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Smiler sentencing Merlin's £5m fine at Alton Towers


M


erlin Entertainments has been fined £5 million (€5.5m/$6.2m) for the accident on The Smiler rollercoaster last June that left five people at Alton Towers Resort with serious injuries and others badly hurt.


The park operator pleaded guilty in April to breaching health and safety regulations


after the results were announced last November of an investigation that pointed to human error as the cause of the crash. Alton Towers has since implemented additional safety measures on its rides, while Merlin has suggested that some executive bonuses in future could be linked to the company’s safety record. Vicky Balch, who together with Leah Washington had to have a leg amputated


following the accident when two trains on the looping coaster collided, turned up to sentencing at Stafford Crown Court with a skirt revealing her new false leg. The two- day hearing (September 26/October 3) heard how the collision was equivalent to a 90mph (144kmh) car crash, and that the victims waited nearly an hour before paramedics were able to access the 14 inversion coaster, and longer before they were freed.


The judge, Michael Chambers QC, said: “This was a needless and avoidable accident in which those injured were fortunate not to have been killed or to have bled to death.” On that day (June 2, 2015), he added, Alton Towers “fell well short” of the safety standards expected of the UK’s biggest theme park. Outside court, the victims’ lawyer, Paul Paxton, stressed “this has not been about


retribution. This has been about finding out why this accident happened and making sure that lessons have been learned, not just by Merlin but by others throughout the industry, and I think my clients can take comfort from that.”


Investigators from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) discovered a chain of errors


that led staff to override a safety warning when an test car got stuck on the track in strong winds. Engineers mistakenly believed the warning was a false alarm, the investigation found, and released the next train full of passengers, crashing at high speed into the empty train. “From the outset, the company has accepted full responsibility for what happened on The Smiler,” says a Merlin spokesperson. “Both HSE and the judge acknowledged that extensive steps have been taken to improve our systems and processes to ensure that this can never happen again. All our staff understand that safety is our number one priority and we have been commended independently on the strong culture of safety throughout the business. Our focus on health and safety is sharper and more engrained than ever following the terrible incident. ” The Smiler reopened at the start of Alton Towers' 2016 season in March, but park attendance has continued to be below par.


Making a Splash in Europe


The Irish company City Splash Tours has launched its own amphibious tourist vehicle and plans to launch it as a sightseeing attraction in a further eight European cities as well as its base in Dublin, where it trades as Viking Splash Tours.


The new Salamander vehicle, built in Belfast, was unveiled recently at


European Attractions Show (EAS) in Barcelona. Designed with capacity for 36 passengers and two crew, it features a Euro VI engine, is built to ISO 9001 standards and is suitable for all water conditions up to a wave height of 1.2m. The fully customisable vehicle has patents pending on a number of design features including its foam based floatation design, external cooling system and redundant twin screw propulsion system. City Splash Tours (citysplashtours.com) is now planning to put the Salamander into use in London, Valencia, Barcelona, Seville, Berlin, Frankfurt, Prague and Vienna and has a list of a further 70 cities it has identified as suitable for amphibious sightseeing tours. The company is willing to embark on new ventures on either a joint venture or a franchising model. Using a fleet of seven reconditioned WWII amphibious army vehicles (DUKWs), the existing Viking Splash Tours is a popular tourist attraction in the Irish capital, carrying around 115,000 passengers each year over its nine-month season. Yet expansion of the the operation and servicing of the vehicles has proved difficult in the past due to the limited availability of DUKWs and their spare parts. “When we realised no other vehicles would suit our needs, it became evident


that we needed to build one ourselves,” explains City Splash Tours managing director Des Rogers. “As operators, we knew what we wanted. Others have rushed to market with a less than considered product and got it wrong.”


RIGHT: The new 12


Salamander amphibiious vehicle is unveiled at EAS


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