Bus fires investigation launched by Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency after spate of blazes

An investigation into bus fires has been launched by a UK Government safety agency months after a spate of blazes in Scotland was highlighted, The Scotsman has learned.
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The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) said its study was to “better understand the root causes of bus fires” and reduce such outbreaks.

It comes after The Scotsman’s sister title Scotland on Sunday reported in May there had been at least five major incidents since January, in which several vehicles were destroyed in spectacular blazes.

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These followed five passengers on a St Johnstone football supporters’ bus receiving hospital treatment after the vehicle caught fire on an A9 flyover near Auchterarder last November.

The First Glasgow bus on fire on the M74 on Monday. Picture: Traffic ScotlandThe First Glasgow bus on fire on the M74 on Monday. Picture: Traffic Scotland
The First Glasgow bus on fire on the M74 on Monday. Picture: Traffic Scotland

Since then, pupils had to flee a school bus that caught fire near Port of Menteith in June, which Stirling Council described as a “scary incident”.

On Monday, a First Glasgow bus en-route from its Blantyre depot to start its passenger service run was destroyed by fire on the M74.

There have also been a number of bus fires south of the Border.

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Guillermo Rein, professor of fire science at Imperial College London, who had called for an investigation, said buses were “significantly riskier” than cars, trains, ships or aircraft, mainly due to their less stringent fire safety requirements.

He said: "I welcome the news of the study and look forward an open and thorough investigation into causes, trends and solutions to bus fire safety in UK.”

The DVSA said its study, being conducted with operators, manufacturers and trade bodies, would seek to identify any potential patterns in such fires.

Its spokesperson said: “DVSA dedicates resource to investigating potential causes of road safety incidents.”

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“We are currently undertaking a study, including a review of historic thermal incident data, to better understand the root causes of bus fires.

“The study is scheduled to conclude around October and the findings and conclusions will be shared with [the] industry to ensure any learning is used to further reduce the occurrence of bus fires.”

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Barry West, a regional organiser for the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, who campaigns on the issue, welcomed the move as “helpful and encouraging”.

He said: “I have been raising my concerns about the very significant risk of a catastrophic bus or coach fire occurring and the likelihood we could have a Grenfell-like situation unfolding because bus operators, designers, builders and the [UK] Government have all turned a blind eye to the frequency and ferocity of these fires.

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"There are many different reasons the fires occur, such as electrical, mechanical and overheating of components.

"But one common feature is the material with which the interiors are made rapidly combusts and gives off toxic fumes, and appears to accelerate the fires.

“Many who travel on buses and coaches are elderly, the young and the vulnerable.

“This adds to the risk and makes any evacuation even more challenging.

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“So more can be done, more needs to be done and more must be done to eliminate the risk or reduce it as low as reasonably practicable.”

A Commons motion lodged by Labour has called for tougher legislation and comprehensive evacuation systems for all buses.