This post was first published by Croydon Advertiser on 15/01/2019.
Not a minute too soon – Croydon’s trams are getting automatic brakes
Passengers will be relieved to hear the system will be in place by the end of the year.
It was one of Croydon’s darkest days.
Seven lives lost. Seven families never the same again. A whole town in mourning.
But the Croydon tram crash may now at least leave a legacy that will make a difference in years to come.
Because it has been announced that an automatic braking system which brings speeding trams to a controlled stop is to be installed on the tram network.
Transport for London (TfL) revealed yesterday (January 14) that the new system will be in place by the end of the year.
How will they work?
The system will automatically apply the brakes and bring a moving tram to a controlled stop if it goes over the speed limit, which is now no higher than 70kph at any point on the network.
It will also automatically alert the operations control centre.
The system, which is already installed on mainline trains, will initially be configured at priority locations, such as the Sandilands bend where the tram overturned, killing seven passengers.
After this, it is expected to be introduced elsewhere on the tram network.
When will this happen?
It is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2019.
Work to get the system up and running is already underway, and a period of training and familiarisation for tram drivers is set to start in the coming months.
Why are the changes being made?
Automatic braking was one of 15 recommendations given to the UK tram industry by the RAIB in its report into the causes of the Croydon tram crash.
Published in December 2017, recommendation three of the report was: “UK tram operators, owners and infrastructure managers should work together to review, develop and install suitable measures to automatically reduce tram speeds if they approach higher risk locations at speeds which could result in derailment or overturning.”
TfL began working on the feasibility of introducing this new safety system shortly after the tragedy, but only last month chose the company it wanted to implement the system.
The transport body said last year significant designing and testing of new equipment and technology was needed due to the technology not being seen on the UK’s trams before, slowing down the process of bringing it into use.
What other safety improvements have been made since the tram crash?
The changes which TfL has so far made include the installation of a new device which monitors driver fatigue.
The “driver protection device” uses sensors that track eyelid closures and head movements so that when a fatigued or distracted driver is detected an in-cab alarm is sounded and the driver’s seat vibrates to “refocus the driver’s attention”.
A permanent speed reduction across the whole network has been introduced, meaning the maximum speed trams could travel was reduced from 80kph to 70kph.
New signs were put up near Sandilands and at three other locations with significant bends.
The CCTV recording equipment on all Bombardier trams (the type involved in the derailment) was replaced and upgraded to digital shortly after the derailment. The equipment on Stadler trams, which make up the remainder of the fleet, was shown to have “adequate” capabilities.
New temporary lighting has also been installed on the approach to the Sandilands tunnel and the tunnel will get a full lighting upgrade with work expected to be complete in 2019.
An enhanced customer complaints process has also been introduced.
What are the safety improvements yet to be introduced?
Among the recommendations which have not yet been met is improving the ability of windows and doors to keep passengers inside the tram in the event of a crash.
A Croydon Advertiser investigation revealed the type of windows installed in trams is similar to those in buses and cars, rather than like those in trains which are designed to keep passengers inside the carriage even in the event of a derailment, because of the extra strong glass that doesn’t shatter on impact.
A new emergency lighting system, which will operate independently of the tram’s battery in the event of an emergency, is set to be introduced over the summer.
A new body to enable more effective UK-wide cooperation on matters related to safety, and the development of common standards and good practice guidance, also needs to be established.
What caused the crash?
The RAIB report found the driver of the tram, Alfred Dorris, had a “micro-sleep” while driving.
It also explained that he told police he believed he was travelling in the opposite direction – and did not realise he was approaching the tight left-hand Sandilands bend where the tram would derail moments later.
The tram was travelling at 79 km/h (49mph) as it went through a tunnel just before the bend and did not slow down quickly enough as it approached the turn, which it entered at 73 km/h despite a speed limit of 20 km/h. It derailed as a result.
Dorris, from Beckenham, was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter on the day of the crash and remains under investigation.
To date, more than £5 million has been paid for counselling, rehabilitation, compensation and other activities to support those affected by the tragedy.