SHORTAKES: Who’s investigating the Disney Skyliner collision?

In 2009, two monorails at Walt Disney World collided, resulting in the death of one of the pilots. Two federal agencies – OSHA and the National Transportation Safety Board – conducted multi-year investigations into the cause of the crash. But that likely won’t happen with the October 5 collision on the Disney Skyliner aerial gondola system. Here’s why:

OSHA

The Department of Labor’s Occupations Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigates workplace conditions based on one of two initiating factors: death or serious injury in the workplace or a complaint about dangerous work conditions, which need not come from within the company being investigated. Cased in point: The 2010 OSHA investigation of SeaWorld Orlando was the result of a trainer death, while the 2014 investigation of the Miami Seaquarium was instigated by complainant Animal Legal Defense Fund. Because there was an employee death in the 2009 monorail crash, an OSHA investigation ensued. However, there does not appear to be any evidence that employees were at risk during the incident, and since non-employee passengers do not factor into starting an OSHA investigation, there likely won’t be one. OSHA did sign off on the system prior its opening, a requirement for insuring the Skyliner, and it may likely need to sign off on the system again before it reopens, but that’s far from an accident investigation.

NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board is mandated by Congress to investigate accidents involving the five forms of interstate and international commerce – aircraft, highways, maritime, railroads, and pipelines. Since cable cars, aerial tramways, and gondolas are typically fixed within a single state, they don’t fall under the NTSB’s parameters. However, if a cable-pulled train, such as San Francisco’s cable cars or the cable trams that connect the Mandalay Bay, Luxor, and Excaliber resorts in Las Vegas were to have an accident, it would fall under the NTSB’s oversight as a railroad. In 2001, the Angel’s Flight funicular railroad derailed in downtown Los Angeles, resulting in seven injuries and one death. In its report on the accident, the NTSB cited ANSI safety standard B77.1, which also covers safety for aerial trams and gondola systems. However, using an industry safety factor in an investigation does not change the parameters of what’s covered by the congressional mandate. Unlike Angels Flight, the Disney Skyliner is not a railroad. Now, if instead of the Skyliner, Disney had opted for dedicated bus road, a light rail system, or more boats, this would be a different story.

WHO’S INVESTIGATING?

Quite simply, unless a federal or state investigation ensues, this will be solely an internal investigation conducted by Disney, the system’s supplier, Doppelmayr, and their vendors. Last year, I rode a Doppelmayr gondola system to the top of a hill at the Oakland Zoo for the grand opening of the California Trail exhibit. It was an extremely comfortable and enjoyable experience. The following day, the ride suddenly stopped, stranding 80 people for close to half an hour due to a computer glitch. Very likely, this was too.

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