OCEAN CITY – Last Sunday’s Boardwalk tram fire has left the city scrambling to seek an alternative prior to the peak season.
Public Works Director Hal Adkins explained the trams are stored downtown on South Philadelphia Avenue at the Wightside facility across the street from the Oceanic Fishing Pier. The trams use gasoline and have to be fueled on a daily basis. Wightside has an underground fuel station to do so.
“It is my understanding the tram had backed up to the fueling station. Once finished fueling … went to turn the ignition, and kept turning it with nothing starting and all of a sudden flames started coming out of the back of it … which is where the motor was,” Adkins said.
The Ocean City Fire Department responded to the fire but once the flames were put out the tram had “melted to the ground.”
“Forensically, I don’t know if they will ever be able to determine what started the fire because there was not anything left,” Adkins said.
In a typical summer, Ocean City deploys eight motor units in the evening hours to run on the Boardwalk. Each motor unit pulls two coach units.
Adkins had contacted Trams International inquiring the cost and time frame of a replacement. It would cost $130,000 for a new motor unit and could be in Ocean City within 35 days, according to Adkins.
“In two weeks is when we will routinely begin doing that [running eight trams] every single night so we are scrambling now with … trying to find a Jeep CJ, which is what we used to pull the trams with years ago,” Adkins said.
The Jeeps were previously used because they are one of the only vehicles that had a tight enough turning radius to make the sharp U-turn at the end of the Boardwalk on 27th Street. When the motor units were purchased in 2003, the price per unit was $99,500.
According to Adkins, the city is looking at about $40,000 of unappropriated funds to purchase a Jeep and retrofit it to pull the coach units. A goal has already been set in place to replace the fleet of trams in two fiscal years as they have reached their life expectancy. At that time, the Jeep would be turned over to the Ocean City Beach Patrol. Upon locating a Jeep, the request will be brought before the Mayor and City Council for approval.
The company of Jones & Frank out of the Salisbury area has routinely worked on the fueling station at the Wightside facility. Crews were on site first thing Tuesday morning and by that afternoon all the needed repairs were completed to the station.
Adkins said fleet manager Ron Eckman and mechanics are inspecting the remaining seven trams to make sure there is no kind of manufacturing defect that would leave safety in question.
“During peak times, we pack all eight, so it would limit the ability of giving passengers a ride and it would limit our revenue,” Adkins said of not replacing the tram. “We are going to pull every rabbit out of the hat we can to get back up and running again in two weeks.”