A cabin from the Stresa-Mottarone tramway fell on Sunday, killing 14 people and critically injuring a five year old child. The cable car is located west of Lake Maggiore in the Piedmont region near Italy’s border with Switzerland. The affected cabin came to rest about 1,500 feet from the tramway’s summit, which lies at an elevation of 1,500 meters (4,900 feet).
The two section tramway system was built in 1970 by Piemonte Funivie, an Italian manufacturer later absorbed by Agudio. Leitner renovated both lifts between 2014 and 2016 at a cost of €4.4 million. The twin tramways opened for the current season April 24th following an extended Coronavirus-related closure. Each of four 40 passenger cabins rides along a single track rope and is driven by a haul rope. Today’s accident occurred on the second section, which has two cabins that travel in opposite directions between the middle and summit stations. Cabin number 3 is the one which came to rest crumpled near tower 3. The other cabin which shares the same haul rope was safely evacuated by rope just uphill of the intermediate station.
“We are trying to understand what has happened, but it is a truly terrible tragedy,” said Minister of Sustainable Infrastructure and Mobility Enrico Giovannini. Helicopters assisted with the rescue and recovery operation. A fire engine driving to the site overturned but there were no injuries from that mishap. The incident is the deadliest involving an Italian aerial lift since 1998, when a US military aircraft hit a tramway, killing 20.
“I learned with deep sorrow the news of the tragic accident of the Stresa-Mottarone cable car,” said Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi in an evening statement. “I express the condolences of the whole Government to the families of the victims, with a special thought for the seriously injured children and their families.”
Late Sunday night, the Ministry of Sustainable Infrastructure and Mobility announced the formation of an investigative commission due to the seriousness of the incident. The ministry confirmed a general overhaul of the ropeway was completed in August 2016. Rope inspections were carried out in July of 2017 and again in November and December of 2020. Specifically, magnetic tests were carried out on the track ropes, haul ropes and rescue ropes in November that year. Finally, in December 2020, a visual inspection of the tension ropes was carried out by a specialized contractor.
On Monday, the 14 victims were identified, ranging in age from 2 to 82 and hailing from Italy, Israel and Iran. The regional prosecutor announced a criminal inquiry, stating preliminary indications are the haul rope failed and emergency brakes on cabin 3 did not engage. He confirmed track rope brakes on cabin 4 functioned as designed. Neither cabin had an attendant inside, which was permissible under European regulations.
Leitner Ropeways issued a statement Monday afternoon expressing condolences and confirming recent inspections that took place:
Leitner later released more information about its maintenance contract with tramway operator Ferrovie del Mottarone with specific dates:
- Maintenance and inspection of the vehicles’ hydraulic braking systems: 3 May 2021
- Non-destructive tests on all of the system’s mechanical safety components as part of the quinquennial overhaul. These tests were due in August 2021 but were brought forward to 29 March – 1 April 2021
- Performance tests on the entire drive system: 18 March 2021
- Lubrication and checks on the running rollers and sheaves in the stations: 4 and 5 March 2021
- A test simulating a hauling rope breakage activating the track rope brakes – carried out on both vehicles on 1 December 2020
- Regular magnetic-inductive testing on the hauling ropes (and all ropes of the installation) as per the provisions of Ministry of Transport Executive Decree No. 144 of 18 May 2016 (testing carried out once a year) with positive results: 5 November 2020