Report into Croydon tram crash highlights 'insufficient safety measures'

An investigation into the Croydon tram crash has concluded operators failed to take enough safety measures and understand the risk of a vehicle overturning. 

The tragic event which happened on 9 November 2016 resulted in seven fatalities and dozens of injuries after a tram overturned in Croydon, south London. Investigators say they believe the crash was caused by the driver briefly falling asleep before speeding through a sharp bend but the scathing review also points blame at tram operators who are said to have failed in putting adequate safety measures in place.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has produced a 174-page document which makes 15 recommendations, which it hopes will have “a lasting impact on the way that the tramway industry manages its risk”, including a review of how tramways are regulated and the creation of a dedicated safety body.

RAIB recommendations include: 

  • New technology – focused on automatic braking and monitor driver alertness
  • Better understanding on the risks associated with tramway operations
  • Improvements to safety management systems
  • Creation of a dedicated safety body for UK tramways
  • Stronger doors and windows on trams
  • Encourage a culture within staff to report their own mistakes and other safety issues
  • A review of tramways regulation

The report concluded that the most likely cause for the driver not applying the brakes was "a temporary loss of awareness of the driving task during a period of low workload, which possibly caused him to micro-sleep". It found that even at a speed of 49kmh the tram would have overturned. During the investigation, nine other drivers told inspectors they had needed to brake heavily before the junction at Sandilands where the crash occurred.

Simon French, chief inspector of rail accidents said: “We are recommending action in five main areas. The first is the use of modern technology to intervene when trams approach hazardous features too fast, or when drivers lose awareness of the driving task. Tramways need to promote better awareness and management of the risk associated with tramway operations. Work needs to be done to reduce the extent of injuries caused to passengers in serious tram accidents, and to make it easier for them to escape. There needs to be improvements to safety management systems, particularly encouraging a culture in which everyone feels able to report their own mistakes. Finally, greater collaboration is needed across the tramway industry on matters relating to safety.”

The 39-stop service is London's only tram network and operates from Wimbledon to Beckenham Junction, Elmers End and New Addington, via Croydon. It began operation in May 2000 as Croydon Tramlink, becoming the first tram system in London since 1952. More than 27 million passengers used the service in 2015/16.

Transport for London (TfL) commissioner Mike Brown, said TfL will also be publishing its own investigation report in the new year. He added: "Since the incident we have introduced a wide range of additional safety measures to make sure such a tragedy can never happen again. Work to install a system to automatically reduce tram speeds if required is also underway. We have enhanced the customer complaints process so that all reports are now managed by one dedicated TfL team and any that relate to safety are prioritised for immediate investigation. And the TfL Sarah Hope line remains available to all those affected and continues to provide help with counselling and other support to anyone who needs it.”

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