Growing concerns about public transport safety in London, many of which arose following the Croydon tram crash in 2016, are worries that have been shared by senior figures on a Transport for London safety committee.
Inside Croydon has found a memo from the chair of the TfL safety panel which calls into question the accuracy of answers and reports submitted by senior transport management at City Hall.
Until last year, Michael Liebreich sat on TfL’s finance committee and chaired the transport authority’s grandly titled “Safety, Sustainability and Human Resources Panel”, or SSHR.
A City financier who sold his new energy investment company to Bloomberg in 2009, Liebreich continues to work in clean energy and transportation, smart infrastructure, technology, and sustainable development.
His concerns about TfL’s approach to safety on buses, Tubes and trams can hardly be dismissed off-hand by officials, and before he stood down last year, Liebreich had placed the level of his concerns on the record.
In a withering memo, Liebreich wrote, “The SSHR Panel plays a vital role in the governance of TfL – particularly on safety issues – and its operations are open to public scrutiny.
“A number of panel members have raised with me their discomfort at the specificity and accuracy of some management responses in recent meetings. Let me take this opportunity to emphasise that I expect all assertions made to the Panel to be supported by facts, particularly when they are responses to very specific questions raised by panel members.”
If the chair of the TfL safety panel can’t get straight, and honest, answers to questions – “supported by facts” – then what chance has the public transport-travelling public?
Obviously, Liebreich is referring to accuracy of answers he and other members of his committee were getting on safety issues in general, not just the Croydon tram.
But elsewhere, his remarks about comments made in 2017 by Leon Daniels, the then head of buses and surface transport at TfL, regarding a study into driver fatigue are particularly relevant.
“I am not happy with the minutes of the June 26 SSHR Panel meeting as drafted,” Liebreich wrote. “When reporting the audit of the effectiveness of FirstGroup’s fatigue management processes, Leon very specifically said it had not uncovered any cause for concern. That is a material statement that needs to be reflected in the minutes. Alternatively, if it is not accurate, then an official clarification needs to be issued forthwith.”
Was Liebreich suggesting, in suitable official terms, that Daniels’ report to the safety panel had in some way been doctored, or even covered up?
Daniels’ conduct and handling of information relating to driver fatigue and the tram crash has been called into question previously. Last year, Inside Croydon reported how Daniels and other senior figures in the transport authority failed to pass the findings of a tram driver fatigue audit report to the crash investigators until February 2018. It was an horrendous error.
Driver fatigue has been a focal point in the investigations into the tram tragedy in November 2016.
Seven people – Dane Chinnery, Donald Collett, Robert Huxley, Phil Logan, Dorota Rynkiewicz, Phil Seary and Mark Smith – died in the crash and 62 suffered serious injury when a tram travelling from New Addington derailed on a bend before the Sandilands tram stop on November 9, 2016. It was the worst tram accident in a century.
The Liebreich memo, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, suggests an entirely different view of senior TfL officials’ attitude to safety than that promoted in the past week with the cheery announcement of the somewhat delayed introduction of automatic braking systems on Croydon’s trams – a recommendation only being implemented more than a year after the investigation report into the Sandilands derailment was published. Even now, it will take the best part of 2019 for TfL to fully implement.
There is a suggestion that part of the reason that safety issues arising from the Croydon tram crash have not been treated with the seriousness that they clearly deserve is because, despite the gravity of the disaster, the crash never got the national media coverage and scrutiny that might have been expected. As the news of the crash that November morning was breaking, so too was the news that Donald Trump had reached the White House. While on most other days the tram crash would have dominated the national news cycle, perhaps for the rest of the week, back in 2016, it was quickly marginalised.
Yet as Michael Liebreich has identified, a disaster of such magnitude deserves every question being answered.
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