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Croydon tram crash driver likely lost awareness due to a ‘microsleep’

The driver of a tram which derailed in Croydon last year had a “temporary loss of awareness” probably caused by a “microsleep.”

The crash caused the death of seven people, while 61 others were injured in the incident which occurred in November last year.

RAIB investigators also found that action was not taken after another similar speeding event happened just days before.

The report says tram 2551 reached the 80km/h speed permitted as it entered the first of three closely spaced tunnels – extending over about 500 metres.

As it approached the end of the tunnels, and the sharp curve to Sandilands junction, the tram should have been slowing down significantly to meet the 20km/h in this area, but was still travelling at 73km/h when it reached the curve.

The speed caused the tram to overturn and passengers were thrown around as the car slid on its side.

The RAIB recommended automatic braking systems be implemented, as well as systems which monitor driver alertness.

It said that the driver’s condition was linked to fatigue, although it was not clear to investigators whether this was caused by a pattern of work.

The report also says the driver could have regained awareness as he was travelling through the tunnels and was unsure which direction he was traveling in relative to the tunnels.

TfL determined to ‘support everyone affected’

Mike Brown, transport commissioner for TfL, who were the responsible for the tram, said they would continue to do all they could “to support everyone affected.”

He said: “We welcome this report from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch and will continue to work alongside them, the ORR and FirstGroup, who operate the tram network, to ensure all of the recommendations outlined are met. We will also be publishing our own investigation report in the new year.

“Since the incident we have introduced a wide range of additional safety measures to make sure such a tragedy can never happen again. These include new signage and warning systems for drivers, additional speed restrictions, enhanced speed monitoring and an upgrade of the CCTV recording system.”

TfL has trialled an in-cab driver protection device which it now says is fitted to every tram, as well as improving its customer complaints process so that all reports are now managed by a dedicated team, with any that relate to safety prioritised for immediate investigation.

Tim O’Toole, FirstGroup CEO, said: “The tragic incident on the Tramlink network in November 2016 deeply shocked and saddened us all. We are profoundly sorry that such an incident could take place aboard a service we operate and on behalf of everyone at FirstGroup, I would like to reiterate our condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives, and all those who were injured and affected by this terrible event.

“I would like to thank the Rail Accident Investigation Branch for their thorough report into the incident. We are grateful for their recommendations for improvements to the system in Croydon and tram networks across the UK.”

FirstGroup has been working with TfL to take action on safety, implementing additional speed monitoring and restrictions, improved signage, and renewed guidance on fatigue management.

The RAIB has also recommended that the strength of doors and windows on trams be improved, while also suggesting the rail industry get a better understanding of the risks associated with tramway operation.

Simon French, chief inspector of rail accidents, said: “The RAIB’s report into the accident at Sandilands will stand as the record of the events that led to the tram overturning and the terrible human consequences.

“Our careful analysis of the evidence, and identification of the causal and underlying factors, has enabled us to make a number of far-reaching recommendations. These will have a lasting impact on the way that the tramway industry manages its risk.”

A criminal investigation is currently underway by the British Transport Police, who arrested the driver on suspicion of manslaughter.

Top image: Steve Parsons PA Wire

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Jak Jaye   08/12/2017 at 22:19

'Micro sleep'? whats that in plain English? and as for making changes how about being a bit more selective as to who they employ as drivers

Andrew Gwilt   09/12/2017 at 00:11

Maybe the accident could of been prevented if another driver took over the job whilst the other driver who was feeling tired could of gone home and had some rest. But that wasn’t the case and sadly the accident did claimed 7 lives and the tram driver who was arrested is already in jail and would of been found guilty for manslaughter and failing to apply the brakes before the tram came off the tracks that killed 7 passengers and 61 passengers that substained injuries after the tram derailed.

Boris   10/12/2017 at 15:11

Do you think train drivers want to work when they are tired? Do you have any idea how the real world works? Or do you just sit in your room and spew any amount of tosh as you fancy? You realise that by speculating about the criminal investigation (claiming the driver is in jail when he isn't) means you are liable to investigation yourself. RTM, you may wish to take action here before you keep facilitating Andrew's dangerous comments.

Andrew Gwilt   11/12/2017 at 14:49

Don’t start like last time Boris.

Jeds   11/12/2017 at 14:50

Perhaps similar safety systems should be added to large road vehicles, particularly HGVs, which are involved in a quarter of all road accidents.

Jo   11/12/2017 at 20:06

Andrew. People have died here. And you think it's ok to take the p*ss?

Andrew Gwilt   11/12/2017 at 23:55

@Jo. I do have sympathy for those who have died that I do feel sorry for the families that have lost their family members in this terrible tram crash. So I wasn’t taking the mick. Oh god this has to be the repeat just like on the other article that started off such a storm.

Peter Jarvis   13/12/2017 at 11:36

Tramways and light railways used to be restricted to 25mph, though this was often not observed in practice. Liverpool trams quite often did close to 60mph (I timed one doing 48); Blackpool trams did over 30mph along the Promenade and were unsuccessfully prosecuted, I was told. Now the 1896 Act has been repealed, I gather that every light railway or tramway has to set its own speed limits, with the guidance of HM Railway Inspectors. Is this correct?

Mark Hare   14/12/2017 at 10:12

@Jak Jaye - micro sleep is a widely-recognised term within the industry and as for 'being more selective as to who they employ as drivers', fatigue affects people in different ways, have you never felt tired at work, or anywhere else for that matter? Maybe you don't work in an industry that involves shiftwork, safety-critical responsibility and concentrating for long periods of time? As to preventing a similar accident happening again, a system of AWS or ATP similar to that used on the mainline network where the brakes are automatically applied if the driver fails to respond to a visual and audible warning would seem to be the way forward.

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