The preliminary report from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch into the circumstances which led to the tragic derailment at Sandilands a week ago, when seven people died, states that the tram was travelling at 43.5mph – more than three times the speed limit of 12mph on that stretch of track.The brief interim report comprises fewer than nine pages. It is short and to the point.
And it is clear that the investigators believe that a change in the speed restrictions is needed before trams reach the 90-degree bend in the track into Sandilands tram stop.
The inspectors’ report says that a tram would have to apply its brakes full-on 180 metres before the existing speed restriction sign at the Sandilands junction if it is to slow down sufficiently to enter the bend at a safe 12mph.
The report’s findings saw immediate renewed calls for more safety measures on the stretch of track, and for the Tramlink network generally.
“While individuals will be held accountable for their actions, it is clear that the lack of adequate safety systems were at the root of this dreadful accident,” said Finn Brennan, the Croydon district organiser for ASLEF, the train and tram drivers’ union.
“On the mainline railway or London Underground, long established, tried and tested technology is in place to ensure that a train travelling too quickly in a potentially dangerous area will be slowed and stopped.
“This technology is simply not in place on Tramlink. If it had been, then this awful event could have been avoided.”
The RAIB investigators’ report includes an urgent safety warning for the tram network before it can be fully re-opened.
Their report states: “In the light of this accident, the RAIB has issued the following urgent safety advice to Tram Operations Ltd and London Trams: ‘The factors that led to the over-speeding are still under investigation. Until these factors are better understood, and before the junction re-opens to passenger operation, the RAIB advises London Trams and Tram Operations Ltd to jointly take measures to reduce the risk of trams approaching Sandilands Junction from the direction of New Addington at an excessive speed. Options for consideration should include the imposition of a further speed restriction before the start of the existing 20 km/h speed restriction around the curve and/or additional operational signs.”
The RAIB inspectors were able to refer to the On-Tram Data Recorder, or OTDR, to compile their report, but the tram’s on-board CCTV was not working, which could mean that a full explanation of what happened in the fateful few moments before Tram 2551 left the tracks may never be known.The report states, “Tram 2551 departed from New Addington at 05:55 hrs, calling at six stops including Lloyd Park. After leaving Lloyd Park it travelled at up to 80 km/h (50mph) (in accordance with prevailing speed restrictions), as it ran towards its next stop at Sandilands.
The report states that no evidence has been found of any track defects, or obstructions on the track, that could have contributed to the derailment.
“The tram entered the curve on the approach to Sandilands Junction at a speed of approximately 70 km/h (43.5 mph). As it encountered the curve, it derailed and turned over onto its right side, travelling for approximately 25 metres before it stopped.”
Preliminary investigations have failed to find any faults with the tram’s braking system. Indeed, the report’s initial analysis shows the driver did apply the brake after coming out of the tunnel, but only enough to reduce his speed from 50mph to 43.5mph.
Responding to the report, Mike Brown, London’s transport commissioner, said: “We will follow the RAIB’s advice and, before service is resumed, will implement additional temporary speed restrictions and associated signage near Sandilands to supplement existing safety arrangements.
“We are continuing to carry out a thorough safety assessment and are taking the advice of an independent panel of tram experts.
“We will only resume services for the local community once that rigorous assurance process has been completed.”
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