A power outage at a Cairns cable-car attraction on Saturday 23 March left 54 tourists “swinging in the breeze” at 40 metre heights for over four hours. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is usually a 2.5 hour experience that travels 7.5km over Barron River Falls and Red Peak. It has a multi-core communications cable in the middle of the towers which carries all safety circuit and voice communications. According to the Courier Mail, two cableways went ‘offline’ after a tree fell onto the electrical power system at approximately 4.20pm. While one cableway was working within an hour, the other took until 8.30pm to reactivate. The ABC News reported that at the time of the incident it was “cold, dark and raining hard”, and the lack of communication to the trapped visitors made it a “terrifying ordeal”. Not all people affected were terrified however. One honeymooning couple told The Sunday Mail that they didn’t mind the holdup and trusted they would be safe, while others ‘slammed’ the operators for leaving them stranded.
The incident did not result in any serious injuries, and the honeymooners commented that they now “have a story to tell”. The incident however brings to light the duty of care which operators of Skyrails or any cable car owe to members of the public; that is, to ensure that the cable-car complies with all high risk plant safety requirements and that foreseeable safety risks are considered and mitigated. Hazards such as falling trees, fire, low flying aircraft and potential structural failures are all risks that may affect the safe operation of a cableway. While the risk management arrangements in place for the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway were not disclosed in the media, it would be expected that such risks would be addressed in a comprehensive risk management plan. It would also be expected that an emergency plan would be in place detailing response procedures for incidents of this nature. These are all obligations required under the Queensland Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
It is noted that the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway was closed the day following the incident to allow for an investigation into the specific cause of the problem.