Vital lessons from tram blaze drama

editorial image

A tram driver did not take the safest course of action as he tried to stop a fire on one of Blackpool’s vintage vehicles.

The driver entered the smoke-filled carriage of the Progress Twin Car vehicle when an electrical blaze broke out.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB), which has published a report into the incident, has called for more thorough training for drivers.

A conductor also cut his hand taking a fire extinguisher from a glass case and a member of the public made the electrical fire worse by spraying it with water, the RAIB report reveals.

Its investigation into the incident, on September 24 this year, highlighted several key safety messages following the incident, which happened close to the Cliffs Hotel.

The report said the crew of the heritage tram acted quickly to move passengers to safety, adding: “The driver was alerted to an electrical problem by a flash and loud bang from the buzzer unit in his cab.

“The conductor then advised the driver that there was a fire in the motor car.

“The driver brought the twin-car to a stand, and all passengers and staff evacuated without injury.”

He then chose to remove the electrical supply to the vehicle by using a pole, provided for this purpose. To fetch it, he had to enter the smoke-filled saloon, the report said.

It added: “A safer course of action would have been for the driver to place a radio call to the tramway control office and request an emergency isolation of the overhead supply.

“However, the driver was unaware of this option because it had not been included in his training.”

The driver was not injured. The report also warned over the use of a water-based extinguisher to tackle the fire.

It said: “Applying water to the live electrical system exposed the member of the public to risk and made the fire worse.”

The cause of the fire on the 1935-built tram was the failure of installation on a cable which carried electricity from the pantograph to the main circuit breaker.

The vulcanised rubber insulation was most likely installed in 1960 when the tram was converted to a twin car unit.

The report also suggested damage could have been done during repair work nearby in 2015. Water may also have entered the area, the report said.

Among the RAIB’s safety messages was a recommendation to ensure all crew are aware of appropriate methods for isolating the electrical supply in an emergency.

An RAIB spokesman said: “This incident illustrates the importance of ensuring that staff involved in the operation of electrically-powered vehicles are aware of all means of removing the traction supply from the vehicle in an emergency.”

The difficulties of ensuring safety of electrical systems on heritage vehicles and the design of ‘break glass’ emergency panels were also highlighted.