Party buses not on regular bus routes – a high risk, with potential fatalities?

Tottenham party bus crash

Photo by Tony Hardiman, via Evening Standard

Last month, more than 20 people were injured after a bus crashed into a railway bridge in Tottenham. It was not an isolated incident. We welcome this guest post by Dave Halliday, independent transport safety investigator.

One key element of air and rail travel is that an incident, which has the potential of a far more serious outcome is investigated, and action taken BEFORE we have fatalities – or very serious injuries. Without any special effort I’ve noted 3 bus de-roofings in London – 2 in the past 20 days, 2 at the same bridge and 2 ‘party bus’ private charters. My memory runs back to West Street in Glasgow in 1994, when 3 died, after the driver of a chartered bus followed a car driver showing him the way through the city – that was 22 years ago and STILL we have buses running into bridges?

There are some key common factors in the recent London crashes. ALL are relatively small operators, and ALL were NOT operating on a registered service bus route, so TfL has no oversight of the routes being used, and the option of drivers making up the route as they go along increases the potential for taking the wrong turning. Almost unforgivable though was the rail replacement service not following a route that avoided hitting the bridge on the route where it was replacing trains. I know that road (I went to school in Isleworth) and it isn’t even on a direct route connecting the stations between Brentford and Hounslow!

The law requires Councils to investigate crashes and then take action to prevent future crashes (Section 39 RTA 1988) This detail should be readily available – published on-line – rather than something that has to be extracted by FoI reports, so that we can see learn from the mistakes made, and see that action is being taken to prevent the same crashes – twice (at least) in a year in just the 3 examples here.

With London’s substantial number of railway lines on viaducts and bridges there might even be an option (in the absence of an empowered National roads regulator) for TfL to require ALL double decker buses operating in London to have a proximity detection system fitted within a defined time limit, with the priority to equip vehicles not operated on registered bus routes. The detection system could incorporate an engine shut down and brake application (like the safety systems on trains) if a driver failed to acknowledge the warning and stop.

The planned system (promised – but with no timetable for delivery) for speed limiting on TfL’s contracted London Buses services can include the engine shut-down (and brake application) feature through a proven ‘beacon’ system, on the approaches to a low bridge. This sort of kit is already in use on buses and refuse trucks in Scotland (and elsewhere) – cutting the speeds on school grounds and waste processing sites.

22 years seems a long time over which no lessons have been learned – or action taken. How many close calls before the next fatal crash?

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