Incident on the Vanoise Express

It sounds like a scene from the latest disaster movie.  The biggest, newest and most prestigious cable car in the world hurtling out of control into the winch station.  Only no explosions, injuries and Bruce Willis in a string vest, just broken windows, a damaged cabin, a derailed cable and lots of embarrassment.

At 9pm on the 13th of November one of the cabins of the Vanoise-Express cable car, linking the ski resorts of La Plagne and Les Arcs crashed into the station on the Peisey-Vallandry side of the valley.  It was travelling at 20 km/h, 10 times faster than the normal docking speed.  The technician piloting the cabin “didn’t see it coming,” according to Phillipe Laville, the Deputy Director of Operations for the manufacturers Pomagalski.

Engineers from a supplier of Pomalski based in Genona in Italy are on the scene to remove the outer shell and inspect the structure of the cabin for possible damage and modifications.  The remaining cabin is continuing with tests.  The hydraulic buffers, used to absorb shocks when docking, were completely destroyed.  The massive double decker cabin, capable of carrying 200 skiers, is apparently now being repaired in a workshop in nearby Bourg St Maurice. This is expected to take three weeks.

Mr Laville continued “it is an rare and isolated incident, this couldn’t happen under computer control.” SELALP, the company responsible for the new link, highlighted that the accident occurred during exhaustive testing, no staff were injured during the accident and that manual control is not used during normal operation.

Opening is still scheduled for the 20th of December assuming all tests are passed to the satisfaction of the lift company, the constructor and the French safety agency.

The Grande Motte cable car was out of action for six weeks at the start of last season due to a accident involving one of the cabins during de-icing operations.  The push and pull system employed on the Vanoise Express means that the cable car can operate even without one of the cabins.

Cable car safety is once again on the agenda with the opening of the trial of the Pic de Bure accident.  The Pic de Bure cable car was also built by Pomagalski in 1982.  It was used to ferry personel and materials to an observatory and was therefore subject to less stringent safety checks.  In 1984 the safety brake was deactivated before being removed completely in 1986.  The accident occured on the morning of the 1st of July 1999, the cabin slipped on the cable after crossing the 2nd pylon and then fell 80 meters, all 20 occupants were killed. The cable had been treated with an anti-corrosion product the day before the accident.

Posted by davidof on Wednesday, 19 November, 2003 at 07:59 PM

The Gap Court has passed sentence on three people and the IRAM observatory following the Pic du Bure cable car trial.  Five people were found not guilty.  The cable car accident cost the lives of 20 astronomers on the 1st of July 1999.

Aldo Oberti, the maintenance engineer who removed the safety brake from the car received a 30 month suspended sentence with 10,000 euros fine.  The inspector Édouard Ponchier also received a 30 month sentence and a 12,000 euro fine, he is also banned from inspecting cable-cars for 5 years.  Marinus de Jonge, the former director of the Iram received the same sentence with a 15,000 euro fine.  The IRAM has also been fined 200,000 euros, 130,000 of which was suspended.

The state prosecutor had demanded a minimum sentence of 6 months in prison.  After near five years of waiting the families of the victims were disappointed with the verdict.  They believed that a prison sentence, even of a limited period would serve as a lesson to others.

Posted by davidof on  Wednesday, 03 March, 2004  at 02:30 PM

The appeal for the Pic du Bure cable car accident has been scheduled for the 25th of May, 2005 and will last around three weeks in Grenoble.

Posted by davidof on  Wednesday, 02 February, 2005  at 05:01 PM

Aldo Oberti, the maintenance engineer of the Pic du Bure cable car has seen his sentenced reduced on appeal from 30 to 24 months (suspended). His fine was also reduced to 3,000 euros. The appeal was held at Grenoble.

Posted by davidof on  Friday, 14 October, 2005  at 07:05 PM

Mr Oberti has just had a further appeal rejected by the courts. His lawyer said that this was the end of the road and he did not plan a further appeal to the European Court.

Posted by davidof on  Friday, 10 November, 2006  at 11:52 PM

A decision has been made to rebuild the Pic du Bure cable car on its original line. Some of the families of the victims are said to unhappy with this and say that the site should be left as it is.

Posted by davidof on  Friday, 24 November, 2006  at 12:23 AM
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