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Engineers conduct post-mortem on Millennium Wheel clutch

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ENGINEERS ON the London Eye are this week making a detailed investigation of the passenger capsule clutch whose failure forced thedownscaling of the big wheel's much heralded participation in the British millennium celebrations.

The wheel was due to take VIPs and 250 prize-winning guests on its first passenger carrying spin as part of the New Year's Eve celebrations on the River Thames.

But during the last 10 hours of a 500 hour commissioning and safety proving test programme in the week before Christmas, one of the modules failed to disengage from the turning mechanism.

Each 25 person passenger module on the wheel has a computerised levelling mechanism powered by an electric motor. The clutch orientates the capsule during its half-hour sight-seeing circuit. The clutch must release the capsule in the event of a power failure to let it self-level by gravity. One of the 32 units failed to work.

Taking the decision to hold back was obviously 'deeply disappointing' said MACE project manager Tim Renwick, 'especially as with 24 hours more we could have replaced it.

'But unlike like a building, where small finishing details can be sorted out later, everything on a mechanism like this must be working,' he said.

'Paid rides are due to start in the last week of January,' a British Airways spokesman said.

Whether the opening can go ahead depends on establishing the cause of the failure, he added. A design fault rather than an installation or manufacturing failure would be the worstoutcome, as it could mean replacing all the clutches. According to Renwick, clutch maker Stromag had not previously experienced a similar problem.

Engineers from pod subcontractor Poma of France travelled to Stromag's UK base in Northampton on Tuesday to help with the stripping down and investigation of the failed clutch, which was expected to take a couple of days.

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