I am here today to update the public on the investigations into the fire that engulfed a school bus on Tuesday March 7, at about 7.30am, near St. Mary’s Road, in Warwick.
Just prior to the fire, the bus was transporting students to school from the west end to Warwick Academy and Somersfield Academy.
While I am thankfully unaware of any serious physical injuries as a result of this event, I can imagine how disturbing it must have been for the students, their parents, the bus operator and other members of the public.
It is important that bus users, and those in the community at large, feel that the public bus system is a safe form of mass transportation. This transport system includes more than 211,000 bus runs a year, operating between 3.9 million and nearly 4.7 million miles in that 12 month period, and carrying some 2.8 million fares.
At the time of the accident, I was travelling off the island, but felt compelled to write to the parents of the affected students. I promised to find out exactly what happened, and report back what the investigations had uncovered.
Inquiries and investigations were carried out simultaneously by the Department of Public Transportation (“DPT”) and by two certified Fire and Explosion Investigators from the Bermuda Fire & Rescue Service (“BFRS”).
These investigators have agreed that a malfunction in the braking system was the probable root cause of the fire. More particularly, the reports has said that the brake springs were stretched which caused the brake shoe to stay in contact with the wheel drum. This malfunction resulted in abnormal contact within the wheel drum, which caused enough heat to ignite nearby residual, combustible materials.
Fire retardant systems did work in insulating the bus interior from immediate fire intrusion, which allowed passengers and the driver to safely vacate the vehicle.
But this was a very distressing occasion.
The DPT has embarked on enhanced strategies to further reduce the possibility of a re-occurrence.
As has already been reported, the remaining sister bus in the fleet was removed from service immediately following the fire.
While I am doing this press conference, DPT management is discussing with representatives of the BIU and BPSU the findings of the report, with a view to collaborating on ways to preventing this type of occurrence in the future.
In the meantime, with the assistance of a Technical Advisor from the bus manufacturer MAN, who was on the island working on related technical matters on the day of the accident, the DPT has enhanced the oversight procedures for mechanics and technicians.
DPT staff have gained access to additional MAN Technical Service Manuals and MAN Technical Service Bulletins for the repair of the fleet of buses.
Additionally, MAN have provided two of their technicians for several weeks, to assist the local mechanics/technicians in work procedures, diagnostics and repair, with a focus on Safety Systems.
The MAN technicians were originally scheduled to be here starting at the end of April, but were recruited earlier for an extended tour.
The DPT will also fill the position of Maintenance Manager, which was vacated in 2013.
There is no doubt that Bermuda is facing significant challenges with its bus fleet.
We are of the opinion that an improved schedule would require fewer buses to be on the road, and more progress needs to be made on adoption of the new schedule. This may involve going to arbitration.
In an environment of budget constraints, there are too few buses for the existing schedule, and too many in need of repair, which has caused far too many cancellations of individual bus runs. This has meant substantial pressure on the bus mechanics to service the fleet and get more buses on the road.
We were fortunate that no one was injured in what was an unnerving event, and we know the changes we have put in place should assist in our safety efforts, going forward.
I commend the actions of the bus operator, the students, Bermuda Fire & Rescue Service and the public for their actions on 7 March.