Runaway Snaefell car was travelling and nearly four times line speed

Ever since Snaefell Mountain Railway 2 overshot Bungalow Station in August 2017 with passengers on board there has been a lot of speculation as to what happened, not helped by the apparent secrecy of the Health and Safety at Work Inspectorate report into just what happened. Now Isle of Man Newspapers have used a Freedom of Information Act request to find out just what happened and it does make for some alarming reading with confirmation that 2 travelled for 1.4km and reached a top speed of 44mph as the crew attempted to bring it to a standstill.

The normal line speed for trams is 12mph so the 44mph it reached was almost four times the usual. As we have reported in the past the usual braking system didn’t respond to the motorman’s use soon after no. 2 had left the summit and attempts had to be made to use the fell brake to bring the tram to a stand instead. This was eventually achieved – with a passenger helping – in conjunction with the usual parking brake but not before the tram had travelled 1.4km. This included heading over the road crossing at Bungalow. Fortunately, the crew had managed to warn the Station Master at Bungalow of the problem and they had set the warning lights on to stop oncoming traffic. If this hadn’t have happened the whole incident may have been very different but fortunately no physical injuries were reported amongst the 48 passengers and two crew.

The investigation stated that there was a failure of a microswitch connected to the compressor pump which was the initial cause of the incident. This meant that the pressure in the system couldn’t be recharged and the fall in pressure disabled the rheostatic brake control. It is suggested that the motorman was late in applying the fell brake (that is the opinion of the Snaefell Mountain Railway and Department of Infrastructure) and an independent report has said that a crew member failed to notice the low air pressure on the cab gauges before leaving the summit. However, the Health and Safety Inspectorate have praised the crew for their actions in ensuring there wasn’t a more serious incident.

It is said that the failure of the equipment was down to age and the number of times it had been used over the years. The gauges were also located away from the motorman’s line of sight and in different places on different trams which could be confusing. The fell brake components were also found to be excessively worn and was badly adjusted which meant the brakes didn’t clamp correctly onto the sides of the fell rail.

There is mention that no risk assessments had been conducted on the SMR and the pressure valves on the tram hadn’t been examined for three years. Another concerning aspect of the report is that failures of safety critical equipment (fell braking, communication buzzers and rheostatic control systems) were reported to engineering staff but they were not considered by senior management.

As the Snaefell Mountain Railway prepares for a new season it has been confirmed that two of the trams have so far been fitted with a new failsafe braking system – a requirement of the Health and Safety at Work Inspectorate if the line is to run again – with others due to be so treated in due course.

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4 Responses to Runaway Snaefell car was travelling and nearly four times line speed

  1. David Maxwell says:

    How many cars are needed to run the service?

  2. Alan Kirkman says:

    Simple answer depends on how busy it is!

  3. Gareth Prior says:

    As Alan says it is dependent on how busy it is but the first timetable of the year needs 2 trams to maintain that level (its only hourly to start the season). After that at least 3 are needed to keep to the the timetable but 4 are probably needed to be comfortable especially with private hires etc.

  4. PeterWhiteley says:

    This brings to mind the 1946 runaway of an Electro-Pneumatic streamliner in Liverpool (due to ice buildup in the air pipes). It was later stipulated that all cars that were fitted with air operated brake contactors must have a warning device against low air. This ultimately lead to the addition of AEB (Auto-Electric-Brake) which incidentally was not mandatory. The alarms was fitted stright away, but the AEB was done when cars came in for overhaul and not all cars were ultimately fitted with it. Glasgow were a bit more pro-active and did fit it to all there cars. It is told that some liners on transfer to Glasgow had the AEB units supplied still in original boxes.