Heidi Alexander says safety steps taken to ensure repeat of Croydon tram crash can ‘never occur’

Heidi Alexander says safety steps taken to ensure repeat of Croydon tram crash can ‘never occur’

City Hall transport chief Heidi Alexander has ruled out an independent inquiry into aspects of Transport for London’s response to the fatal tram accident in Croydon in November 2016.

The worst tram accident for more than 90 years left seven passengers dead and 62 injured when a tram derailed and overturned on a bend near the Sandilands stop. Government rail accident investigators found the tram had been travelling at 45 mph where the speed limit was 12mph.

Concerns raised again yesterday at a meeting of the London Assembly transport committee focused on why a 2017 TfL audit of action to address tram driver fatigue had not been initially shared with the government’s accident investigators, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.

Former TfL board member Michael Liebreich, who chaired the board’s safety, sustainability and HR panel (SSHR) in the aftermath of the accident, also questioned the audit process itself and senior TfL staff involvement in the draft report, while Liberal Democrat member Caroline Pidgeon suggested the draft had been “watered down”.

Alexander, Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for transport, accepted that the report, prompted by a separate incident where a driver on the same line had apparently fallen asleep, had not been passed to the Sandilands investigators when requested by the SSHR panel. She said the request had not been minuted, but that, after it was followed up, officers apologised and the report was sent.

The RAIB had also confirmed that the report did not include additional evidence not already taken into account and that its findings were consistent with the RAIB’s own conclusions that there was “significant scope for improvement” in the fatigue risk management of First Group tram operator, Tram Operations Ltd.

The first draft of the audit had not been watered down, Alexander added. “I’ve been through the first and final versions. The points are all there. Substantively, the recommendations and findings of the audit have not changed,” she told the committee.

New procedures meant that similar reports would in future be shared “as a matter of course” with investigatory bodies, she said. And while it was “routine” for senior TfL staff to be briefed on audit findings, she agreed to discuss audit procedures with TfL general counsel Howard Carter.

“But the important thing here is the steps that have been taken to make sure the tram network is as safe as possible and never again can a tragedy like Sandilands occur,” she said.

“I want TfL to be focused on learning the lessons, making sure that safety performance on trams is exemplary. All the evidence I see from TfL is that safety is its absolute number one priority. I am confident that a further independent investigation into this is not required.”

Michael Liebreich agreed that TfL’s response to the accident had been “very good” in general. “Most of the operational responses were very appropriate”. But he repeated warnings of “complacency” at senior level.

The RAIB concluded that the “most likely” reason for the driver failing to brake was “temporary loss of awareness of the driving task during a period of low workload, which possibly caused him to microsleep”, coupled with possible confusion about where the tram was “when regaining awareness”. The driver’s shift patterns “should not have caused an increased risk of fatigue”, it found.

British Transport Police confirmed today that its criminal investigation into the accident was “ongoing” and that no charges had been laid. The inquest into the seven deaths can be held only after police investigations and possible trials are concluded.   

Meanwhile 15 recommendations made by the investigators are being implemented, ranging from physical improvements to tram carriages, reviewing trackside signage, automatic braking and fatigue detection systems to wider review of tram regulation and the establishment of an industry-wide body to develop safety standards and share good practice.

Concerns about London bus driver fatigue have also been raised, with a report for TfL by Loughborough University highlighting the issue and £500,000 pledged by Mayor Khan to tackle the problem. 

A webcast of the transport committee meeting can be found here.

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