14 Dead in Italian Tram Crash

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

34 thoughts on “14 Dead in Italian Tram Crash

  1. Rob Withey May 23, 2021 / 10:48 am

    I see the track ropes and comm lines up. Haul rope is on the ground with the cabin. What happened to the other cabin if the haul rope is a single continuous loop?

    Like

  2. Utah Powder Skier May 23, 2021 / 11:03 am

    What components did Leitner replace? The tower looks to be original, along with the cabins.

    Like

  3. Utah Powder Skier May 23, 2021 / 11:12 am

    I forgot to add that they’re is a big Leitner logo on the grip.

    Like

  4. RaflW May 23, 2021 / 11:59 am

    Shocking to think that (yes, conjecture here) a haul rope failure could cause the cabin to come off the track rope. Terrifying. 13 plus two serious injuries is so unfortunate.
    That the other cabin appears to have made it in on brakes is a relief, at least.

    Like

  5. Somebody May 23, 2021 / 2:16 pm

    Pardon my language, but holy shit.. Tramway accidents in particular are really scary. What a tragedy.

    Like

  6. Morris May 23, 2021 / 5:00 pm

    Oh my lord. My heart goes out to the victims and their families.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kirk May 23, 2021 / 6:26 pm

    Typically a continues loop spiced haulrope system on newer Trams do not have track rope brakes.
    Such as Portland and Jackson Hole.
    Typically all socketed type haulrope systems on Trams have track rope brakes, at least here in the US.

    Trams with track rope brakes have a device in the socket connection area that detects loss of haulrope tension and sets the track rope brakes automatically. (a haulrope failure should automatically set the track rope brake on socketed type systems)

    The loss of haulrope tension safety devices are typically tested and inspected annually.

    Tram looks like a single track rope and single haulrope type of system. Couldn’t tell from the picture if the haulrope was a socket type of connection or not.

    Like

      • Favre May 23, 2021 / 7:42 pm

        Bonjour quel est le fabriquand du cable???

        Like

        • Utah Powder Skier May 23, 2021 / 7:45 pm

          Are asking for the manufacturer of the haul rope or the lift itself?

          Like

      • Kirk May 23, 2021 / 8:42 pm

        Yep, socketed haulropes with 2 track rope brakes seen in the picture. Track rope brakes should of applied automatically. Assuming it has the slack rope release safety feature. The old 1960’s Palm Springs Tram had the slack rope release feature on the original Tram before the 2000 upgrade. Snowbird and Squaw both have that set up since day one. Sure there will be more to the story??

        Like

  8. Sam May 23, 2021 / 8:35 pm

    so did the tram cabin go flying back down the mountain when the haul rope broke and it fell off when it went over a tower? god that must have been a scary ride.

    Like

    • John May 24, 2021 / 11:41 am

      it would appear since the other cabin was almost in the lower terminal, the other cabin would have traveled around 1500′ downhill to make it to the tower that they bounced off from. I can’t imagine.

      Like

  9. Jeff May 24, 2021 / 11:23 am

    That second picture was really hard to look at……… what a terrible tragedy.

    Like

    • Emax VT May 24, 2021 / 7:23 pm

      If I had to guess I’d say one of those strand vises let go in some way. Then the breaks either deployed too late or not at all. Worst case scenario all around.

      Like

  10. Doug May 25, 2021 / 8:19 am

    I found the discussion above interesting regarding only having haul rope brakes on some trams with sockets. Does that mean if the haul rope broke on trams with a non-socket design that there is no backup system or brake to stop the tram?

    If so, that seems like a single point catastrophic failure mode that should not be allowed. I say this with the airline industry in mind where the acceptable rate for a catastrophic failure leading to loss of the plane is 1 x 10−9 per flight hour and the assumption that the total number of tram hours worldwide is far far less than that.

    Like

    • Johann May 25, 2021 / 9:15 am

      Well you could have Track Rope Brakes (TRB) even if you had a spliced rope generally I believe they go to the spliced rope to go with a larger diameter haul rope with a bigger safety factor and remove the TRBs from the lift design. There are concerns with TRBs in terms of over braking and when you remove the TRBs you can have a profile shoe on the tower that supports a larger radius of the Track Rope which helps in regards to wind loading on the rope. That being said splicing a haul rope on a tram is a giant pain in the ass and sockets can be made rather quickly and easily. You reference the airline industry like planes never crash.

      Never really thought of it before but losing the upper haul rope seems significantly worse than losing the lower rope. Also with no cabin attendant there is no one to activate the TRBs if they don’t set automatically.

      When doing the slack rope release test I wonder if something was left in to prevent the the brakes from activating to achieve slack but this is more common to do for testing the lower haul rope. I also have no idea how the slack rope release is activated on a POMA tram. My experience is with spring packs on the sockets and socket movement activating the brakes.

      I guess it is still unknown if it was a socket failure, which style socket they use or if the rope broke somewhere else.

      It is also crazy the other tram stopped so close to the terminal and yet it seems like it should have stopped further away.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Doug May 25, 2021 / 10:17 am

    Hello Johann,

    Thanks for your response. You are right of course that airplanes do still crash, however those crashes are typically due to multiple problems aligning – the holes in the Swiss cheese line up. The 10-9 requirement are for single point failures, where all maintenance requirements have been met, that inevitably results in a crash and that can not be mitigated against. One example could be a turbine blade shattering where the pieces compromise the structural integrity of the plane (no practical mitigations exist for stopping a 300kg piece of metal slicing through the tin can of a plane).

    For trams it may be that a thicker non-socket haul rope combined with daily inspections reaches something like the 10-9 requirement. None-the-less, I can not help thinking that a practical mitigation still exists in terms of track rope brakes that should be a requirement. As you note however such brakes may add complexity, and hence further failure mechanisms and perhaps more risk.

    At the end of the day I take perhaps 500 lift rides a year and trust the engineers who design such systems and the maintenance men and women who ensure their safe operation. I look forward to the professional analysis of the causes and the potential for improved safety for all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill Miles May 25, 2021 / 2:07 pm

      For transport category airplanes, the 10-9 requirement is for multiple failures. Single catastrophic failures are not allowed except for a few specific conditions, such as rotor burst where the requirement is to minimize the hazard (lots or discussion and arguments on that one.)

      Like

    • Kirk May 25, 2021 / 1:45 pm

      Now it’s starting to make some sense. I am familiar with mechanically blocking the track rope brakes open during unmanned operation. To prevent inadvertent setting of the track rope brakes as stated in the article.
      If the track rope brakes were mechanically blocked during the haulrope failure, that explains why the Tram didn’t stop on the track rope when the rope failed.

      When comes to to a spliced haulrope on a Tram there is no more or less safety of the haulrope breaking than a chairlift or Gondola. The Tram is clamped onto the rope kind of like a fixed grip chairlift and the cabins have to be re-located periodically.

      The failure of the haulrope at the socket has always been the concern even back in the old Swiss code before the CEN.
      Both poured and mechanical sockets have to be either re-poured or dissembled and inspected at least every 3 years in most cases.

      Like

      • Peter Landsman May 25, 2021 / 7:01 pm

        Looking at the other cabin, there are two red objects on the maintenance platform that look like brake blocking forks not in use. That would explain why the brakes on that car worked. Also both sockets are intact.

        I have yet to see a clear picture of the sockets on the crashed cabin but process of elimination would point to either that car’s upper socket or the upper haul rope itself as the main point of failure.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Tin Pants May 25, 2021 / 3:50 pm

    If you zoom in on the first photo it looks like the uphill side cable is attached and the downhill side is gone. Any thoughts?

    Like

    • Rob Withey May 25, 2021 / 5:42 pm

      As far as I can see I think the opposite is true. You can see the uphill socket connection, but the rope is hidden if it is there. The accident may not have happened if the down hill rope failed. Assuming it failed at the socket.

      Like

      • Tin Pants May 25, 2021 / 5:56 pm

        If you look in the foreground right you can see the rope on the ground.

        Like

  13. Kirk May 26, 2021 / 8:26 am

    Yep, sounds like the braking system was designed to prevent this kind of accident.

    This should be a eye opening lesson for all lift maintenance personnel, managers etc.
    Care and consideration of the potential consequences should always be considered when bypassing any lift safety, either mechanically or electrically.

    They properly never needed the track rope brakes in all there years of operation. The day they needed them sounds like they were mechanically blocked.

    Like

  14. Utah Powder Skier May 29, 2021 / 9:53 am

    If the second section had the cabin with the faulty track rope break, couldn’t the operator have operated only the first stage? Is there something at the summit of the second stage that is enough of a money maker to operate a lift with a faulty track rope break?

    Like

    • pbropetech May 30, 2021 / 7:59 am

      *brakes
      And yes- but it appears that the summit is the attraction and money won out over safety.

      Like

  15. skier72 June 9, 2021 / 12:37 pm

    Like

Leave a Reply to skier72 Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s