Initial report reveals excessive speed caused the Sandilands crash that killed seven and injured 51
Seven people died and 51 were injured, some seriously, after an early morning London Tramlink service overturned on the segregated alignment at Sandilands Junction on 9 November while operating the 05.55 service from New Addington.
The accident is one of the worst in recent times on a European tramway and the first loss of life onboard a UK tram since 28 January 1959 when a driver and two passengers were killed after a Glasgow Corporation tramcar caught fire after a collision with a lorry on Shettleston Road.
The initial Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report released on 16 November revealed that the onboard data recorder of inbound tram 2551 (one of the original Bombardier CR4000 Flexity Swift vehicles delivered for the system’s opening in 2000) showed that it arrived at the junction at 06.07 travelling at 70km/h (43.5mph) – more than three times the 20km/h (12.5mph) maximum speed limit for the curve. Some braking was found have been applied around 180m before the 20km/h speed restriction notice, but this only reduced the tram’s speed by 10km/h by the time it entered the curve.
After derailing and flipping onto its right-hand side, the tram travelled for approximately 25m on its side before ending up on the outside of the curve in the middle of the junction. There was some damage to the track and lineside equipment and many of the passengers were left trapped inside.
After leaving the Lloyd Park tramstop, the route passes through Sandilands tunnels (three closely spaced tunnels with a total length of 512m), before emerging into a cutting approximately 100m before the left-hand 30m radius curve on which the accident occurred.
The 42-year-old Tramlink driver was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter by the British Transport Police. He undertook tests for alcohol and drugs following the crash, but has since been released on bail until May and removed from duty.
It is still to be confirmed how many passengers were onboard the tram, but is believed to be around 60 – this means that almost all passengers suffered some form of injury.
The RAIB was notified of the accident and attended the scene as emergency services helped to free trapped passengers. Its report showed no apparent faults with the tram (although footage from the onboard CCTV system was not available), its braking system or the track and that the accident appeared to be a direct result of the tram approaching the junction at excess speed. The report also acknowledged the low light and heavy rain at the time of the accident.
It recommended various measures to improve safety at this point following various allegations that reports had been made of other trams approaching the junction at excessive speeds in the recent past.
Following recovery of the tram, which was extensively damaged on one side and has since been transported to an RAIB centre in Farnborough, restoration of the track and testing of the infrastructure, full tram services resumed in the afternoon of 18 November. In the interim services had only been provided between Wimbledon and East Croydon, New Addington and Addington Village and Harrington Road to Beckenham Junction with alternative bus services added over the closure period.
Additional speed restrictions and signs have been introduced near Sandilands tramstop, as advised in the RAIB interim report, and Transport for London (TfL) indicated that it had implemented the advice on additional speed restrictions and signage and carried out a rigorous safety assessment prior to restoring services.
Speed restrictions have been implemented at three further locations on the Tramlink network: in the opposite direction between Sandilands and Lloyd Park; on the approach to Sandilands from Beckenham Junction/Elmers End Branch. A precautionary limit has also been added to the bend between Birkbeck and Harrington Road.
FirstGroup subsidiary First Tram Operations, which operates the network on behalf of TfL, will also be carrying out enhanced speed monitoring across the tram network.
TfL also took advice from an independent panel of experts convened by UKTram that included an ex-RAIB & HMRI (Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate) inspector, the ex-Head of Operations, Rail and Rapid Transit, for Centro, the former Managing Director of London Rail, an expert in driver training and the General Manager of UKTram.
Separate investigations are also underway from the Office of Rail & Road and the British Transport Police, but no timescale has yet been given as to when these investigations are expected to conclude.