HomeHSEQOperators fined £14 million for Croydon tram crash

Operators fined £14 million for Croydon tram crash

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 On 27 July, a court sentenced Transport for London (TfL) and Tram Operations Ltd (TOL) to fines of respectively £10 million and £4 million for safety offences in respect of the fatal Croydon tram accident on 9 November 2016. This occurred after a tram overturned due to its overspeeding on a sharp curve. This followed a hearing in June 2022 when TfL and TOL both pleaded guilty to breaches of section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. This requires them not to expose persons not in their employment to risks to their health or safety.

In June this year, the tram driver was found not guilty of failing to take reasonable care of his passengers after a trial at the Old Bailey.

Investigating the accident

The Rail Accident Investigation Board (RAIB) report published its report on the Croydon tram crash in December 2017. This concluded that the driver probably lost awareness and that the tunnels approaching the curve did not have sufficient identifying features to alert drivers as they approached the curve. The report also found that the driver “had no record of driving at excessive speed, had no known relevant medical conditions and was regarded by TOL as reliable and compliant with the rules.”

RAIB considered that an underlying factor was that TfL and TOL “did not recognise the actual level of risk associated with overspeeding on a curve”. One reason for this was that there was a reluctance of some drivers to admit their own mistakes. A further issue was that the risk from excessive speed around curves was “neither fully understood by the safety regulator nor adequately addressed by UK tramway designers, owners and operators.”

Prior to its opening in 2000, the Croydon tramway was approved by Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate (HMRI) which became part of the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) in 2006. This approval was on the basis of relevant standards including guidance published by HMRI which was based on line-of-sight driving. Other than speed signs, this document did not require mitigation at curves.

The RAIB report specifically considered the role of the ORR and found “no evidence that HMRI/ORR had fully recognised the potential for multiple fatality accidents involving trams.”  Recommendations in the RAIB report included the need for the UK tram industry to:

  • Develop a body for effective UK-wide cooperation on safety, good practice, and standards.
  • Systematically review operational risks.
  • Install suitable measures to automatically reduce tram speeds at high risk locations.
  • Consider systems to detect and automatically respond to low level of driver alertness.
Tunnel gaps on approach to the curve were used as braking points. In the dark, these gaps were not visible to the driver due to defective lighting CREDIT: RAIB

In response, the Light Rail Safety and Standards Board (LRSSB) was formed in 2019. Much other work has been done to implement these recommendations. This includes the development of an overspeed protection system, as reported in issue 173 (April 2019) and the trial of wrist worn devices to monitor driver alertness.

Prosecuting the accident

Prosecuting the companies responsible for the Croydon tram crash cost £1 million (the costs they had to pay) and took nearly seven years. 

In his sentencing remarks, the Judge explains that he considered both parties to be highly culpable as there was no effective risk assessment for overspeeding on curves. Moreover, tunnel lighting needed to assess braking points had been defective for some time, recommendations for extra signage and a near-overturning incident at this location had not been considered.

His remarks explain how, as well as high culpability, sentencing guidelines also require consideration of the severity of the event and the size of the organisation. Taking all factors into account he fined TfL £10 million and TOL £4 million. The judge felt that the deterrence value of this fine would benefit the travelling public in the long run.

Preventing accidents

The preface of every RAIB report states that the purpose of its investigation “is to improve railway safety by preventing future railway accidents or by mitigating their consequences.” RAIB’s report into the fatal Croydon accident took just over 12 months. Thereafter, the industry implemented its recommendations. This included the formation of LRSSB which has improved the tram sector’s understanding of risk and set recognised industry standards. In addition, new safety measures are now being implemented to prevent trams speeding around tight curves and manage driver attentiveness.

In contrast to this ‘no blame’ approach, it took seven years and cost £1 million for the judicial process to fine the companies concerned a total of £14 million. In his sentencing remarks the judge noted that “neither TfL not TOL were charged with causing deaths.” Their failure was not to control a risk, the actual level of which was not appreciated. However, as the RAIB report showed, the lack of understanding of the potential for multi-fatality accidents was common throughout the industry, including the ORR which launched the prosecution against both TfL/ LOR and the driver.

Readers are invited to draw their own conclusions on which approach better prevents accidents.

Human failure

A multi-fatality accident such as the Croydon tram crash clearly has a devasting impact on all concerned including the driver whose mistake cost the lives of seven people. In this respect, the judge in the TfL/TOL case demonstrated his understanding of the driver’s position by noting that he “had an exemplary driving record and was a careful driver who took pride in his job. He was one of the network’s best and safest drivers. The derailment that morning could have happened to any of the drivers on the network; it just happened to be him.”

Whilst making these comments the judge quoted from HSE publication HSG48 ‘Human failure and accidents’ which challenges the belief that incidents are simply the result of ‘human error’ as “organisations must recognise that they need to consider human factors as a distinct element which must be recognised, assessed and managed effectively in order to control risks.”

Whilst it is questionable whether multi-million-pound fines prevent accidents, it is good to see the judiciary recognising that human failure does not necessarily make someone a criminal. It is not that long ago when a rail worker was jailed for such a mistake.

David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM
David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEMhttp://therailengineer.com

Rolling stock, depots, Scottish and Russian railways

David Shirres joined British Rail in 1968 as a scholarship student and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Sussex University. He has also been awarded a Diploma in Engineering Management by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

His roles in British Rail included Maintenance Assistant at Slade Green, Depot Engineer at Haymarket, Scottish DM&EE Training Engineer and ScotRail Safety Systems Manager.

In 1975, he took a three-year break as a volunteer to manage an irrigation project in Bangladesh.

He retired from Network Rail in 2009 after a 37-year railway career. At that time, he was working on the Airdrie to Bathgate project in a role that included the management of utilities and consents. Prior to that, his roles in the privatised railway included various quality, safety and environmental management posts.

David was appointed Editor of Rail Engineer in January 2017 and, since 2010, has written many articles for the magazine on a wide variety of topics including events in Scotland, rail innovation and Russian Railways. In 2013, the latter gave him an award for being its international journalist of the year.

He is also an active member of the IMechE’s Railway Division, having been Chair and Secretary of its Scottish Centre.


  1. Found on you tube video of braking past the second tunnel gap, racing driver style, one year before crash. Nothing to do with lighting or signage it was a culture issue. What the hell was competence management actually supervising.


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