On Wednesday morning, an ordinary trip to work ended in horror and tragedy for people on board a tram from New Addington to Wimbledon. Seven people were killed and another 50 injured when the tram derailed. The crash occurred near to Sandilands junction on a sharp, left-hand curve as the tram was approaching a stop. There is a 12mph (20km/h) speed limit on the section in question, which is on old rail tracks. The Croydon trams have a top speed of around 50mph.
A spokesman for the Rail Accident Investigation Branch said, “Initial indications suggest that the tram was travelling at a significantly higher speed than is permitted.”
Carnage in the carriages
Survivors tell of being trapped in blood-soaked carriages, with the dead or seriously injured falling on top of them as the tram flipped on its side.
A nineteen-year-old passenger described the terrifying moment he was thrown across the carriage and his head was crushed against the ground as the tram windows smashed behind him.
He told reporters, “I didn’t notice we were coming to a corner because I wasn’t really paying attention. The next thing I knew the tram was rolling over on its side. There was no attempt to brake or anything like that.
“I rolled on my back. The glass has smashed behind me and my face rolled over the gravel. I was quite lucky not to be trapped like the others.
“There were people flying towards us and bags flying everywhere. It was quite dark at the time and it was still raining.
“At first we didn’t know if we were still in the tunnel and we wanted to find a way out. There was no escape from the tram on its side.
“I was in shock. I could feel blood pouring down the side of my face, but I was quite lucky it wasn’t worse. I could feel the blood dripping and I was in total shock about what happened.
Health and safety concerns
This tragic incident has sparked the 11th health and safety investigation into Croydon Tram Link in as many years. The driver has been released on bail and police are investigating his mobile phone records, potentially casting doubt over initial reports that he ‘blacked out’.
Detectives are also investigating complaints that the line was a, “tragedy waiting to happen” after previous reports of speeding at the same corner where the two-car tram came off the rails.
Worryingly, claims were made on Facebook only last week about a tram that came close to derailing on the same bend.
Andy Nias, from Croydon, wrote on 31st October, “30 of us on the tram this morning and we all thought our time was up … tram driver took the hard corner to Sandilands at 40mph!! I swear the tram lifted on to one side. Everyone still shaking … it’s mad.”
These social media statements are also forming part of the inquiry into the incident.
A FirstGroup spokesman said in a statement, “We are dedicated to safety, which is central to our culture and values as a transport business.
“We have comprehensive safety processes and controls in place for all our businesses. The cause of yesterday’s incident has not yet been determined. It is absolutely essential that we find out exactly what happened yesterday and this could take some time.”
Deadliest rail network accident in 15 years
Wednesday’s crash marks the deadliest day on Britain’s rail network in 15 years. In 2001, 10 people were killed and more than 80 injured at Great Heck near Selby, North Yorkshire when a Land Rover plunged off the motorway on to the East Coast main line after the driver fell asleep at the wheel. He stated that he had been up all night chatting to a woman he had met on the internet. He could not move his car off the track and this caused a 125mph London express train and a 1,800-tonne freight train to collide.
The driver’s insurance company paid out more than £22 million in compensation to the victims and their families.
There has not been a tram crash involving fatalities on board since 1959, when two women passengers and the driver died after a tram caught fire in Shettleston Road, Glasgow, after colliding with a lorry.
Steps involved in claiming compensation for personal injury
The rights of the victims and their families to claim compensation for personal injury will become clearer once the police and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigations have been concluded, which could take many months.
If the driver’s conduct is found to have been negligent and rail accident investigators and HSE find negligence on the part of Croydon Tram Link, compensation could potentially be claimed from both sources.
To succeed in a negligence claim, a claimant must show that a duty of care was owed, that duty was breached and the breach of the duty caused you damage.
An example of where a rail company was found in breach of health and safety can be found in the circumstances involving the Hatfield train crash in which four people died. During the court case that followed, the jury heard how the accident, which also injured 102 people, had been caused by a cracked section of track. It was also revealed that a backlog of essential work had been allowed to accumulate and the cracked rail had been identified for repair 21 months prior to the tragedy.
Rebuilding shattered lives
Compensation can never bring loved ones back, but it can help rebuild shattered lives and assist with rehabilitation costs.
For the moment people’s thoughts are with the victims and their families. The cause of the tragedy will be revealed over the coming months as the investigations into the tram driver and whether health and safety regulations were complied with are concluded.
Although it will be of little solace to the victims at this time, the causes of the accident will be discovered and those at fault will be brought to justice.
Saracens Solicitors is a London based law firm with an experienced personal injury department. If you wish to talk further about any of the issues raised in this article, please feel free to call me on 020 3588 3500.
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