Universal Studios tram crashes, injuring 15 riders

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - MAY 25, 2023 - Visitors enter the set or Jupiter's Claim from the movie, "Nope," while taking the Universal Studios Tram Tour on May 25, 2023. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Universal Studios visitors take a tram tour in May 2023. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Rebecca Miller was prepared for a killer shark, King Kong and other make-believe frights when she joined the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot tour Saturday evening with her family — what she wasn't expecting was the intrusion of some real-life drama.

Miller, her husband and two children got on one of the park's last trams of the night and were behind a four-car tram that crashed and injured 15 people, who were taken to hospitals with non life-threatening injuries, authorities said. Her family's tram, which they boarded close to 8:30 p.m., had passed the King Kong and T. rex attraction and had just made it to a display of famous movie vehicles when it suddenly stopped.

"We're like, 'Ok, maybe they are having technical difficulties,'" recalled Miller, 39, of Victorville, who was in the first car of her tram train along with park employees. "And then as it went on, it was like, this is a little odd. Then their radios started getting messages and we noticed a whole change in their demeanor."

The Los Angeles County Fire Department received an emergency call from the park shortly after 9 p.m. and responded to the scene.

The last car on the tram ahead of Miller's struck a rail when it was traveling down a hill near a parking structure, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Maria Abal said Saturday evening. "There was some type of issue with the brakes. We don't exactly know what yet," he said.

The park's tram can hold more than 100 people, Abal said, but it was unclear how many were onboard at the time of the incident. The collision caused several passengers to fall out of the car, according to the Sheriff's Department, which provides security at the park.

Universal Studios said Sunday that it understood from authorities that the injuries were minor and it was working with the California Highway Patrol and other agencies to review the accident. It said "safety remains a top priority" and it has resumed the tour with a "modified route" and the reinforcement of "operational and safety protocols."

The Highway Patrol did not provide an update Sunday.

Miller said her family was at the park for an event that drew thousands of Girl Scouts from around the region who were top sellers of cookies in the Scouts' fundraiser, including her 8-year-old daughter Alanna.

She said her family was stuck on the tram until about 10:15 p.m. and stayed at the park, which remained open for the Girls Scouts event.

A passenger on an earlier tram that evening said their vehicle was stopped about 8 p.m. because of smoke and a noxious odor apparently emanating from brake pads. The passengers were transferred to another tram, according to an email sent to The Times.

The Universal Studios tram tour, called the World-Famous Studio Tour, is a signature attraction at the theme park. The park is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the ride beginning next week.

The tour goes behind the scenes of movie sets, including those of "Jaws" and Jordan Peele's "Nope," and offers a look into the last 50 years of Universal films.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.