The major disruption which occurred on Manchester Metrolink during the afternoon and evening of Monday 19th February – and for the Bury line into the following day – was caused by a damaged pantograph on one tram which in turn damaged the overhead at Bury, damaging further pantographs which then damaged the overhead elsewhere on the network according to a report released on the incident. Three different areas were damaged, at Bury and two separate locations at Deansgate-Castlefield, severely disrupting the network throughout the evening rush hour.
The evening’s problems started at 1433 when services on the Bury line were suspended after damage was sustained to the overhead line. This damage was caused by a pantograph which it is thought was defective due to impact damage from another part of the overhead line of a foreign object in the vicinity. Then another tram caught the damaged overhead line bringing down approximately 150 metres of overhead. Although teams were mobilised within 35 minutes to repair the damage it wasn’t possible for these to be completed.
The problems at Bury then caused two separate incidents at Deansgate-Castlefield. In the first – at 1605 – a tram which had traversed the section at Bury failed following departure from Deansgate-Castlefield and had to be shunted into the central platform; the failure was caused by damage to the pantograph. After the tram was moved out of the way services resumed through Deansgate-Castlefield at 1707. Unfortunately, this tram also caused damage to the overhead line support structures closer to Cornbrook with a part of the pantograph lodged in the overhead line. This final issue was discovered at 1722 with service disruption for the remainder of the day.
Following the incidents seven trams were found to have sustained damage to their pantographs as a result of the overhead problems. A further detailed inspection of pantographs then discovered a further four with minor damage.
Previous checking of the overhead (which included cab ride inspections, foot patrol inspections every 12 weeks and pantograph inspections every 20,000km) had not identified the potential problem. Since the incident a complete visual inspection of all overhead equipment from tram cabs has taken place, a forensic scan of the incident site and trams has taken place, CCTV footage has been examined and foot patrol inspections have been strengthened at key locations – to both prevent future incidents and also to try and find out the cause of these major failures.
The report has also looked at how the incidents were dealt and although initially it is said KeolisAmey Metrolink made the right decisions and communicated what was going on there is some criticism of how the later incidents were dealt with both operationally and information released.
Operationally the report is positive that the Bury incident was dealt with correctly at first with trams having to be turned at Queen’s Road as no other turnback facilities closer to Bury were available. Other decisions praised included the decision to prioritise repairing the damage at Deansgate-Castlefield/Cornbrook because of the number of passengers affected by this, terminating the southern section of the network as close as possible to the problems and the deployment of staff to assist passengers.
However, there is also some criticism that a decision was not taken quicker to terminate trams at Cornbrook following the second incident with a number of services kept between stops for some time. This caused some passengers to operate the emergency door controls to leave the trams without staff supervision. This was also down to the lack of communication to passengers about what was going on and how long it was likely to take to fix the problems. It is also suggested that services could have been resumed to Whitefield around one hour earlier on the Tuesday morning.
The lack of reliable released to the public has also been mentioned as a concern and as a result a senior KAM customer lead has been appointed to coordinate all customer channels to ensure the consistency of information and quality of customer advice whilst it is planned to consolidate all information under KAM including channels operated by TfGM.
It has also been confirmed that a monthly report of performance will be released starting from April. The report will provide statistics on performance across the network – including punctuality and cancellations – and give the public a means of monitoring service standards on an on-going basis.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “The Metrolink system is a great asset to our city region and we should all be proud of it. However, it is not immune from technical problems, which at times have been serious breakdowns and which have not been handled as well as they might. What happened earlier this month is a clear example of a serious incident bringing services to a standstill, which could have been far better explained to customers. On this basis I have asked TfGM to publish the report which has been done so that everyone can find out the facts for themselves. I have also asked that they now publish a monthly report detailing operational performance. I am grateful to all Metrolink staff who have worked hard to correct recent problems and deal with the bad weather. But, as Mayor, it is my job to ensure Metrolink is accountable to its paying public and that is why I am introducing this new performance regime.”