Drivers’ union raises questions in wake of first tram crash in the UK causing passenger fatalities since 1959, as interim report is published by RAIB

 

aslefASLEF pointed out that the crash could not have occurred on the mainline railway

 

Train drivers’ union ASLEF and MPs have called for the investigation into the Croydon Tramlink derailment to examine the case for requiring light rail systems to be fitted with automated braking technology.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch’s interim report into the crash, which killed seven people and injured 51 on November 9, showed the tram derailed at 43.5mph on a severe curve where speeds are limited to 12.5mph. Although the tram’s brakes were applied before the crash, it was not sufficient to reduce the speed to the necessary level.

The driver has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter. Passengers reported that the driver said he had ‘blacked out’. It was the first tram crash in the UK causing passenger fatalities since a collision in Glasgow in 1959.

Regardless of where fault lay, ASLEF pointed out that the crash could not have occurred on the mainline railway, or London Underground, where trains are fitted with the Train Protection Warning System or Automatic Train Protection.

General secretary Mick Whelan told Passenger Transport that the union had longstanding concerns over infrastructure design which created risks or was not future proofed. “Why would you build a curve like that in the middle of a system, and if you do, why wouldn’t you fit safety devices to manage it?” he asked.

ASLEF also claimed that there “are serious questions to answer about the failure to investigate previous incidents that means the risk of such a serious accident happening was not identified and acted upon”. 

Whelan explained that these related to anecdotal evidence of safety risks and lack of appropriate action following disciplinary hearings. He said they applied across the rail industry as a whole.

He added that mobile phone footage released by a passenger after the crash, showing a tram driver apparently falling asleep on the same Croydon network during a shift in April, raised further wider issues beyond driver responsibility. 

They include how to engage more effectively with customers to make sure they understand and report serious safety incidents, and how to provide a working environment which encourages drivers to ‘self report’ if they feel unfit for duty for any reason. He said procedures put in place following the Ladbroke Grove crash on the main line network in 1999 had “slipped back”.

Tram operator FirstGroup has suspended the driver involved in the April incident and is investigating the situation.

A Commons debate also saw several MPs call for automated braking on light rail systems to be considered. London minister and Croydon MP, Gavin Barwell, told MPs who raised the issue that retrofitting automated braking to light rail systems was a legitimate question. “I am sure that that will be one of the issues addressed in the investigation,” he commented.

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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