A former tram conductor who sustained life-changing injuries in an incident on the MER is calling for a public inquiry into the heritage railways’ safety record.
The 32-year-old, who has asked not to be named for work reasons, was awarded substantial damages after receiving an electric shock while employed as a seasonal worker on the Manx Electric Railway in May 2013.
He sustained burns to his hands and feet and suffered muscle paralysis after the 550V direct current passed through his body when a controller in the rear cab of illuminated tram no.9 went live.
Speaking from his home in Douglas, he said: ‘It will be 10 years this year since my accident and I still suffer from it on a daily basis.
‘I have tried to speak to numerous MHKs and two former chief ministers about a public inquiry into railway safety but I have been stonewalled.
‘I wasn’t the only employee seriously injured. I believe an inquiry is the only way to bring to light the series of failures in management which has caused a series of extremely dangerous repeated incidents.’
The most serious incident which has taken place on the heritage railways in recent years took place in August 2017 when a tram careered out of control 1,400m down Snaefell mountain, reaching a speed of 44mph, after its brakes failed.
But a Freedom of Information response in September last year revealed there had been no fewer than 111 personal injury accidents on the MER reported between January 2013 and August 2022.
Some of these were no more serious than passengers receiving grazed shins while getting on or off a tram. Others involved slips, trips and cut hands.
The FoI response cites the electric shock incident and says a full investigation was carried out and the matter reported to the Health and Safety at Work Inspectorate.
It said wiring updates and alterations were made to the tram before it went back into service.
At the time, the then public transport director Ian Longworth said the crewman was released from hospital ‘almost immediately’ and ‘although uninjured was obviously shaken by the incident’.
In fact, the casualty was in A&E at Noble’s Hospital for eight hours and he received life-changing injuries.
He said: ‘I’ve long term injuries. This will stay with me until the day I die,’ he said.
‘They paid me off at the tail end of 2019. It was a very significant amount but it was never really about the money but the acknowledgement that something awful had happened to me.
‘Legal action was the only way to get some type of apology as I have never received one from the department.’
Diagnosed with mild-to-severe cognitive impairment, with damage to his front lobe, he has been able to work since the accident but only in a very limited role – and currently works remotely from his home in Douglas for a UK-based company .
He said that despite the wiring fault having apparently been fixed two other people received electric shocks on the same tram within weeks of his accident, one of these just two days afterwards. Neither sustained long-term injuries.
‘I do really like the heritage railways over here and it is because of that I believe an inquiry is essential so that the same failures are never repeated,’ he insisted.
‘My concern is about the way they have been managed and the veil of secrecy and lack of accountancy. They have a Thomas the Tank Engine vibe which gives out a false sense of security that everything is safe.
‘It’s been close to 10 years since my accident. I always assumed there would be some kind of public reckoning but it hasn’t happened yet.’
He said he has never been given a copy of the accident report or a copy of the maintenance record for tram no.9.
A report into the runaway Snaefell tram crash was only released following an FoI request from Isle of Man Newspapers. It took more than three months – and the intervention of the chief minister – for the Department of the Environment, Food and Agriculture to finally publish the report.
It revealed that the crew, anticipating a catastrophic derailment, told passengers to ‘brace’ – but their actions in wrestling with the manual brake and ensuring the warning lights came on at the Bungalow road crossing averted a much more serious incident.