Tram drivers fear being disciplined if they report mistakes

Tram drivers are still too afraid to admit mistakes, fatigue or even to report sick because of the risk of being disciplined, the train drivers’ union said this afternoon, responding to the RAIB report into the factors which contributed to the Sandilands tram tragedy in November 2016.

Sandilands, Nov 2016: but tram drivers remain afraid to report errors and faults to their management

FirstGroup operates the Croydon tram network on behalf of Transport for London, through a company called Tram Operations Ltd, or TOL.

Today, Finn Brennan, the ASLEF train drivers’ union organiser for the tram network, said: “The management culture at Tram Operations Ltd meant that drivers were afraid to report mistakes or errors for fear of being disciplined. The result was that the opportunity to learn lessons from previous incidents and avoid repeating them was missed.

“While individual senior managers have changed since the accident, the culture at Tram Operations hasn’t. Drivers still fear their job is at risk if they report being tired or that they will be disciplined for reporting sick.

“There is still a serious lack of coordination between TfL, who are responsible for infrastructure, and Tram Operations, who operate the system. Just two weeks ago, new speed control signage was installed without drivers being told in advance.”

The RAIB inspectors surveyed tram drivers: 38 of 59 tram drivers who responded to the survey said that they had felt fatigued while driving a tram – with three mentioning having either having fallen asleep or experiencing a “microsleep”.

ASLEF’s Finn Brennan: tram drivers are afraid to report errors

The RAIB report suggests that the driver of the tram which crashed may have had a “microsleep” for up to 49 seconds.

The report stated that tram safety relied heavily on driver vigilance. And they have recommended the tram operator reviews and improves the management of the risk of fatigue affecting its drivers.

A whistle-blower had expressed concerns over driver fatigue because of shift patterns in 2014 – two years before the crash. But no action was ever taken by TOL.

The RAIB report says that although it did not contribute to the crash, TOL’s management of the risk of tram driver fatigue was not always in line with published industry practice. When compiling its report, it found that in one instance of a driver falling asleep at the controls, the driver had had a run of shifts over seven days totalling 55 hours’ work.

TOL issued a statement today: “The RAIB concluded that management of fatigue was not a factor in the incident, nor did a speeding culture contribute to it.

“Nevertheless, over the past year we have taken a series of actions, working closely with Transport for London on whose behalf we operate the system, to implement additional measures including enhanced speed monitoring and restrictions, improved signage and renewed guidance on fatigue management.

“We have learned from the RAIB’s analysis and our own internal reviews and we will continue working hard, alongside TfL, to follow the RAIB’s advice and to make further changes where necessary.”

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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