“When we say goodbye to our loved ones each morning, it never crosses our mind that we may not see them again. Seven families are now having to face that terrible reality, and other people will return to their loved ones only after a lengthy stay in hospital and with life-changing injuries.”
So said Gavin Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central, as he made a statement to the House of Commons yesterday on the horrific tram derailment which claimed the lives of seven people and injuring 51 others.
According to Barwell, the death toll may well have been greater had it not been for the treatment provided by emergency services on the scene of the crash near Sandilands tram stop, or for the skilled surgeons and nurses at Croydon University Hospital and St George’s, Tooting.
Barwell was making a formal statement to the House in his capacity as the Minister for London.The chamber was not what you might describe as packed, but there was a respectable number of MPs present to hear the minister’s statement, including Croydon’s two other MPs, Steve Reed and Chris Philp, plus David Winnick, the veteran Labour MP who was elected for a Croydon constituency in 1966, and Tom Brake, the LibDem from the neighbouring constituency of Carshalton and Wallington. All of them spoke.
Those MPs who were present had it confirmed that a preliminary crash investigation report would be released this week. They were also told that two of the House of Commons’ catering staff had been injured in the derailment.
Much of Barwell’s statement was spent outlining the detail of the events just after 6am on November 9, with which Inside Croydon‘s loyal reader will already be only too aware.
“The tram was running from New Addington to Wimbledon via Croydon town centre. Sandilands junction is the point where inbound trams from the Beckenham Junction, Elmers End and New Addington routes converge shortly before they arrive at Sandilands tram stop to the east of Croydon town centre,” Barwell said.
“Trams approaching from New Addington have to negotiate a sharp, left-hand curve with a speed limit of 12 mph before reaching the junction. The derailment occurred on the curve and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch says that initial indications suggest that the tram was travelling at a significantly higher speed than is permitted.
“Seven people lost their lives—Dane Chinnery, Robert Huxley, Philip Logan, Dorota Rynkiewicz and Phil Seary from New Addington, and Donald Collett and Mark Smith from Croydon. A further 51 people were injured and a number are still in hospital. Our thoughts at this time are with the families and friends of the bereaved, and the injured…
“I visited the scene with the Mayor of London and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport on Wednesday, and again on Thursday and Friday. I would like to take this opportunity to express my profound thanks to staff from London’s emergency services, Transport for London and the RAIB for their professionalism and dedication in the most difficult circumstances. I would also like to thank staff from our local NHS hospitals—Croydon University and St George’s—who treated the injured. Without these amazing public servants, more people would undoubtedly have lost their lives.
“Croydon Council has set up a centre at Croydon Adult Learning and Training New Addington, on Central Parade, which is being staffed by council officers, the British Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Victim Support, rail care teams, and local church and community groups to provide support, counselling and advice to anybody affected. My officials have participated in the council’s recovery co-ordination meetings, and we have offered the Government’s help, if that is needed. We stand ready to deal with any requests promptly. People can also obtain help from the Sarah Hope line, which was created to provide specialist support to people affected by fatal or serious injuries on London’s transport network. Run by TfL staff, it provides practical, financial and emotional help, and can also make referrals for counselling and specialised support.
“The tram was removed from the site in the early hours of Saturday morning and has been transported to a secure location. Work is now under way to repair the damaged track so that tram services can resume as soon as possible.
“The RAIB immediately began a major investigation to ensure that the relevant lessons are learned to improve safety and prevent a similar accident from occurring. This investigation is being run independently of, but in parallel with, the British Transport Police’s investigation, as well as that of the safety regulator, the Office of Rail and Road. The BTP’s investigation will consider whether there were any breaches of criminal law. The ORR’s investigation will consider whether there were any breaches of health and safety law, which it is responsible for enforcing.
“The RAIB intends to publish an initial report into the accident later this week. Its final report will take months to produce, but if urgent safety learning comes to light during the investigation, this will be published without delay. As much as we are all desperate for answers, we need to give the professionals time to do a thorough job. The victims deserve no less.
“Our rail and tram services have had a good safety record in recent years. I know I speak for not just the Government but the whole House and the industry when I say we are determined to maintain this. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will give urgent and careful consideration to recommendations as he receives them, and I am confident the industry will do the same.
“When we say goodbye to our loved ones each morning, it never crosses our mind that we may not see them again. Seven families are now having to face that terrible reality, and other people will return to their loved ones only after a lengthy stay in hospital and with life-changing injuries. They will need support in the days, weeks and months ahead, and the Government will work with the Mayor of London and Croydon Council to make sure they receive it.
“I have made this statement in my capacity as Minister for London, but hon. Members may be aware that the accident took place in my constituency and that six of the seven people who were tragically killed were my constituents.
“The last few days have been the toughest in my six and a half years as a Member of this House, but I have been sustained by the way in which the people of Croydon have supported the emergency services, as they have carried out their difficult work, and the families and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured.
“We are a strong community, and we will support each other in our grief.”
After he made the statement, Barwell responded at the despatch box to a number of interventions from other MPs, including Croydon South’s Philp, who raised the matter of anecdotal reports that trams had been travelling along stretches of track too quickly.
“I want to tell the Minister that many of my constituents who also use the line, part of which runs along our constituency border, have contacted me in the past four or five days to say that they have felt in the past — not on Wednesday, but in general — that trams approaching the Sandilands junction from the tunnel to the south have been running at very rapid speeds,” Philp said.
“Will he confirm to the House that the investigations will cover that? I believe tram users would find it reassuring if there was an opportunity to install either a warning system or automated braking in other trams, as the shadow Minister said, as well as in the ones in Croydon, to prevent any repetition of this accident.”
Barwell responded by confirming that he, too, had received similar concerns. “I have had people contact me with their concerns about the operation of the system over a period of time. I assure him that the investigation will look into those issues. As I said in answer to the shadow minister, I do not think we should prejudge what needs to happen at this time. Clearly, the investigation will look into such issues, and the Government will take very seriously any recommendations from that investigation,” Barwell said.
“The shock and sorrow about what has happened has been felt in every part of the borough,” said Steve Reed OBE, the MP for Croydon North, as he called for “absolute reassurance” that the tram network is safe.
“We need the inquiry to conclude as quickly as is reasonably practicable, because once the tram system starts moving again, people will need absolute reassurance that it is safe,” Reed said. “Will the inquiry look at other recent incidents on the tram network, such as the impact between a car and a tram near to the Sandilands tram stop a few weeks earlier? That flags up that there have been other incidents that will cause concern to people using the system.”
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