Cable-car Standard Ensures Safety


Spectacular views are often accompanied by the burden of a steep climb and tricky access, and many residents tackle this problem with their own private cable-car. As property developments continue to thrive on the hills, the demand for private cable-cars is steadily increasing. An estimated 300 residential cable-cars can now be spotted all around Wellington, and other hilly parts of New Zealand are also catching on to the cable-car solution.

Unfortunately, some residential cablecars have lacked basic safety features, resulting in several serious accidents and one death. A new Standard, NZS 5270:2005 Cable-cars for private residences: Design, construction and maintenance, will help avoid potentially fatal accidents by ensuring home-owned cable-cars are safe.

Recent accidents
In December 2005, a Wellington family survived a 10-metre fall when their cable-car sped out of control down steep terrain – with them in it. When a shaft in the engine snapped, one man was thrown from the cable-car as it hurtled to the ground and three people ended up in hospital. Although the cable-car had been regularly tested and had passed inspections every six months, if the car system had been manufactured and installed according to the new Standard, the accident would have been unlikely to happen.

The critical item that was missing from the cable-car was a speed activated brake, which is now specified in the new Standard. The cable-car had only a wire tension brake that seldom protects against winch failures, which is what occurred in the incident.

“Another family narrowly escaped death when their cable-car lost control down a very steep incline,” says Mark Galvin from cable-car design and manufacturing company Access Automation Ltd. “They were travelling so fast, the cable-car left the rails at the bottom. Fortunately, they escaped serious injury.”

The new Standard
“Many old home-made cable-cars operating around Wellington have been badly constructed, poorly maintained, and owners were not supplied with safe operating and maintenance instructions,” says Mr Galvin, who was also a member of the committee that developed the Standard. This concern and the rising accident toll prompted the inclusion of residential cablecars in the Building Act 2004, which requires all residential cable-cars to be inspected and a compliance certificate issued. The Department of Building and Housing then initiated the development of the Standard.

“The new Standard sets a benchmark for minimum safety requirements and provides clear guidelines to the industry and homeowners on what constitutes acceptable safety standards” says Mr Galvin. “It will also be useful for all cable-car owners, as it clearly defines their inspection and maintenance responsibilities.”

Focus on safety and inspection
The Standard provides a guide to designers, builders, owners and inspectors of home cable-car systems, to enable them to comply with the Building Act. It includes a six-monthly maintenance checklist and a model compliance schedule for inspection.

Mr Galvin says he was pleased to pass on to the committee some of the safety lessons that Access Automation has learned. He says cable-car accidents often involve children getting caught between the cable-car and the landing decks. The new Standard addresses this by setting out deck designs and clearancesbetween cable-cars and any fixed structures.

Mark Batt, Business Relationships Manager at Standards New Zealand, says home-owners can be reassured that cable-cars that meet the Standard:

  • Have been manufactured to comply with clear performance and safety measures;and
  • Will need to meet a comprehensive inspection regime administered by their local territorial authority.

From March 2008, all buildings that are attached to, or serviced by a cable-car are required under the Building Act to have compliance schedules. The schedule will specify how often the cable-car needs to be inspected, by whom and the obligations on cable-car owners.

Cable-car Inspection Regime
The Standard specifies inspections to be carried out to enable an annual Warrant of Fitness to be issued. Inspections are to be carried out by a Licensed Building Practitioner and approved by a territorial authority.

Inspections are to cover the following areas:

  • Machinery and machinery space
  • Runway
  • Car
  • Landing doors
  • Operation
  • Landings
  • Visual checks
  • Check of maintenance records.