TWU

New Safety Fears After Big Blaze Guts Gas Bus

Release date: 15/07/2015

The West Australian, by Tim Clarke, 15 July 2015

The safety of Perth’s gas bus fleet was pushed to the forefront of the minds of passengers and drivers again yesterday, after a fierce blaze gutted a bus inside the Esplanade bus station.

A plume of black smoke forced the evacuation and immediate closure of the bus station and nearby office buildings.

Passengers on nearby buses were left stranded for some minutes because of the blaze, which began just after 2pm.

All other bus services were diverted from the station as firefighters battled the blaze and then inspected the OC-500 gas bus — the same model involved in a series of fires in 2012 and 2013.

The Public Transport Authority is investigating the latest fire, which they said happened on a bus that had been fitted with fire suppression equipment.

But the equipment seemed to have had little effect, with the bus, worth about $550,000, gutted. Total damage was $750,000.

Fire and transport inspectors inspected the bus as stranded passengers and other drivers looked on during evening rush hour.

Transport Workers Union officials were also on site, with organiser Phil Ogden saying the union now had fresh fears about drivers’ safety — similar to the ones which almost prompted a strike in 2013.

There were three major fires on the OC500 LE buses in Perth between December 2012 and March 2013, taking the total to 14 in five years.

Those fires led to Perth’s entire fleet of 474 gas buses being taken off the road last year for modifications, after the State Government came to an agreement with maker Mercedes-Benz, rather than take the company to court.

Mercedes-Benz and bus body builder Volgren Australia agreed to carry out and pay for extensive modifications in return for the Public Transport Authority dropping threatened legal action. In a Supreme Court writ that was never progressed, the transport authority claimed the gas OC-500 LE buses were unsafe for passengers and people nearby.

It also claimed the buses did not meet safety, design or longevity standards and that Mercedes, Volgren and supplier Evobus had breached their duty of care in designing and building buses that were not “reasonably safe”.

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