Long-standing suspicions that there has been a cover-up over safety reports relating to the tram network following the 2016 Sandilands crash appear to be confirmed today, with the publication of a file of documents which show that reports critical of the tram operator’s safety standard were watered down.
A Transport for London internal report about faults in the fatigue management of Tram Operations Ltd (TOL), the tram operator, had key criticisms removed, according to Buzzfeed.com.
Seven people were killed and 62 injured when a tram travelling from New Addington towards East Croydon left the tracks at Sandilands in November 2016.
Buzzfeed reports that TOL, a division of FirstGroup, the company which operates the London Tramlink service on behalf of TfL, had intervened and complained that a report on safety practices produced eight months after the crash was “too negative”. Yes, after seven people died…
In April 2018, we reported how the TfL report had been withheld from independent crash investigators for more than six months. There were reasonable concerns aired then that Leon Daniels, TfL’s director of surface transport at that time, had delayed releasing the report out of concerns over possible private prosecutions for corporate manslaughter, where fines of £20million or more can be handed out by the Health and Safety Executive.
Buzzfeed has obtained documents, following dogged questioning at City Hall from Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon, that show that the fatigue audit report was not only delayed, but also subject to significant amendment.
TfL undertook the fatigue audit in June 2017, soon after another Tram driver was filmed asleep at the controls during a Croydon rush hour.
The review found that TOL’s procedures did not meet industry standards and the draft report stated clearly: “requires improvement”.
Buzzfeed reports today: “This draft report, circulated to a restricted group of TfL executives on July 7, 2017, also clearly emphasised several ‘Priority 1’ and ‘Priority 2’ safety issues that TOL needed to address — including that it wasn’t training supervisors to recognise signs of extreme tiredness in drivers.
“The auditor’s headline conclusion, that TOL’s safety system ‘requires improvement’, was in the draft report, but had been removed when the final report was published in March 2018,” the website says, having obtained the documents for comparison.
“The auditor’s headline conclusion had been deleted and its executive summary rewritten in a less urgent and critical tone. Safety deficiencies that had been clearly marked as ‘priorities’ were now characterised as ‘Opportunities for Improvement’.”
The website has seen the correspondence between TfL officials and staff at TOL which led to the censoring of the criticism of the tram operators.
“How are the families of the victims expected to interpret that?” Michael Liebreich, a former TfL board member, told BuzzFeed.
It was Liebreich, when chairing the TfL board in September 2017, who ordered that the audit report should be sent immediately to the Department for Transport’s Rail Accident Investigation Branch, which was still investigating the Sandilands crash.
TfL managers agreed to do so, but when the RAIB’s report about Croydon came out at the end of 2017, it did not mention the fatigue audit at all. When Liebreich asked what had happened, TfL officials admitted the document had not been sent. They blamed “human error”.
The release of documents today, after months of questions to the London Mayor by Pidgeon, suggests that the withholding of the report and its censoring was anything but an “error”.
“To now discover that TfL’s report on fatigue faced by tram drivers went through a process of being toned down, seemingly at the request of Tram Operations Limited, provides further clear evidence of a culture towards safety issues that needs to be urgently addressed,” Pidgeon said today.
- To read the Buzzfeed article in full, together with the documents that they have obtained, click here
- Check out Inside Croydon’s full archive on the Sandilands crash by clicking here
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