As we approach the third anniversary of the Sandilands tram crash, Transport for London has announced that the fleet of trams operating on the Croydon network are to be fitted with an automatic braking system.
Seven people were killed and 61 others seriously injured when a tram travelling from New Addington to Wimbledon came off the rails when travelling at four times the speed limit early on the morning of November 9, 2016.
The crash is still subject of a police investigation – a delay which is causing significant grief and stress for the families of the victims.
The crash highlighted that trams lack a significant safety feature – an automatic brake, or “dead man’s handle” – which has been routinely included in trains and Tube trains built for service in this country since the Moorgate Tube disaster in 1975.
The fleet of Croydon trams went into service 25 years after the Moorgate crash.
An automatic braking system was one of 15 safety measures recommended by the Rail Accidents Investigation Branch (RAIB) following its inquiry. That report was published nearly two years ago.
TfL said that the installation of the new brakes system took three years because it “needed to be right”.
“This is a particularly complex system where you are dealing with trams that are 20 years old and we’re having to install something that interferes… with the acceleration and braking systems of the tram and we need to know it’s right,” said Mark Davis, Transport for London’s general manager of London Trams.
The new braking system would initially be configured for priority high-risk locations, but would be fitted in all trams by the end of the year, according to TfL.
In a press release issued yesterday, TfL said that Engineering Support Group Limited had been given the contract to build and install the new safety system by the end of this year.
“It will automatically apply the brakes and bring a moving tram to a controlled stop if exceeding the speed limit at designated locations,” TfL said.
“Work began on the feasibility of introducing this new safety measure, which has not been introduced on any UK trams before, shortly after the tragic overturning at Sandilands, Croydon, in November 2016. It is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2019, including a period of training and familiarisation with tram drivers, and will operate alongside the driver protection device that has been in operation since September 2017, alerting to any signs of driver distraction and fatigue.”
TfL’s slow pace of implementation of the RAIB recommendations has not been confined to the braking system.
TfL said yesterday, “A new emergency lighting system, which will operate independently of the tram’s battery in the event of an emergency, has also been procured and will be installed over the summer, addressing [RAIB] Recommendation 7. Extensive testing with safety experts has also progressed and a new higher specification film that is 75 per cent thicker (from 100microns to 175microns) will be fitted to all doors and windows to improve containment, as per Recommendation 6, by spring.”
During its investigations the RAIB found the driver had taken a micro-sleep and that this was linked to fatigue, probably caused by Tram Operations Ltd’s shift working system.
Some senior TfL officials – such as Leon Daniels, the managing director for surface transport at the time of the Croydon tram crash – were known to have had close connections with the tram operating company.
But calls for TfL’s failures to hand over this significant evidence on driver fatigue to be investigated further have so far been rejected as unnecessary by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and his deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander.
There is more than a whiff of the stench of a cover-up about this, particularly since evidence has been uncovered that, before they eventually handed over the fatigue review to the crash investigations teams, TfL doctored the report.
Earlier this month, at a Croydon Town Hall meeting, the Labour-run council was asked whether it supported a further investigation into how TfL failed to provide full information to the tram crash investigators. That public question was taken by Councillor Muhammad Ali, the deputy cabinet member for transport in the borough.
Councillor Ali adopted the party line from City Hall, saying that there was no reason whatsoever for TfL to investigate why its senior directors failed to pass on Tram Operations Ltd’s driver fatigue review to the crash investigators.
While it is all properly listed in his declaration of interests, when giving this response, Councillor Ali forgot to mention to those in the Town Hall what his day job is. He works on health and safety for … Transport for London.
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