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LCQ1: Tram services
     Following is a question by the Hon Cheung Kwok-kwan and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Transport and Housing, Mr Yau Shing-mu, in the Legislative Council today (May 10):
     In the early hours on April 6 of this year, a westbound tram suddenly derailed when passing through a bend outside the Court of Final Appeal Building on Des Voeux Road Central. It then crashed fiercely into a tram stop and toppled over, causing injuries to a number of passengers on board. Regarding the road safety of trams, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the number of traffic accidents in the past five years involving trams and the resultant casualties, broken down by cause of accident (including unsatisfactory driving attitude/incompetence of the tram motorman concerned, tram speeding and tram mechanical failure);
(2) whether the Transport Department has, at present, set any requirements regarding the operating speed and daily number of trips of trams; if so, of the details;
(3) of the regular mechanism currently in place to monitor the daily operation of trams;
(4) as it has been reported that several tram derailment accidents had happened in recent years at the spot of the aforesaid accident, whether the authorities have assessed if the design of the curved track concerned is defective, and whether they will explore improvement measures;
(5) as it has been reported that the Hong Kong Tramways Limited (HKT) has implemented a speed monitoring programme since early this year, under which tram motormen operating trams at speeds lower than the average speed for the same tram journey by a certain extent will be given warnings, and their bonuses and year-end bonuses may even be deducted, which is tantamount to forcing tram motormen to speed, whether the Transport Department has prior knowledge of this programme, and whether HKT’s practice has breached the relevant requirements; if the practice has breached the requirements, whether punishment will be imposed;
(6) as HKT allows persons who hold only probationary driving licences (P Licences) to apply for the post of tram motorman, whether the authorities have assessed if such arrangement is appropriate; whether they know the current number and percentage of tram motormen who hold P Licences; and
(7) whether it knows the difference between the duration of induction training for tram motormen and that for bus captains of franchised buses and train captains of Light Rail at present; whether the authorities will review regularly to see if the relevant training duration and contents are adequate; when the last review was conducted?
     The Government attaches great importance to the safe operation of tram services. In the early hours of April 6 this year, a tramcar toppled over at the section of Des Voeux Road Central near Jackson Road. A total of 14 people were injured in the accident. With the assistance of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD), the Police is actively investigating the cause of this traffic accident. The case is yet to be concluded. Nevertheless, as the safe operation of tram services is at stake, the Government has requested the Hong Kong Tramways Limited (HKT) to explore adopting precautionary measures to enhance the safety of tram services. HKT has undertaken to follow up on the issue proactively.
     My reply to the various parts of Hon Cheung Kwok-kwan's question is as follows:
(1) The figures of traffic accidents involving trams and the resultant casualties in the past five years are provided at Annex. The Transport Department (TD) does not have the breakdown figures of the accidents by the causes as set out in the question.
(2) HKT has to provide tram services according to the Schedule of Service published in the Gazette. The Schedule specifies the routes of tram services, timetable, faretable, journey distance, journey time and tramcar allocation for each route. According to the existing Schedule of Service, the daily number of trips which HKT shall operate are about 1 700 trips from Monday to Saturday (except public holidays) and about 1 900 trips on Sunday and public holidays.
     As regards the driving speed of a tramcar, the new-generation trams may travel up to 42 kilometres per hour (km/h). At present, all tramcars are fitted with a speed recorder (commonly known as "blackbox"). HKT also deploys staff to monitor tram speed on sites with the use of speed detector regularly. Furthermore, HKT stipulates the safe driving speed limits for specific sections of the tram tracks – the safe driving speed limit is 20 km/h for downhill sections and point switch, 15 km/h for curves and tram depot areas, eight km/h for L-curve turning junction, and five km/h for auto-point switch and sections undergoing track works. As the section concerned in this accident is a curve, its safe driving speed limit is 15 km/h. HKT has explained the details of the aforesaid requirements to its tram motormen and requested for their strict compliance with the speed limits in the course of the training programme and guidance for on-site practical training for the motormen.
(3) Monitoring the daily operation of the tramway is the regular responsibility of TD and EMSD. TD monitors if the services provided by HKT are operated in accordance with the Schedule of Services, handles complaints on tram services and follows up with HKT on improvement proposals. EMSD arranges regular staff inspection and testing of the electrical and mechanical equipment of the tramway system (including electrical installations, mechanical components, pneumatic system and braking system, etc.) to ensure operational safety in accordance with the Tramway Ordinance. The above two departments also hold regular meetings with HKT to discuss matters relating to the daily operation of tram services as well as maintenance and repairs issues with a view to monitoring and adjusting tram services.
(4) According to TD's records, there were two tram derailment accidents at the curved track section on Des Voeux Road Central near Jackson Road in the past five years. The first accident happened in March last year. Investigation results indicated that the accident was primarily caused by the improper use of the brake by the motorman, which was not related to the design of the tram track concerned. The second accident was the toppling over of the tramcar in April this year. As mentioned above, the Police is still carrying out detailed investigation of the case. Upon completion of the investigation, we will take follow-up actions accordingly having regard to the outcome. TD will also examine whether there is a need to provide appropriate traffic signs and road markings having regard to the traffic conditions at that section so as to remind road users, including tram motormen, that there is a bend ahead and they should decelerate with a view to enhancing the road safety at that section.
(5) HKT indicated that it had implemented a speed monitoring programme under which the average moving speed of the trams was used to measure the driving speed of the motormen, so as to even out the distance between trams to avoid bundling of trams which resulted in irregular headways. We understand that HKT has suspended the programme and will review it after seeking the views of motormen and staff. As the speed monitoring programme is an internal management matter of HKT, prior approval from the Government is not required. Neither did HKT inform TD of the programme beforehand. TD has expressed concern to HKT and asked HKT to maintain good communication with its staff if the programme is to be resumed, as well as give prior notice to TD on such matter.
(6) and (7) At present, an applicant for becoming a tram motorman must be aged 18 or above and hold a valid driving licence (including a probationary driving licence). A motorman must also have a clear record and pass a physical examination before appointment. According to the information provided by HKT, about 70 per cent of its motormen have at least five years of experience of driving a tram. HKT has offered appointments as tram motormen to holders of a probationary driving licence over years. Three motormen of HKT currently hold a probationary driving licence, accounting for less than one per cent of the total number of motormen. No problems have been spotted since the arrangement was implemented for years. That said, TD will keep in view as to whether the arrangement will affect the safe operation of tram services. 
     Newly recruited motormen are currently required to receive eight weeks of on-the-job training, which includes two weeks of classroom instructions for understanding tram operation, driving skills, relevant traffic regulations, etc., and six weeks of road-based training for the trainees to acquire practical experience with tram operation. Upon completion of training, trainees must also pass an assessment before they can be formally appointed as motormen. HKT conducts regular reviews of the induction training arrangements for new motormen. The last review, conducted in September 2016, concluded that the current training arrangements are appropriate in that they can equip newly recruited motormen with sufficient understanding of the rules of daily operation and a good level of safety awareness. Based on the review, HKT has also tightened its stipulations on safe driving speed limit. In the light of the accident in question, HKT will examine whether there is a need to further enhance the driving skills and safety awareness of motormen in the training programme.
     As regards the training of captains for the Light Rail and franchised buses, the Light Rail also accepts applications from holders of a probationary driving licence for becoming Light Rail captains. Upon appointment, a newly recruited Light Rail captain will be arranged to participate in a captain training course lasting for about 18 weeks, which comprises about seven weeks of classroom instructions and depot training as well as around 11 weeks of driving training. Franchised bus captains, on the other hand, are required to hold a valid "public bus" or "franchised public bus" licence issued by TD for driving franchised buses. Depending on whether the newly recruited bus captains possess any of the above licences at the time of appointment, the major franchised bus companies will arrange them to attend training courses lasting for around 13 to 32 days. Despite the fact that the tramway, the Light Rail and franchise buses are all road-based modes of public transport, their specific driving procedures and the operational conditions on the road are different from one another. Their specific training arrangements therefore are also different from one another. It would be inappropriate to judge any training programme solely on account of its duration.
Ends/Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:20
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