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Davie Street trolley bus throws a shoe—sheer luck my friend wasn’t killed!

March 8, 2019

Shear luck. The trolley’s contact shoe, showing how the cast aluminum body sheared along the centre line of two big bolt holes. There was only one identifiable piece of ferrous metal in the who construction—a ring washer.—SQW

When my homeless friend Francis Mathers told me he’d gotten a shower downtown today (March 8th) I was nonplussed. All the same, I was curious why he seemed so excited and jittery about it.

It turned out that he’d gotten the shower while riding his bike behind a trolley bus and it had consisted, he said, of molten metal falling on him from the business end of one of the trolley’s two power poles.

Well anyone would be jittery after that, I thought.

But I didn’t know the half of it. What happened next could have killed him!

No one was waiting for this other shoe to fall

At 2:14 p.m. The trolley bus with poles down, showing how the contact shoe had been ripped off the end of the right pole.—Francis Mathers

Francis told me that the incident happened in around 2:15 p.m. at the intersection of Granville and Davie. Specifically, he was in the northeast curb lane of the 600 block of Davie Street. The trolley bus he was riding behind was a 6 Downtown (fleet number 2278).

What happened happened very quickly.

There was apparently a burst of sparks over Francis’ head and what he described as a “shower of molten metal”. Francis did not say how much, or what kind of noise accompanied this shower but he says that along with it came flying a big piece of metal that just missed hitting him.

Instead it slammed into the windshield of the black, four-door pickup truck that was travelling beside him.

At 2:15 p.m. the driver of the GMC Sierra inspects the damage to his windshield caused by the trolley bus’ flying power shoe.—Francis Mathers

The truck appears to have been a GMC Sierra Elevation Edition. The impact hit the passenger side of the windshield at head level, crazing the glass and actually denting the passenger-side windshield pillar.

The object that nearly hit Francis and did hit the truck was one of the trolley bus’ two contact shoes. These come in direct contact with the overhead electrical power wires—one to a live wire carrying 600 volts and the other to a ground wire.

Another close look at the trolley bus’ damaged and undamaged power poles.—Francis Mathers

Each of the two contact shoes is attached to the end of an articulated, so-called power pole that extends from the top of the trolley bus and enables the contact shoes to reach the overhead wires.

It was easy to identify the flying part as a contact shoe because, well, Francis picked it up from where it landed on the road and brought it back with him to the Fairview neighbourhood to show me.

No doubt it would have been better all the way around if Francis had—on the one hand, left the contact shoe at the scene and, on the other hand, not left the scene himself and waited to give a statement to emergency responders.

After all he was an eyewitness to a dangerous incident; one that could have seriously injured, or even killed him.

Another look at the remains of the contact shoe, with the background darkened for clarity. The part at the top connects to the overhead electrical wire, while the end at the viewer’s right is where it sheared off the buses’ power pole.—SQW

Most people would have waited to tell their story to authorities and, perhaps, even test the waters vis-a-vis compensation. Most people, however, are neither Francis nor homeless.

Francis stresses easily and like most homeless people he very much shys away from authority figures—especially the police.

After such a near brush with mortality I am sure that he was in a degree of trauma and his fight-or-flight response took over and made him flee the scene but not before his magpie nature compelled him to pick up the interesting, shiny metal thing.

I did explain to him that if TransLink, our beloved regional transit authority, notices this blog post it may very well request the return of its property. Francis said that, in that case, he would give it back.

I also told him how relieved I was that he escaped entirely without physical injury. No doubt he realizes how lucky he was.

Note: It has been my thinking since writing an April 2018 post about trolley wires coming down on West Broadway that the right overhead wire (from the seated driver’s point of view) is the ground and the left is the one that carries 600 volts.

The photos that Francis took at the scene show that the contact shoe came off the right power pole. But if that really is for the uncharged ground wire then I have to wonder why there were fire works. Click the images to enlarge them.

From → Personal

  1. I am so happy your friend is okay and hope there was no passenger in the truck.


  2. brouillardesque permalink

    As if life didn’t send Francis enough trials without him being bombarded by miscreant trolleys! Thanks for your writing.


  3. DJP permalink

    I wonder how the driver of the pick up will make out. I was on the Oak St Bridge N bound in the curb lane driving my IHC semi truck. A transit bus drove past me and lis left side mirror to look at people boarding the bus tore my driver side mirror off. As it was rush hour I caught up to him aTransit and they said they would check with the driver when they could and get back to me. Turns out the driver denied hitting anything. Lucky for Francis he wasnt hit or electrocuted as it would have been his fault.


    • I don’t suppose that it helps the driver of the Sierra that the object that hit his truck disappeared along with one of the main eye witnesses!


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