Arch Runs at Half-Strength After Failure

The Associated Press
Sunday, July 22, 2007; 9:04 PM

ST. LOUIS -- One of the two trams that take visitors to the top of the Gateway Arch was out of service Sunday after a power failure trapped about 200 people for hours inside the landmark the night before.

The Arch's deputy superintendent, Frank Mares, said a fuse blew Saturday night after one of nine cables pulling the south tram apparently failed and came in contact with an electrified rail.

Power went out again Sunday for about 15 minutes after the Arch reopened, in a failure believed to be linked to Saturday's problem.

On Saturday, about 40 people in each tram were stuck, as were another 100 at the top of the Arch and others in loading zones. The St. Louis Fire Department said that at least two people needed medical attention, but that no one was seriously hurt.

Visitors at the top of the Arch had to wait about three hours to get down, Mares said. Those inside the tram cars waited about two hours but were probably the most uncomfortable because they lacked air conditioning, he said.

Some people were taken down staircases to a service elevator, but most waited for a tram to begin running again.

"There was never any danger, just a lot of inconvenience," Mares said.

The cause of the shutdown was still being investigated, and it was unclear when the south tram would reopen, he said.

Sunday's power failure began around 12:30 p.m. after a work crew found an electrical panel that appeared damaged. When a worker moved some wiring, it caused an electrical arc that blew a fuse, Mares said.

Officials did not consider shutting the Arch down again Sunday because they had isolated that day's problem, he said.

Eli Lawson of Claremore, Okla., was at the top of the Arch with relatives and friends when the power went out Saturday.

"Some people went into panic mode. For the most part, people remained calm," he said Sunday afternoon. Emergency lighting was minimal, but the observation area remained cool and a park ranger did an excellent job keeping the public informed, he said.

A few people were crying, but most children, like his own, fell asleep, he said. When visitors returned to the base of the Arch, they received refreshments and refunds, he said.

The power failure happened while thousands were attending a free concert and fireworks display on the Arch grounds, part of the Live on the Levee summer concert series, which is set on a stage across from the Arch overlooking the Mississippi River.

The 630-foot structure is operated by the National Park Service and opened in 1966. One of the region's most popular attractions, it reflects St. Louis' historical role as the "gateway to the West."

© 2007 The Associated Press