Transport for London has delayed the re-opening of the tram line between New Addington and East Croydon, pending the publication of the preliminary report from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.
The line has been closed for a week, since the tragic derailment of a tram at the bend into Sandilands claimed the lives of seven people and injured more than 50 others, some of them seriously.
The RAIB preliminary report is expected to be released this afternoon, seven days since their investigators arrived on the scene of the worst tram accident in this country for more than half a century.
In an incident update issued by the council today, staff and councillors were informed, “We continue to go through the careful assurance processes required as we work towards resumption of service.
“We expect the RAIB’s interim report to be published this afternoon. We have been in regular touch with them and will ensure that any advice they offer has been acted upon before resumption of service. We will also respond publicly to the interim report.”
A test tram was run, very slowly, along the stretch of track between Sandilands and the Lloyd Park tram stop yesterday afternoon.
But the continuing delay in the resumption of services – which were originally thought might be running by the weekend – suggests that some findings of the RAIB need to be acted up to provide the “absolute reassurance” of safety on the network which was called for by MPs in the House of Commons on Monday.
The RAIB stated within hours of the crash last Wednesday that the tram had been travelling at a “significantly higher speed” than the 12mph limit on that stretch.
Engineers who worked on building the tram network across south London in the late 1990s were aware even then of the potential for accidents on the 90-degree bend into Sandilands, after the trams will have been travelling at top speed through the tunnel from Lloyd Park. As Inside Croydon reported a week ago, a former senior council engineer who worked on building the Tramlink network more than 20 years ago described this stretch of track as “just about the worst location on the system for an incident”.
Recent anecdotal reports from passengers of trams operating on that line running dangerously quickly seem to underline that point, and offer further reason for the caution being exercised ahead of the RAIB preliminary report.
It is impossible to automate the tram network by building in technological speed restraints as are used on railways, Gavin Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central and Minister for London, told the Commons on Monday. This is because trams are “buses on rails”, partly operating on roads in a mix of traffic, and so they need to be under the full control of drivers to respond to traffic conditions.
Tram drivers say that they have been under increasing pressure from management to run their vehicles more quickly in tighter schedules, as TfL introduce more services on the line.
Last Friday, in the latest edition of a Dorking-based newspaper, after its nine pages of coverage of the tram crash, they managed to carry, prominently on page 11, an advertisement from TfL for the tram service carrying the headline “Improving capacity (Moving on up)”. No one at TfL or at the Sadvertiser acted to pull the ad on Wednesday or on their Thursday press day, the day following the accident.
The ad informs of the extra four trams added to the network and an “increased frequency between Wimbledon and Croydon by 50 per cent”. The tram which crashed was operating on the route to Wimbledon.
RAIB’s work is one of three investigations into the derailment which are underway. The Office of Rail and Road is looking into any breaches of health and safety rules, while the British Transport Police is conducting a criminal investigation which is unlikely to be concluded for at least six months.
On Monday, an internal memo to council officials had informed them that “good progress has been made to replace track and other trackside equipment”. The track had been handed back to the local authority and TfL at the weekend.
Last night, the council issued a press statement announcing that it has decided to erect two memorials to the tram crash victims: one near the site of the derailment, the other in New Addington, close to the homes of five of the seven people who died.
“Permanent memorials will be created which families and friends of those involved and members of the public will be able to visit, to reflect and pay their respects,” the council stated.
“The public has put forward several proposals to the council for consideration but while discussions have begun, a decision will not be made until the families that lost loved ones have had a chance to share their views.”
TfL has also announced that it will pay the funeral costs for those who died – Dane Chinnery, Robert Huxley, Philip Logan, Dorota Rynkiewicz and Phil Seary from New Addington, and Donald Collett and Mark Smith from Croydon.
Meanwhile, the public has so far donated almost £16,000 to an online hardship fund established by Croydon Council. Donations on the official Crowdfunding page can be made here.
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