AN ENGINEER who was on the new Tram Train when it crashed yesterday said he was “grateful to be alive” and "lessons must be learned" from the incident.
Malcolm Bell (73), of Leeds, drove to Rotherham so he could ride the Tram Train on its first day in service — and was two seats behind the driver when it derailed, after colliding with a passing lorry.
The motor specialist, who has worked for Rolls Royce and Lotus, said: “I was looking out through the front of the cab when I saw a flash of yellow.
“Instantly there was a big shock. I was sitting on the left side of the carriage and suddenly there were two people on top of me.
“We carried on moving for about two seconds before coming to rest. The carriage was derailed, with the front about 30 degrees to the tracks.
“My first worry was that my spectacles might be broken, but they weren’t.”
Malcolm said most passengers were calm, but some were shouting and swearing.
“It was quiet for a second, then there was a lot of noise and bad language from further down the carriage," he said.
“There was a woman next to me whose knee was badly grazed and her elbow was bleeding.
“The driver was very badly shocked, the poor sod.”
Malcolm helped passengers back into their seats, then started to worry about the chance of fire.
“I decided that the best thing to do would be to try and help people to get out,” he said.
Malcolm asked a staff member outside the carriage to open the doors, but the man wanted to make sure that it was safe to leave first.
A minute or two later the doors were opened and passengers were let out.
Malcolm added: “The Tram Train had T-boned the lorry,” he said. “I looked around the carriage and the whole front was quite badly distorted.
“This vehicle, which had been all smooth and flat, was now all crinkled. And this was only a moderate crash."
He added: “Certainly I’m grateful to be alive and I think there are lessons to be learned about the vehicle and whether this is a smart idea.
“I have always been worried by the idea of running medium-weight vehicles on railway lines, with heavy rail.
“What would happen to one of these vehicles if it was hit by a train?”
Malcolm thinks more signal lighting could be provided at the crash junction, in Attercliffe.
“Where you’ve got a railway crossing a main road, there’s usually flashing lights and a barrier,” he said.
“I thought the signals here were okay, but they could be better. I think someone needs to have a jolly good look at that."
Malcolm said Stagecoach staff were “excellent” in helping passengers after the crash.
He added: “I have been sceptical about the project although deep down, as an engineer I really want it to work.
“In a lot of ways they have proved me wrong. But they need to deal with the issues raised by this experience.”
A Supertram spokeswoman said: "The vehicles are built to the highest standard for use on both tram and train networks and meet all safety regulations within Europe and the UK.
"Fortunately, incidents like this are very rare on the network and thankfully there were only a small number of minor injuries to passengers onboard."
A spokeswoman for the South Yorkshire Passenger and Transport Executive, which is responsible for tram infrastructure, added: “This is only the second tram collision at this junction in 26 years.
“We review how trams interact with road traffic on a regular basis and wherever we need to take action, this happens very quickly.
“A thorough investigation will now be carried out and if any issues need to be addressed, we will work with our partners to put them in place, to ensure road safety in future.”