Driver involved in Croydon tram crash had perfect record, inquest hears

Flowers left at the scene near the Croydon tram crash (PA Archive)
17:23pm, Thu 20 May 2021
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The driver of the Croydon tram that overturned killing seven people had a perfect record, an inquest into the deaths has heard.

Dane Chinnery, 19, Philip Seary, 57, Dorota Rynkiewicz, 35, Robert Huxley, 63, and Philip Logan, 52, all from New Addington, died after the accident on November 9 2016.

Mark Smith, 35, and Donald Collett, 62, both from Croydon, were also killed, while a further 51 were injured.

The tram toppled over and spun off the tracks after hitting a curve at 73kph (45mph) at around 6.07am that morning, despite a 20kph (12mph) speed restriction being in place.

All those killed had been either fully or partially thrown out of the tram through the windows or doors when the glass shattered on impact, the inquest heard.

An investigation by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) found that driver Alfred Dorris may have slipped into a “micro-sleep” on the dark, rainy morning.

Tram accident (PA Wire)

RAIB inspector Richard Harrington told the inquest Mr Dorris had been a milkman, and previously a bus driver before training as a tram driver.

He joined the operator Tram Operations Ltd (TOL) in 2008, passing his training in May of that year.

Mr Harrington said at the time of the accident, Mr Dorris’ training and assessments were up to date.

“He was not under any special monitoring, there was no record of any disciplinary action recorded against him, and there were no speed concerns or speed violations against the driver,” Mr Harrington said.

“His competence assessment feedback was good.”

Mr Harrington added Mr Dorris’ employers “considered him to be very competent and had no particular concerns about his performance”.

He said Mr Dorris had driven the same stretch of track on 693 occasions in the year leading up to the crash, and that there had been “no speed infringements on any of these journeys”.

The investigation found Mr Dorris had last driven the curve a few days before the crash at speeds varying between 17kmh (11mph) and 23kmh (14mph).

The inquest heard Mr Dorris could have applied his service brake, which would have decelerated his tram at a rate of 1.3msq per second, or his hazard brake, which would have slowed it at 2.75msq per second.

The hazard brake employs a set of electro magnets known as “feet” to grip the tram rails themselves and brings the vehicle to a forced halt.

The jury heard that had Mr Dorris been driving just 11kmh (6.8mph) faster at 84kmh (52mph), a safety system within the Bombardier tram would have cut the power to the accelerator, forcibly slowing it down.

Mr Dorris has been excused from attending the inquest on the grounds of poor health.

RAIB’s chief inspector Simon French told the inquest previously the tram “absolutely” overturned as a result of excessive speed.

He said RAIB’s investigation found Mr Dorris may have slipped into micro-sleep during a 49-second stretch of “low work” track, where he was not required to do much to control his tram.

Mr French said although Mr Dorris may have slipped into a micro-sleep while driving the low work track preceding the bend, the RAIB did not find he had been asleep for the entire 49-second period.

The chief inspector confirmed media reports alleging Mr Dorris may have been asleep for almost a minute were inaccurate.

Jurors were told that trams are essentially mini trains operating in urban environments.

But they have much greater accelerating and braking power than a mainline train, due to their high power-to-weight ratio.

The inquest heard the primary differences between the railway and the tramway systems in England were that trams are not controlled by fixed signals.

Instead they operate a line-of-sight system, leaving it up to the driver when to brake and when to accelerate.

The 14-week inquest continues.

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