MPs criticise “unacceptable” tram safety

Two years on from the Sandilands tragedy, government, industry and Transport for London have been criticised for a lack of action over tram safety. 

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

On 9 November 2016, a tram derailed as it was carrying passengers to Sandilands bus stop in Croydon, killing seven people and injuring 62. It was travelling at over three times the speed limit as it went round a sharp bend, where it derailed and overturned. Following its investigation into the incident, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) issued 15 recommendations, which are expected to be implemented collaboratively by the government, Transport for London (TfL), tram operators and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). The ORR’s recent progress update shows that seven of the recommendations have not been implemented, while the status of some of the other recommendations is unclear.

Sarah Jones MP, who represents the Croydon Central constituency in which the derailment took place, has accused the government of dragging its feet. Ms Jones secured a debate earlier this month on tram safety, in which she heavily criticised the government for “actively delaying RAIB’s core recommendation – the creation of a new UK tram safety body – [by] failing to release the required funding.”

Ms Jones also criticised the fact that in the year since the RAIB recommendations were published “no Minister has come to the House to update us on tram safety”. “In fact”, she declared, “not a single Minister has made a statement in this place on the Croydon tram crash since 14 November 2016, two years ago.” Speaking to Spotlight, she argued that this suggested “the government hasn’t been as active as it should have been on this issue.” The Transport Minister Jesse Norman did not confirm to her when the funding for a UK-wide tram safety body would be available, which she says “is needed to help drive safety improvements. Any delay is unacceptable.”

At a recent City Hall meeting, London assembly member Steve O’Connell inquired about tram safety, and expressed concern that “half of the recommendations are yet to be delivered”. He told the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan that “the people of Croydon, New Addington and Sandilands would feel that it is unacceptable that it has taken so long … to implement the specific recommendations”. The Mayor admitted that “any delay is too long” but argued that some of the recommendations were not “in the gift of TfL” to implement; “this is new stuff that the industry is working on, but TfL has been pushing at all times.”

Spotlight approached the transport operator FirstGroup, whose subsidiary Tram Operations Ltd operates the Croydon Tram Network, and asked what the company was doing to try and act on recommendations that fell within its purview sooner. A spokesperson responded that recommendations 10 - 13 were within the company’s remit, and directed at Tram Operations Ltd. “We have made considerable progress and have already implemented a number of the most significant recommendations,” they claimed. “We have provided training to increase awareness of the risks posed by fatigue and how it can be managed. In addition, in-cab monitoring devices, which improve safety by alerting the driver immediately if there is any sign of distraction, have now been operational for a number of months.” The spokesperson said that FirstGroup is continuing “to make further enhancements where necessary”.

Steve Reed MP, whose Croydon North constituency neighbours Ms Jones’, said in the tram safety debate that there had already been another tram speeding incident since the Sandilands tragedy. Ms Jones, who was joined by the seven victims’ friends and family at the Commons debate, said that they and she were “frustrated” by the lack of progress on tram safety. “Two years on from the tram crash there is one clear fact that should motivate all of us: trams across the country are still without a consistent level of safety to avoid a repeat of the tram crash.”

Augusta Riddy is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman.