The role of Transport for London officials in the withholding of “critical safety evidence” from the official investigation into the causes of the 2016 Sandilands tram crash is to be debated at City Hall this week.
Mayor Sadiq Khan is facing calls from trades unions representing transport workers and Conservative members of the London Assembly to establish an independent investigation.
Seven people were killed and all 62 other passengers on board sustained injuries when a tram travelling from New Addington to Wimbledon left the tracks on a sharp bend approaching the Sandilands stop in the early morning of November 9, 2016.
For the past two years, there have been serious questions asked about the part played by Leon Daniels, TfL’s former director of surface transport, in the failure of the capital’s transport authority to hand over a tram driver fatigue audit to the crash investigation team for more than six months after the tragedy.
Now two Tory Assembly Members, Keith Prince, the chair of the transport committee, and Steve O’Connell, the AM for Croydon and Sutton, have tabled a debate in City Hall this Thursday.
With the Assembly Tories basing their debate around a motion recently agreed by the GMB union, it would seem to be difficult for the Labour majority at City Hall not to agree with the call for an independent investigation.
Prince and O’Connell’s motion states: “This Assembly notes that the GMB Union recently passed Motion 412 which called ‘for the Mayor of London to appoint an independent investigation to review why TfL failed to supply critical tram safety evidence to the Croydon Tram Crash Investigators, the Office of Road & Rail and the British Transport Police’.
“This Assembly agrees with the GMB Union that there are serious questions to answer with regard to the Croydon Tram Crash, wholeheartedly supports the GMB’s request and calls upon the Mayor to appoint an independent investigation.”
A City Hall source today described the motion as “a bit opportunistic” by Prince and O’Connell, “as they haven’t shown much interest in the past on safety issues”.
Indeed, Inside Croydon reported on Prince and O’Connell being lobbied on the matter by a transport safety campaigner nearly 18 months ago. Since when, the Tories’ dynamic duo at City Hall has done nothing.
As the City Hall source said, “In any case, the issue of Leon Daniels’ behaviour when at TfL goes back many years.
“Yet whatever their motives and lack of a record on safety issues, it is an important issue they raise. It will be interesting to see how Labour Assembly Members vote.”
The GMB union represents many workers in the transport industry, and one of their members was among the fatal casualties of the Croydon tram crash.
Last month, at their annual conference, the GMB overwhelming backed a motion, proposed by official David Tuckwell, calling for the Mayor to take action aimed at changing “the culture at TfL that led to this investigation being compromised”.
Tuckwell noted howa trick of vocabulary somehow diminishes the importance of events such as the Croydon tram crash. “These aren’t accidents,” Tuckwell told GMB delegates.
Crashes such as Croydon’s are “due to a lack of rigour in the rail industry”, and to management “not being transparent”. The rail industry as a whole in Britain had suffered a “corporate memory loss” over the cause of incidents on the network which cause injury or death.
Another delegate accused the tram operating company of being “not fit for purpose”.
The report that was withheld from the tram crash investigators was a safety audit of the fatigue risk management system operated by FirstGroup, the company which manages the tram system through Tram Operations Limited, or TOL, on behalf of TfL.
Driver fatigue was a key area of investigation into the causes of the Sandilands crash.
Delays in the investigation, and in bringing any criminal charges – the tram driver remains subject to an investigation by the British Transport Police – have meant that as we approach the third anniversary of the crash, there has yet to be a coroner’s inquest, prolonging the distress of the surviving victims, and the families and friends of those killed in the crash.
Inside Croydon reported in March 2018 how a public transport safety campaigner Tom Kearney had accused TfL of suppressing the potentially important information.
Internal Audit IA 17 1780 – to give it its full title – was withheld from the Rail Accident Investigation Board, SNC Lavalin (the independent investigator brought in by TfL), the Office of Rail and Road and British Transport Police until February 2018.
Kearney suggested that the delay in releasing the report may have been out of concern that TfL might be subject to private prosecution for corporate manslaughter, where fines of £20million or more can be handed out by the Health and Safety Executive.
The past or present TfL executives who Kearney identified as candidates for cross-examination over the matter included Daniels, Jonathan Fox, the director of London Rail, lawyer Howard Carter, Jill Collis, the director health safety and environment, and Gareth Powell, who has replaced Daniels as MD for surface transport.
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