The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has launched a prosecution of Transport for London (TfL), Tram Operations and Alfred Dorris, the driver of the tram involved in the fatal derailment at Sandilands near Croydon in November 2016.
After carrying out its own investigation into the overturning of tram 2551, which left seven people dead and 19 seriously injured, the ORR has identified a number of health and safety failings that contributed to the tragedy.
The rail regulator alleges that TfL breached section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act by failing to ensure the health and safety of passengers on the Croydon Tramlink network, so far as reasonably practicable.
It also alleges that Tram Operations, which runs the tram service on TfL’s behalf, also breached section 3(1) of the HSW Act by failing to ensure the health and safety of passengers on the network.
ORR has accused Dorris of an alleged breach of section 7(a) of the HSW Act by failing as an employee to take reasonable care of passengers while he was employed at work driving the tram.
The Rail Accident Investigation Board (RAIB), which published its own report into the fatal crash on 7 December 2017, found that on the morning of the incident, tram 2551 had reached its maximum permitted speed of 80km/h as it entered the first of three closely spaced tunnels, which together extended for about 500m.
The tram should have reduced its speed significantly after leaving the tunnels and as it was approaching the sharp curve round to Sandilands junction, where there is a 20km/h limit. The report noted that there was a speed limit sign at the start of the curve. Instead, the tram was travelling at 74km/h when it reached this sign.
As a result of its excessive speed, the tram overturned while it was passing through the curve. There were 69 passengers on board who were thrown around inside and the vehicle slid along the ground on its side. Seven people died and 61 were injured, 19 seriously.
The RAIB made 15 recommendations in the report to improve safety on UK trams. One of its main findings was that the tramway did not properly understand the risk of trams overturning on curves and consequently failed to have sufficient safety measures in place.
The RAIB found that all of the seven passengers killed, and many of those who were seriously injured, had fallen through the windows or doors as the tram tipped over.
At the time of the report’s publication, Simon French, chief inspector of rail accidents, said: ‘We are recommending action in five main areas. The first is the use of modern technology to intervene when trams approach hazardous features too fast, or when drivers lose awareness of the driving task. Tramways need to promote better awareness and management of the risk associated with tramway operations.
'Work needs to be done to reduce the extent of injuries caused to passengers in serious tram accidents, and to make it easier for them to escape. There need to be improvements to safety management systems, particularly encouraging a culture in which everyone feels able to report their own mistakes. Finally, greater collaboration is needed across the tramway industry on matters relating to safety.’
Announcing the ORR’s decision to prosecute the three parties last week (24 March), HM chief inspector of railways, Ian Prosser CBE, said: ‘My thoughts are with the families of the seven people who lost their lives, the many more injured and everyone whose lives have been impacted as a result of this incident.
‘Following a detailed and thorough investigation, we’ve taken the decision to prosecute TfL, Tram Operations Limited and driver Alfred Dorris for what we believe to be health and safety failings.
‘We’ve made a fair, independent and objective assessment about what happened, and it is now for the court to consider if any health and safety law has been breached.’
A hearing at Croydon Magistrates’ Court is due to take place, with a date to be announced shortly.