Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones has used the start of the Old Bailey trial of tram crash driver Alfred Dorris to call for better regulations of tramways and for a review of all local transport legislation.
“More than six years on, the Sandilands crash continues to cast a long shadow over Croydon and its communities,” the MP said last night. “We were all deeply affected by this tragedy. I can only imagine how difficult this process will be for the families and friends of those affected.”
On the morning of November 9, 2016, a tram travelling from New Addington towards East Croydon came off the tracks after exiting a tunnel before the Sandilands stop.
Seven people were killed in the crash: Dane Chinnery, Philip Seary, Dorota Rynkiewicz, Robert Huxley, Philip Logan, Donald Collett, and Mark Smith.
The derailment injured 61 others, 19 of them seriously.
The Old Bailey trial opened on Tuesday.
Dorris, 49, entered a not guilty plea to a charge of failing to take reasonable care at work under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The tram network owners and operators, Transport for London and Tram Operations Limited, have already pleaded guilty to health and safety failings over the crash.
MP Jones said last night, after the first day’s evidence in the trial, “I am glad to see this case finally come to court after so long.”
And she added, “I have been in touch with the Minister in charge of Roads and Local Transport, Richard Holden MP, to ask about the prospect of a local transport legislation review, and other plans that the Department for Transport has to further regulate tramways and tram travel.
“I will also be pushing ahead with my own proposals to change legislation.”
The families of the crash victims were in court on Tuesday and Wednesday, at the beginning of what is expected to be a five-week trial.
They will have heard in evidence yesterday how passengers were “flung around… as if they were in a washing machine” as the tram derailed when travelling at 40mph – more than three times the speed limit for the curve in the track into Sandilands.
The court also heard that Dorris had an “impeccable” past record and was seen as one of the better drivers.
In opening remarks, prosecutor Jonathan Ashley-Norman KC told the court, “The tram was travelling at in excess of 70km/h when it entered the turn”, tipping over on to its side and, “causing those inside to be flung around as though, as one survivor put it, they were inside a washing machine”.
The court heard there was no dispute that the driver was responsible for what happened.
But Ashley-Norman told the court: “Mr Dorris was not solely responsible for health and safety failures at Sandilands.
“As we shall hear, others, principally Transport for London and Tram Operations Limited, also failed in the discharge of their health and safety duties in the running of the Croydon tram network.
“However, their failures do not exonerate Mr Dorris.”
Ashley-Norman said it was an “accident waiting to happen” as both TfL and ToL failed to do a risk assessment around the possibility of a derailment at the Sandilands junction.
The prosecutor told jurors: “Though any one of his colleagues might have failed in the same way, nonetheless it was Mr Dorris who failed.”
Ashley-Norman said Dorris would claim that “environmental and external factors outside his control”, relating to the infrastructure around the Sandilands area, combined to cause him to become “disorientated”.
The prosecutor said jurors would examine some of those factors, such as the signage on the approach to the bend and tunnel lighting.
The court heard that in his interview following the crash, Dorris said: “I just remember coming over all disorientated like I just weren’t sure, you know, where I was. I was confused and then I got it in my head I was going eastbound towards Lloyd Park direction.
“I was upset, confused, you know, traumatised. I weren’t sure what, to be honest with you, I wasn’t sure what actually happened. It just sort of crept up on me.”
Ashley-Norman told the court that they would hear evidence from experts suggesting Dorris may have had a “micro-sleep”. But he said the issue was not whether the driver fell asleep, but whether he took reasonable care for the health and safety of his passengers.
The trial continues.
Read more: Flawed inquest into tram crash is ‘Hillsborough repeating itself’
Read more: TfL ‘scandal putting passengers at risk’ over driver fatigue
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It was a terrible accident – My thought are with the families who lost people – but The Trams are one of the best things that happen to Croydon where would we be without them