Fire Breaks Out at Kimberley Lift

For the second time in less than a year, the community of Kimberley, British Columbia faces weeks without a lifeline ski lift. A fire ignited at the Northstar Express early Saturday morning, burning the top operator hut. While outbuildings next to lifts are usually small, they typically contain electrical components critical to operation. Thankfully, the lift was not operating at the time and no one was injured.

The resort’s website shows the last image from the lift shack taken at 1:20 am, just before the fire was reported. While fires have occurred by accident at chairlifts in the past, police are investigating to determine the cause of the blaze. The town of Kimberley was already on edge due to another early morning fire which destroyed the Kimberley Gymnastics Club on December 14th and was deemed suspicious in origin. Police have yet to make any public statements about the cause of the Northstar Express fire.

The timing of ignition the morning after opening day and just before the key Christmas period is incredibly unfortunate if not suspicious. “Our hearts also go out to everyone in Kimberley who makes a living dependent on tourism and the operation of the ski resort, including the owners of many of the businesses in town, and the great staff who work for them,” the resort said in a statement. “Please know that our main focus right now is continuing to give locals and visitors access to the great skiing and riding, and to make visiting the resort as fun and enjoyable as we can.”

The Northstar Express is the only lift servicing the front side of the mountain and providing access to backside lifts. At one point, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR) operated four different parallel lifts on this part of the hill including a triple chair, double and T-Bar. All but the quad were removed in the early 2000s to save labor and maintenance costs associated with lifts deemed redundant. A string of setbacks now again leave the resort with two functioning chairlifts on the back of the mountain with no easy access.

There is precedent for the workhorse Northstar being out of service. On January 2nd last year, the Leitner-built quad was rendered inoperable by a gearbox failure. Kimberley lift maintenance and Leitner-Poma worked on repairs, which were completed in just over two weeks. In the meantime, the resort stayed open with uphill hiking allowed to access the backside Easter and Tamarack lifts. A similar operation is planned this time around with the addition of ski/snowboard transportation for those hiking. “Our main focus of course is getting the Quad chair up running again as soon as we possibly can,” said Kimberley. “We are working hard to source any parts we can from around the world to try to replace what was lost.” In the meantime, season passholders are invited to ski at other RCR mountains including Kicking Horse and Fernie.

The Kimberley RCMP is requesting anyone with any information that could assist the investigation to please contact them at (250) 427-4811.

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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

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