Tram maintenance limits Arch riders for rest of summer

Wednesday, July 25, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:59 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

ST. LOUIS — About half as many visitors as usual will be able to visit the top of the Gateway Arch through the rest of the summer.

One of the two trams that shuttle tourists to the top of the monument will remain closed at least seven to nine weeks, after a snapped cable caused a power outage that trapped roughly 200 people inside the landmark for up to three hours Saturday night.

Arch facts

  • Tallest national monument in the United States.
  • Construction completed in October 1965.
  • Weighs 17,426 tons.
  • Cost $13 million to build.
  • Sways a maximum of 9 inches each way in 150 mph wind, but usual sway is a half inch.
  • About 1 million visitors ride to the top annually.

New steel cables have to be manufactured and installed for the tram system in the south leg of the monument, the Arch’s deputy superintendent, Frank Mares, said Tuesday.

That is expected to mean longer waits for visitors who want to go up to the top via the north leg and the possibility that tram rides will sell out earlier.

Officials have said there was no danger to those trapped this weekend, just a lot of inconvenience.

The shimmering steel Gateway Arch has two trams inside it, one in the south leg and one in the north.

“Each tram is a train, really, of connected cars — eight round capsules that each seat five people,” Mares said. He said each tram works like an elevator, with a motor that pulls cables up as a counterweight drops down. Each tram system has nine steel cables, though only two are really needed in each leg to support the tram, he said.

The tram inside the south leg will be closed until all nine cables can be replaced, Mares said. The north tram will run as usual.

The cables are routinely inspected and replaced every other year.

Cables on the south tram, which experienced the cable break, were scheduled for replacement next January.

One cable broke and fell, though it’s not clear why. The cable struck the electrified tram rail and caused a short circuit, he said. The short circuit caused a fuse to blow inside a main electrical switch, resulting in the power outage.

The Gateway Arch reopened at 8 a.m. Sunday with the one tram bringing visitors to the top. There was a roughly 15-minute power outage again Sunday afternoon. Frayed wires crossed when tram mechanics inspecting the damaged system found a broken surge protector, the National Park Service said.

The St. Louis office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating.

Several visitors on Tuesday weren’t terribly concerned about the power outage, or that just one tram was running.

“They wouldn’t be operating it if it wasn’t safe,” said Chris Starr, 51, of Grand Junction, Colo. He had a short wait for a tram ride, but said he used the time to view a film about the monument.

Mares said officials are confident visitors will keep busy if they have to wait for a tram. The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial park also includes the Old Courthouse, where the Dred Scott case was heard. The inside of the Gateway Arch also includes a museum.

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