The official report into last year’s tragic Sandilands tram derailment is expected to be published this week, with findings that suggest that some of the fatalities and injuries may have been avoided had the tram been fitted with stronger glass in its windows and doors.
The tram was travelling from New Addington to Wimbledon. The derailment, which occurred on a tight bend just before the Sandilands stop, happened in the pre-dawn dark, in heavy rain, just after 6am on November 9, 2016. Six men and a woman died: Dane Chinnery, 19; Philip Seary, 57; Mark Smith; Dorota Rynkiewicz, 35; Donald Collett, 62; Philip Logan, 52; and Robert Huxley, 63.
Another 51 passengers were taken to Mayday and St George’s hospitals for treatment to their injuries, some of which were described as being serious or life-changing.
It was the deadliest tram accident in the United Kingdom since 1917.
The RAIB, Rail Accident Investigation Branch, published an interim report in February, and in a press release in September, they presaged their final report by outlining some likely key recommendations, including “improved containment of passengers by tram windows and doors”.
It is understood that the current legal safety requirements for trams – which are all met by Croydon Tramlink vehicles – are similar to those required by buses, rather than the more rigorous standards applied to trains. This is particularly relevant over the thickness and toughness of the glass used in trams.
It is expected that the RAIB investigators’ report will suggest that all the fatal injuries in the Sandilands derailment occurred when the glass in windows and doors broke open and passengers were thrown out and under the tram. EU law requires trains to use toughened or laminated glass holds together broken fragments and so helps to keep passengers within the shell of the carriage in the event of a derailment.
There has been a previous fatality in a tram accident in Croydon which raised safety concerns about the strength of the glass used in public transport vehicles. In 2008, a man died after he was thrown from the top deck of a bus, through a window, when the bus crashed into a tram in Croydon town centre. The RAIB investigated that collision, too, and their report said, “The side windows on the upper deck of the bus appeared to offer little protection to persons sitting on a front seat in a collision of this type.”
The RAIB’s recommendations this time around are likely to need to be applied to tram networks not just in Croydon, but also in Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Edinburgh.
According to City Hall sources, Transport for London officers are expecting some reference to how existing tram windows could be strengthened through some type of film put on them.
Some safety recommendations have already been implemented following the crash last year, with the speed limit on the approach to the fatal bend has been reduced.
Signage around the Sandilands corner, and at other tight corners on the network, has been improved and re-positioned, and the speed limit across the network has been reduced from 50mph to 43mph.
And following reports by Inside Croydon, TfL has agreed to consult on proposed timetable changes which take account of the overall reduction in tram speeds following the derailment. Among the proposed service changes is an end to the direct New Addington to Wimbledon service; passengers will in future will have to change at East Croydon for onward journeys.
The RAIB’s report’s recommendations regarding driver fatigue as a result of the network’s shift patterns will also been keenly read, by management and trades union officials alike: a whistleblower warned of potential dangers of over-tired drivers falling asleep two years before the Sandilands crash, as Inside Croydon reported in October.
TfL and operators Tramtrack Croydon Ltd have admitted liability over last year’s crash.
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