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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — An independent investigation determined two MATA trolley fires happened due to mechanical issues that may have resulted from MATA standards not being followed. Ron Garrison is the director of the Memphis Area Transit Authority, or MATA. He told WREG today, “I think the biggest hurdle is the assessment, we want to certify every vehicle. We want to understand what happened.” The report was done by the American Public Transportation Association at the request of MATA. The first pages read, “Fires WILL happen again…There could be trolleys operating the lines that could catch fire at any given moment.” The first trolley fire was in November 2013, followed by another this past April. There were no serious injuries resulting from either fire. Both trolleys came from Australia and were made in the 1920s, then refurbished by MATA contractors. Since the last fire, the trolleys have been replaced by hybrid buses. Seven of the 17 trollies can return to the street, but MATA won’t say when that will happen. Garrison said, “What I don’t want to do, is give any false hope. I want to make sure what we say we can stick to as close as possible. ” The report found the most recent fire was caused by mechanical failures that caused an electrical surge. The report found the trolleys were not in compliance with APTA standards and the trolley cars were ‘modified’ not following MATA’s operating guidelines. The repairs to the actual cars and tracks are just the start. APTA says first MATA needs to get its house in order. They say MATA doesn’t have any trainers on staff with suitable accreditations. The maintenance area was said to be incredibly disorganized, and staff told the group there was a lack of management oversight to make sure maintenance tasks were properly completed. The report also found lack of safety meetings and said MATA is “eight years behind in compliance with FTA mandated annual field exercise requirements with operations, maintenance staff and emergency responder.” “We will not do anything to compromise safety. We are going to have new standards for maintaining the vehicles, new standards in training. New standards in documentation,” Garrison said. The city has hired three engineering safety and trolley experts. They will prioritize the recommendations from this report and help the city get to work on these improvements to the trolley system. The report did not say if MATA has taken correct actions since the April fire to try and ensure there will be no more accidents on the trolley line. Bottom line, it may be a while before we see the iconic trolley cars back on the tracks. Short term recommendations: The following corrective actions will ensure that MATA achieves an acceptable industry level of safety for the public and staff.
  • Suspend all trolley services
  • Use alternative vehicles to operate revenue service
  • Inspect, repair and certify a minimum of five trolley cars for revenue service
  • Update SSPP processes to acceptable industry levels
  • Update staff skill sets to acceptable industry level.
  • Tennessee DoT to perform a readiness review to certify a partial opening of the system for Main Street Line and Riverfront Lines
  • MATA to consider procuring the services of an industry peer review to assist in this process
Long term corrective actions:
  • MATA to seek resources for total fleet overhaul or replacement
  • Assure the continued use and implementations of the provisions of the SSPP and accompanying documents, thereby ensuring system safety at ALL levels of the organization
  • Initially, conduct a frequent internal audit of record keeping to assure that all operations, maintenance and procurement personnel are following the SOPs as regards reporting and vehicle configuration management.