Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Melbourne Trams

East Brunswick.

On the first morning in F.'s house, I was dragged out of my jetlagged slumber by four loud rhythmic sounds, with an exact interval between them, sounding like a samba band's opening gambit. I kept waiting for the whistles and the smaller drums to join them, but they didn't. Instead more squeeky break sounds and metal wheels told me it's one of the trams, of which I had heard so much.

I like them a lot. I like the idea that a large section in the middle of the road is reserved for public transport, and that so many people can fit into one tram. So much better than busses or underground trains. And probably more eco-friendly. Only you have to be careful when you step out. 'So how many people get killed every year this way' I keep asking S.

P. used to be a tram driver many years ago. That must have been so difficult, I told him when he called today from the other side of the Tasman.

'Well they expect you to have accidents all the time' he said. 'There's not much you can do, just break. You can't swerve right or left. But I just had an accident with a truck and a car, never with a cyclist.'

Jerusalem never had trams. In 1913 the Ottoman municipality invited European companies to apply for a concession to build two lines. But the War changed everything. When the British took over in 1917, Governor Storrs wrote to the entrepeneurs who wanted to build it that 'the first rail section would have to be laid over the dead body of the Military Governor'. He was very pleased from this little joke, he used it in his lecture-tours in the U.S. as an opening anecdote. Storrs liked his Ford car and thought trams would make his Jerusalem ugly. So we never had them. They're building light railway now, but it's not the same.

There's lots of things you shouldn't do on a Melbourne tram:

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