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busfiredanielpoolenewportdepotINVESTIGATION: After several reports of bus fires on the Island over recent months, Island Echo have probed a number of  incidents, prompting a response from the bus company Southern Vectis.

An alarming increase in the amount of times the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service (IWFRS) have attended 999 calls to Southern Vectis buses across the Island sparked concern with our readers, with a growing fear for safety.

In the past 12 weeks, Island Echo has been made aware of as many as 8 incidents in which the IWFRS have attended, or there has been concern from the bus driver, passengers or other members of the public to there being a fire or other thermal-related incident – all with potential serious implications.

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–          Major engine fire in Avenue Road, Sandown on 16th April 2013
–          Smoke from a rear axle on a Route 1 bus near to the IW College on 3rd May 2013
–          Engine compartment fire on a bus in Albert Street, Ventnor on 4th May 2013
–          Unknown (Route 2 or 3) bus fire in Shanklin High Street on 13th June 2013
–          Reports of a bus fire on the Route 1 near to Round House on 28th June 2013
–          Bus fire in the engine compartment on Binstead Main Road on 29th June 2013

–          Blown turbo with lots of smoke near to Ventnor (Route 3) on 1st July 2013

southernvectisbusfirebinsteadfIn addition to the above, it is understood there has been a further three similar incidents on Lake Hill and in Ventnor, as well as a reported fire on a Route 8 bus on Friday (5th July), however the details of which are unknown.

In an statement issued in response to our enquiry, Steve Hamilton, Engineering Director for Southern Vectis said:

“There can be smoke without fire. Thermal incidents don’t always result in fire and can be caused by a wide variety of reasons from a simple brake overheat to a catastrophic mechanical unit failure. If you listen to traffic reports on national radio you will frequently hear of vehicle fires and this is in no way a reflection on how commercial vehicles are maintained. Safety is our number one priority in all aspect of our operation.”

busfireshanklinMr Hamilton continued by saying that Southern Vectis work closely with the vehicle manufacturers when a fault arises to determine the primary cause of the incident, and allow preventative measures, or vehicle recalls to be put in place.

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He added:

“For complete clarity all such incidents are reported through the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) In addition to this the company also employs the services of an independent forensic fire investigator.”

Answering as to why fires can happen on even new buses, Steve Hamilton explained:

“As technology and Euro emission standards have increased so have engine bay temperature and fuel pressures, which all act as a catalyst should a fault occur. All of our new vehicles are now specified with engine bay fire suppression systems as standard and a programme of retrofitting is underway for the Euro 4 specification vehicles.

“Bus Drivers are also trained to evacuate a vehicle should a problem occur.  I can assure you that there is no complacency to the importance of safety anywhere in the process and that bus travel still remains one of the safest methods of getting from A to B.” 

Southern Vectis would like to reassure bus users that the fleet is well maintained and continues to offer safe transport across the extensive network of services, and that on some occasions the fire service had been called out to a bus unnecessarily as smoke caused by a brake overheat or a blown turbo looked more serious than it actually was, and that the problems with the Island’s fleet were frustratingly representative of every other commercial operation in the UK.

Island Echo approached the Isle of Wight Council for a response on their view of the incidents and to ask whether or not an investigation should be launched. At time of publishing (10/07/2013), we have not received a response. 

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