This post was first published by Croydon Advertiser on 12/06/2017.
Trams could slow themselves down if drivers go over the speed limit in future
Transport for London (TfL) is looking into installing automatic speed monitoring on trams in Croydon to slow them down if drivers go above the limit, seven months after the fatal tram crash.
Currently, trams across the country generally operate on a “line-of-sight” principle enabling drivers to stop their trams manually regardless of whether they are driving on stretches where the tracks share roads or if they are on railway track-like stretches.
Installing an automatic vehicle speed monitoring device (AVSM) would make it the first tram network in the country to have a system like this, UKTram, a body which oversees tram networks nationwide, has confirmed.
TfL is also looking into a driver vigilance device (DVD) which would mean the driver would have to respond to an alert within a certain time period.
After the tram crash on November 9, in which seven people lost their lives and 51 were injured when a tram derailed while travelling at three-and-a-half times the speed limit, questions were asked as to why the vehicles did not have automatic braking systems.
Since, drivers have admitted they have fallen asleep while at the controls and claimed the current driver safety device (DSD), which should stop the tram in those circumstances, did not. TfL, however, says it is “satisfied” the device works properly.
The Advertiser exclusively revealed this month how Tram Operations Limited (TOL), which runs the trams for TfL, had only banned drivers from working 11 days in a row after footage published online showed a driver appearing to fall asleep at the controls.
At the end of May, TfL put out a notice inviting suppliers to express an interest in fitting the AVSM and the DVD.
The notice says it wants the AVSM to be able to generate a vehicle speed alert and inform the driver when the vehicle’s speed exceeds the permitted speed by a certain amount for a certain time period.
It would then apply a brake if the vehicle speed alert is not cleared within a time period or the speed goes over a certain margin.
Currently, similar systems are being tested in other countries but they are in “very early development”, said James Hammett, managing director at UKTram.
However, he said if a system is proven to work without any additional risks it could be rolled out on tram networks across the country.
Mr Hammett told the Advertiser: “With any new devices that are put in cabs you’ve got to be mindful it could also become an additional distraction to drivers in a busy street where they are already driving in and out of traffic, as you are like a car driver or bus driver.
“The last thing they need is potentially other distractions in the cab that may divert their attention away from people walking in front of the tram or cars stopping in front of you.
“It has to be fully risk assessed and put through the stringent process that any new system goes through to be put onto a tram car.
“We want to make sure the trams are as safe as they can be.
“We will fully support the ones that go in if they are deemed fit to be a positive step.”
The DVD could be incorporated within the AVSM or provided on its own and it must generate a vigilance alert and inform the driver if no driver activity is detected for a time period.
It would then brake if the driver does not respond to the alert within a time period – different to the DSD which only activates if pressure if taken off the controls for a specific time period.
The warnings for both systems would have to be audible and visible to drivers and the control centre, where trams in service are monitored, would be notified in real time.
The only other trams in the country which have a similar device are the 2014 fleet of Birmingham trams, which were bought new with the vigilance device.
Mr Hammett said the tram industry had reviewed “all the potential areas” that could have led to the tram crash in November 2016.
He added that any changes to the tram fleets would have to be looked at carefully because the price of trams, which he said have an “excellent safety record”, could actually increase.
He said: “Trams are quite bespoke vehicles so if you are buying a new fleet of trams and if the UK, for example, are the only ones to have a certain type of equipment on it, that would obviously put the cost up which then starts making trams a less viable option.
“The industry takes safety very seriously and it’s something we are working on jointly. It’s something we are all focused on. We are putting a lot of time and resource into that.
“It’s looking at all the different options and ensuring the most suitable one is put into individual systems potentially across all tramway systems across the UK.”
Under the potential plans by TfL, all the data would be logged and operational reports must be generated to support investigations and analysis at the end of shifts, post incidents and for long-term monitoring.
The Advertiser asked TfL whether the DVD would replace or run alongside the DSD.
In response TfL sent a statement from director of London Rail Jonathan Fox.
It said: “Since the tragic derailment we have been working on the development of an in-cab driver alert system for monitoring and managing tram speed.
“We are now seeking interest from the wider industry to help support us in the development and introduction of that system.”
The notice is open until June 30 so any further timescales on when this technology could be installed will be decided after that date.