London is set to become the first in the UK to have an automatic braking system that will automatically apply the brakes, and bring a moving tram to a controlled stop, if it exceeds the speed limit at designated locations. 

The unfortunate accident at Sandilands on the London tram network in November 2016, in which seven people died, has been well reported.

Aftermath of the tram accident at Sandilands in November 2016 (RAIB)

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) published its investigation report in December 2017, together with a further update in October 2018, which found that the tram had attempted to take a tight bend at well over the speed limit.

Commenting on the investigation, chief inspector of rail accidents Simon French 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.”

Consideration of how to avoid similar accidents commenced soon after the accident, with various systems, using both existing and new technology,. Considered. As a result, a contract has now been awarded to Engineering Support Group Limited (ESG) to install a new safety system alongside the driver protection device that has been in operation since September 2017 to detect any signs of driver distraction and fatigue.

The new automatic braking system will initially be configured to priority high-risk locations, as suggested by the RAIB, but will have the flexibility to be introduced elsewhere on the tram network. It is expected to be operational by the end of 2019.

Some of the RAIB’s other recommendations – a permanent speed reduction across the tram network, speed monitoring and signage at significant bends, an enhanced customer complaints process and the installation of the driver protection device that alerts to driver distraction or fatigue mentioned above – have already been implemented.

In addition, a new emergency lighting system, which will operate independently of the tram’s battery in the event of an emergency, has also been procured and will be installed over the summer, addressing another RAIB recommendation.

Extensive testing on strengthening doors and widows, to help retain passengers inside the vehicle in the even of an accident, has also been progressed and a new higher specification film that is 75 per cent thicker (from 100microns to 175microns) will be fitted to all doors and windows by spring.

TfL’s general manager of London 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 for customers 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.”