THE first automatic control system for trams in Britain should be introduced in London this year.
The system, which is similar to some elements of automatic train control, has been developed in the wake of the fatal derailment of a tram in Croydon in 2016.
Seven people were killed and many others injured when a busy early-morning tram overturned on a sharp curve at Sandilands on 9 November. The tram had been travelling at roughly three times the speed limit, probably because the driver was tired.
The accident, the worst on a British tram since the 1950s, was followed by an exhaustive inquiry and 15 recommendations from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, one of which was the introduction of an automatic braking system.
Transport for London awarded a contract to install such a system on its trams to Engineering Support Group on 14 December last year. This will automatically apply the brakes and bring a moving tram to a controlled stop if it is exceeding the speed limit on high-risk sections of track, such as the Sandilands curve.
A parallel driver protection system, which sounds an alarm if the driver seems to be tired or distracted, has already been introduced.
TfL said it had made good progress on putting all relevant RAIB recommendations into practice, which also include a general speed reduction, speed monitoring and signs at significant bends and an improved process for dealing with passenger comments and complaints.
After the Sandilands accident, some passengers said they had experienced a near-derailment at the same place a few days earlier.
There can be similar problems in other cities. In July last year one passenger received ‘significant’ injuries when a Sheffield tram approached a tight curve at excessive speed. The driver realised the mistake and dealt with it by applying the emergency brake in time to prevent a derailment, but the brake application itself subjected passengers to ‘excessive lateral accelerations’ which injured the passenger by throwing her violently against a door.
TfL’s general manager for trams, Mark Davis, said: ‘Awarding the contract for a new automatic braking system is a first for trams in the UK, and not only will it improve safety in London, but we hope it will lead the way for other tram operators across the country. We will work to have the new system, which will automatically apply the brakes if a tram is exceeding the speed limit, in full operation by the end of the year.’