know how to fix broken tram bits as they invariably break. And perhaps most importantly: the work doesn’t come home with me. Once I’m out the door, that’s it until I return. I’m loving that greatly.
What has actually surprised, then?
Acceleration. When the tram is empty and conditions are dry (but pretty much no other time), with full throttle you can get from zero to sixty pretty quickly—that is, significantly faster than surrounding traffic.
Magic invisibility. When cars and pedestrians don’t want to see you, they simply don’t see you—or even hear you. This is particularly bad in the city, but applies everywhere else too at times. You can be sitting 30cm behind a car (or indeed, a person with earphones on) that is blocking your clearance dinging away to no avail. Luckily, the C class trams also have a car-like horn. That has proven to be effective.
Rich people behaviour. The most “antagonising” car drivers haven’t actually been P platers in utes, but middle-aged drivers in BMWs, Audis and Mercs. I’m not sure whether this is just a side effect of driving through relatively rich areas like Kew and Balwyn, but I just cannot wrap my head around the mindset that these people appear to have: “I’m late for my cheese tasting. I’ll just cut in front of this 40-tonne vehicle going down a hill. It wouldn’t dare hit me; I’m driving a special, expensive car and hence am above the laws of physics.”
Taxi drivers. A lot of them have always been pretty bad in my experience as a tram passenger, a car driver and a city pedestrian, but the way so many of them so aggressively pull U-turns in such close proximity of approaching trams, I am astonished that there are so few accidents. They also frequently like to block an intersection (and hence my tram) for complete light cycles, presumably thinking that if they do so they’ll get somewhere quicker. That’s when they get a horn in the face for the next 60 seconds. I like to pretend that it might teach them.
Lack of adhesion. Steel wheels on steel tracks (circular object on a flat plane—essentially infinitesimal contact) have poor grip at the best of times, but once drops of rain start hitting the tracks, it’s so much worse. I’ve already gone into a skid several times, even sliding through two stops in a row on one occasion. Even more frightening is when you try to move off on an uphill slope and start moving backwards because in the process of spinning the wheels forwards, all grip has been lost.
Timetables. All things considered, it really isn’t easy at all to keep a tram on time. Bad traffic, poor track adhesion, ignorant road users, people holding doors open—delays of a few seconds all the way along a trip compound into 29-minute delays, and then you have to kick everyone off so you can start heading back in the other direction and that makes people sad. More experienced/senior tram drivers generally seem to break a lot of internal rules (like crossing certain pieces of track at certain low speeds) in an attempt to mitigate these delays.
Indignant car drivers. Sometimes things go wrong enough that you need to pull up in the middle of the road (…obviously) and transfer all of the passengers onto another tram. Cars, obviously, have to wait while this occurs. And boy, do they like that. And as they finally speed past, they tell you how much they like it—while falling victim to the Doppler effect and the sheer comedic value that that adds. So ultimately, it becomes more of a treat than an insult.
Passengers so far have been pretty good. I’m hoping that this one will mostly be a case of “get what you give” in that if you’re not hostile or a smart arse towards them, they’ll be civil right back. I’m sure that there’ll be exceptions to this, though.
All in all, I’m happy and I’m looking forward to whatever may happen from this point forwards. Watch out for me on the 109, 48 and 31 routes as of Monday morning, bright and early.