UK: British tramway operators have told Metro Report International they are taking a close interest in Transport for London’s deployment of an automatic tram braking system, and are working through light rail industry body UK Tram to assess whether similar technology would be suitable for use on the country’s other networks.

On January 14 Transport for London confirmed that it had awarded Engineering Support Group Ltd a contract to supply and install a Physical Prevention of Over-Speeding automatic braking system for the tram network centred on Croydon. Expected to be in place by the end of the year, this would automatically bring a tram to a controlled stop if exceeds the speed limit at designated locations.

‘Awarding the contract for a new automatic braking system is a first for trams in the UK', said Mark Davis, TfL’s General Manager of London Trams. '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’.

The feasibility of introducing such a system was investigated after the Sandilands derailment in November 2016, when a tram travelling at 73 km/h into a sharp curve with a 20 km/h speed restriction overturned, killing seven passengers.

PPOS will initially be used at higher-risk locations, but will have the flexibility to be introduced elsewhere on the network.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch issued 15 recommendations to the UK tram industry following the derailment. TfL said it had now ‘progressed on all of the recommendations specific to TfL’. Those completed included a reduction in the network’s maximum speed from 80 km/h to 70 km/h, additional speed restrictions and warning signs at four locations, more speed signs, an enhanced customer complaints process, an upgrade of the CCTV to a digital system, and the use since September 2017 of a driver distraction or fatigue warning device. There has also been a review of risk assessments and evacuation procedures.

An emergency lighting system operating independently of tram batteries is to be installed this year, while the thickness of the safety film on the windows will be increased from 0·1 mm to 0·175 mm to improve containment. Temporary lighting has been installed on the approach to the Sandilands tunnels, where a full lighting upgrade is to be undertaken this year in collaboration with road tunnel lighting experts.

UK Tram studies options

TfL has shared the feasibility and scoping studies for PPOS with other operators through the UK Tram group, which has been studying speed control and safety systems in use internationally. UK Tram expects to publish a report shortly.

West Midlands Metro told Metro Report International that the technology selected for Croydon was specific to local requirements, and as such may not be the most suitable option for its own route. It has reviewed and updated its safety equipment, and would be closely examining the UK Tram research.

Edinburgh Trams said it would consider any recommendations to be made by UK Tram. It has asked its rolling stock supplier CAF what would be required to provide PPOS functionality, and is also ‘proactively’ monitoring the wellbeing of its drivers.

Transport for Greater Manchester’s Head of Metrolink Danny Vaughan said Metrolink would be an active member of the Light Rail Safety & Standards Board to be established by UK Tram, which would ‘enable us to share best practice and protocol with industry partners on a range topics, not least safety.’ He said TfL was leading the way on installing an automatic braking system, and TfGM would be ‘watching closely and assessing the effectiveness of this before considering whether it is something that would work for Metrolink.’

A spokesperson for NET said the Nottingham tram operator was also actively supporting the UK Tram study, which would ‘help shape our plans to further enhance safety.’

Sheffield Supertram operator Stagecoach said it would await the UK Tram report.

Blackpool Transport operates the only first-generation tram network to have survived in the UK. It is looking at options with the UK Tram working group, and is also working with Bombardier Transportation to develop an automatic braking system which it hopes to test later this year.