Three years on from the Croydon tram crash, London’s transport chiefs’ reluctance, or failure, to act decisively on the issue of driver fatigue on the capital’s buses and tram network is “a scandal that is putting passengers at risk”, according to one of the country’s leading experts on public transport.
And yet Sarah Jones, the Labour MP for Croydon Central, has opted not to demand an immediate independent inquiry into how Transport for London managed to water down criticisms of the tram operating company in a fatigue audit conducted following the November 2016 Sandilands tram disaster.
Buzzfeed reported on Friday how senior TfL officials censored a safety report at the request of Tram Operations Ltd (TOL), after the FirstGroup company which runs the Tramlink network deemed the document to be “too negative”.
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.
MP Jones’s constituency includes Sandilands and New Addington.
Jones has previously campaigned energetically for reviews and reports into the causes of the crash to be published and their recommendations enforced. She reacted to the latest news coverage on Friday which strongly suggests an official cover-up by public body TfL to protect private company TOL, by saying only that she would be “looking carefully” into the need for an independent inquiry.
As Inside Croydon has reported previously, the failures of senior TfL officials over the use of a fatigue audit of tram drivers has appeared suspiciously like a deliberate cover-up.
Tram drivers falling asleep at the controls has long been seen as a likely contributing factor in the disaster.
Now LibDem Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon, through persistent questioning of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, has obtained documentary evidence which shows that not only was the fatigue audit withheld from crash investigators by TfL, but it was also significantly altered to make it less critical of TOL, and it is this evidence which was published by Buzzfeed.
The sequence of events is, of itself, quite damning:
- November 2016: Seven killed in the Croydon tram crash.
- June 2017: TfL audit finds tram operator’s fatigue controls were deficient.
- August 2017: TfL censors audit report after tram operator says it’s “too negative”.
- September 2017: TfL “forgets” to send audit to the official tram crash investigators.
Yet despite such strong evidence of official collusion at City Hall with the private tram operator, Jones has not called for an immediate investigation into the circumstances.
Over the weekend, the MP said, “I will be looking carefully at the case for an independent inquiry and speaking to those who have raised concerns.
“I’ve already written to the Deputy Mayor for Transport and following the London Assembly committee session I will be making a further statement.”
But transport expert Christian Wolmar says that TfL is overdue in looking into driver fatigue issues. He told Inside Croydon today, “The reluctance of TfL to recognise the risks posed by driver fatigue on both buses and trams is becoming a scandal that is putting passengers at risk.
“It is time for a full reappraisal of shift patterns and for extensive management training on this issue.”
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