Tram crash coroner recommendations welcomed by families

Nearly five years since the fatal tram crash at Sandilands, and the coroner who presided over the inquest this summer has delivered a set of recommendations for safety measures, some of which were made in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

Sandilands, Nov 2016: recommendations that were made in the crash aftermath have still not been acted upon

Senior Coroner Sarah Ormonde-Walsh, who presided over the inquest at Croydon Town Hall into the seven people who died when a tram overturned on November 9, 2016, has recommended four actions in her prevention of future deaths reports: automatic braking systems to prevent speeding; strengthened doors on existing and new trams; operators should have to sign up for an anonymised whistleblowing system; and there should be a government-funded, national tram watchdog.

The families of victims killed in the crash today welcomed the coroner’s recommendations.

It is part of the coroner’s legal duty to make recommendations to the relevant organisations arising from findings at a hearing.

In her formal “Regulation 28 reports to prevent future deaths”, submitted yesterday to the Department for Transport, the Light Rail Safety Standards Board, Transport for London, and tram builders Bombardier Transportation UK Ltd, the coroner said:

  • “During the evidence, it became clear that trains have automatic braking systems. They are, of course, different from trams, which are driven by ‘line of sight’. However, it seems to me that it would be appropriate for a fresh assessment to be made of whether automatic braking systems would be appropriate for trams.”
  • “At least one of the seven [victims] died as a result of being ejected through the bottom of the door leaf. A recommendation was made by the RAIB [Rail Accident Investigation Branch] that consideration should be given to the feasibility of strengthening doors, whether in current tram stock or in future tram building. Little seems to have been done since. Consideration should be given to current and future trams as to whether tram doors can be adapted now or in the future.”
  • “There is scope for a centrally funded national tram safety passenger group, covering all the different operators. I propose to recommend to the Department for Transport that consideration be given to setting up such as group.”
  • “All tramway operators should give consideration to subscribing to CIRAS or to another similar anonymous staff member reporting scheme, and further to look at whether such schemes are used and if not, why not.”

Dane Chinnery, Philip Logan, Philip Seary, Dorota Rynkiewicz and Robert Huxley, all from New Addington, and Mark Smith and Donald Collett, from Croydon, were killed in the tram crash, while 62 of the 70 on board were injured, 19 seriously.

The inquest held over the summer concluded that all seven died as a result of an accident.

Long wait: families of those killed in the tram crash outside Croydon Town Hall after the inquest in July. None were satisfied with the outcome from the coroner’s court

Jean Smith, the mother of Mark Smith who died after he was ejected through a door of the tram, said today: “I am pleased the coroner has adopted most of the changes that the families campaigned for, in particular the recommendation that relates to strengthening doors.

“As the coroner points out, it was recommended that doors were strengthened after the crash five years ago and nothing has been done about it.

“It is outrageous that people travelling in trams could suffer the same terrible death that Mark did as they simply haven’t strengthened the doors.

“While the coroner’s recommendations are welcome, I am still angry and upset that nobody has been held accountable for what happened to my son and everybody else on that tram. It hurts more than words can say. It is also wrong and frustrating that we were not able to hear any evidence at the inquest from those responsible. We will now look to the Office of Rail and Road to see if they will prosecute.”

Sarah Jones MP: raised the subject of tram safety in a parliamentary debate this week

In 2017, the Rail Accident Investigation Board’s report made 15 safety recommendations arising from its findings at the Sandilands crash. Most of these measures have been implemented on the Croydon tram network, but other tramways around the country have yet to follow suit.

Ben Posford, a partner at Osbornes Law, is the lead solicitor for five of the seven families. He said: “These recommendations are very welcome and if properly implemented, along with the 15 recommendations of the Rail Accident Investigation Board, they will go some way towards ensuring nobody else will lose their lives in the same horrific way as those who died in the Croydon tram crash.”

According to Posford, the families will now meet Baroness Vere, the government minister responsible, to try to ensure that all the recommendations are implemented.

“I would like to thank Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones for securing a debate in the House of Commons this week on the tram crash,” Posford said.

“During that debate, parliamentary under-secretary for transport, Trudy Harrison, said she would look further into the legal loophole whereby driving causing fatalities on the part of bus drivers can lead to prosecutions that are only available in relation to tram drivers when they are on a road, but not on sections of track off the public highway.

“It is also to be welcomed that the government will agree to open a dialogue with the families.

“They will be continuing to campaign for a change in the way inquests into public transport mass fatality events are conducted, after the coroner ruled that the jury at the Croydon tram crash inquest could not hear oral evidence from any of the people directly responsible for the tragedy.”

Read more: Flawed inquest into tram crash is ‘Hillsborough repeating itself’
Read more: Lawyer’s plea: ‘Save tram victims’ families further heartache’

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