Croydon tram crash: Derailment risk highlighted eight years before accident
06/10/2021 | 06:45am EDT
The former chief engineer of the Croydon tram network highlighted safety issues with the Sandilands tunnel almost a decade before a fatal crash killed seven people, an inquest into the deaths has heard.
Jim Snowdon told the jury that he had written a paper in 2008 warning there was a risk that trams could derail on the corner coming out of the Sandilands tunnel due to a lack of signs.
The paper, which was considered by national body the Light Rail Operator Committee (LROC) in 2010, was inspired by two low-speed derailments at Phipps Bridge, further up the line, in 2006.
He wrote: “In some circumstances, particularly long stretches of segregated track and isolated alignments where there are few visual clues as to location during the hours of darkness, there is potential for the driver to lose awareness of the distance to approaching hazards and it may become appropriate to consider the provision of advanced signage as a reminder”.
“I would cite two [examples] on Tramlink, namely the long section through the Sandilands tunnel which terminates in a 20kph curve and the single track section between Morden Road and Phipps Bridge… both are virtually straight, high speed and in areas away from surrounding lighting so that during darkness there are few visual cues as the location and thus to the distance to go to the restriction.”
The Rail Accident Investigation Board (RAIB) said that driver Alfred Dorris may have slipped into a “microsleep” immediately before the crash in November 2016.
RAIB chief inspector Simon French said that Dorris may have been “disorientated”, with evidence that he may have thought he was travelling in the other direction.
The tram toppled over when it rounded the curve at nearly four times the speed limit, shortly after 6am on 9 November.
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Snowdon, who left the then Tramlink Croydon when First Group subsidiary Tram Operations Limited (TOL) took over in 2008, also said that his decision to put up emergency signs due to other safety concerns on the network had received a “hostile” response from TOL.
He said that the company had covered up – or “bagged over” – temporary speed restriction signs at Phipps Bridge that he had put up around March and April that year.
When asked what form the “hostility” took, Snowdon said: “It culminated in the signs that we put up, after considerable argument through panels, meetings, being promptly bagged over without notice to us.”
City A.M. has contacted TOL for comment.
Despite his paper, Snowdon, who now works for Network Rail, said he had not directly raised safety concerns about overspeeding in the tunnel during his time at the company.
But the revelations raise further concerns about safety issues at TOL, after a number of audits came to light revealing that the firm was aware of fatigue management issues on the network several years before the crash.
As City A.M. has revealed, these audits show that fatigue management had been highlighted as a problem on the network as early as 2014.
One such probe, which was being carried out at the time the crash occurred but was swiftly abandoned, was not even requested by the investigator during its probe.
A year later, another report was watered down by TfL executives in order to placate First Group, as City A.M. has reported.
The inquest, which was delayed several times due to the pandemic, is now into its third week. It is expected to run for 13 weeks in total.
The inquest continues.
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