LONDON, U.K.–What could have been a catastrophic runaway tram incident has been a wake-up call for the Snaefell Mountain Railway.
And it has begun the 2019 season with the line safer now than it has ever been in its near 125-year history.
The engineering team at the line’s Laxey depot has been working flat out over recent months to fit the trams with new electro-magnetic track brakes. They have also completely revamped the existing braking systems with all new components and a number of other improvements made prior to the previous season.
It means the tramcars now have four independent braking systems – the new track brakes, the wheel brakes, the Fell brakes and rheo-static brakes.
’They’ve got more braking systems than a Jumbo now!’ said Andy Cowie, chief engineer, as he showed the Examiner around the depot to see the improvements that have been carried out.
Passengers were told to ’brace’ by the crew, fearing a derailment, when vintage tram no.2 ran out of control 1,400m down Snaefell mountain, after its brakes failed shortly after leaving the summit on August 4, 2017.
The tram, with 48 passengers on board, reached a speed 44mph as it crossed the road at Bungalow before the motorman and guard, helped by a passenger, managed to bring it to a halt.
A Health and Safety at Work Inspectorate investigation concluded that a failed micro-switch connected to the compressor pump was the initial cause of the incident.
This prevented the pressure in the system from being recharged, disabling the rheo-static brake control.
But it also found that the Fell brake components were excessively worn so they did not clamp correctly onto the sides of the line’s central rail.
And the pressure gauges in the cab were confusing, located away from the motorman’s line of sight and in different places on different trams.
An improvement notice was served on the line by the HSWI obliging it to fit ’fail to safe’ brakes on the trams before the start of the 2019 season.
The new track brakes apply instant braking at the push of a button in the cab and they also come on automatically in the event of the failure of the electric or pressure systems.
They are powered independently with 24 Volt battery systems. Three trams have been fitted with the new track brakes so far, with a fourth – tram no.2 that was involved in the incident – waiting for the components to be delivered from Germany.
Rolling stock manager Mike Szender admitted: ’It’s been a pretty hectic few months. Very long hours have been put in by a lot of people.’