As a solicitor representing victims of the Croydon tram crash last year, it was particularly interesting to read some of the details published from the investigations of the Rail Accident Investigation Bureau (RAIB).
Of particular note was the fact that the tram was in fact travelling at 46mph – faster than the 43.5mph initially thought – before it derailed and crashed in a 13mph zone near the Sandilands Junction area of Croydon, South London.
It has also been revealed that the brake on the tram was only applied two-and-a-half seconds before it crashed, and that there was an absence of ‘emergency braking’, leading to the RAIB concluding that driver Alfred Dorris – the only staff member on board – had “lost awareness” in the moments before.
The report highlights that for the tram to have entered the junction at the right speed of 13mph, the brake needed to have been applied as it entered the last of three tunnels, approximately 180 metres prior to the junction.
Sadly, the report paints a picture of an accident which could and should have been prevented had more safety measures been in place.
In the weeks after the crash, Transport For London (TfL) introduced extra safety signage regarding speed restrictions before the bend, on the RAIB’s recommendation, and at other sites considered a similar danger.
But, as with many other large-scale tragedies such as this, it should not require the loss of life to bring about the safety standards required.
Serious questions now must be asked as to why such restrictions and signage were not in place beforehand given the slow speed known to be required to successfully negotiate the bend.
Why were there no systems to automatically slow a tram approaching the corner at such speed and failing to brake after the last of the three tunnels prior to the corner, and why was it deemed acceptable for just one member of staff to be in sole control of a tram on the network?
I’m sure all of these matters are being considered and examined, but whatever the outcome of investigations, the cost of this tragic accident was the loss of seven lives and a long-term, life-changing impact on many others.
Dane Chinnery, 19, Philip Logan, 52, Philip Seary, 57, Dorota Rynkiewicz, 35, and Robert Huxley, 63, all from New Addington, and Mark Smith, 35 and Donald Collett, 62, both of Croydon, died on that November morning.
They were amongst 70 passengers on board, from which a further 51 people were taken to hospital, with eight of them suffering injuries described by London Ambulance Service as serious or life-threatening.
Each and every person who survived on that tram that morning could well carry not only physical injuries, but psychological injuries for life in terms of what they went through and what they saw.
The RAIB’s second interim report said: “Of the seven passengers who died, one was found inside the tram; two were found partially inside the tram; three were found underneath the tram; and another was found on the track close to the tram.”
The focus has to be on supporting those who have lost loved ones and those who survived but will never be able to put the events of November 9, 2016 to the back of their minds.
Lessons must then be learned to prevent a repeat in the future, as in our modern world of highly-advanced technology, it is simply unacceptable for such large scale accidents to be happening at all.