LONDON (REUTERS/AFP) - At least seven people were killed, more than 50 others were injured and two remained trapped after a tram overturned on Wednesday (Nov 9) morning in south London, said police who later confirmed officers had arrested its driver.
Emergency services were called at about 6:10am (0610 GMT) to reports that a tram had derailed near a stop close to central Croydon, a large suburb to the south of the British capital and a major transport hub.
"A number of people have been taken to hospital with injuries and sadly we can say there has been some loss of life,"said Assistant Chief Constable Robin Smith from British Transport Police (BTP).
"It is too early for us to confirm numbers but we are working hard to assess the ongoing incident and are continuing to focus on recovery efforts," he added.
A BTP spokesman later said the tram's driver had been arrested and that five people had been killed.
A London Ambulance spokesman said 51 others had been taken to hospital, some with serious injuries. Eight fire engines, five specialist rescue units and more than 70 firefighters attended the scene using heavy cutting equipment to free those trapped.
Television pictures showed the tram lying on its side across the tracks near a junction where the line divides. Investigations were continuing into the cause of the accident.
"My thoughts and prayers are with all of those who have been affected by this terrible incident that has taken place on the tram in Croydon," Prime Minister Theresa May said.
Local residents said they had heard a crash followed by shouting. "They started bringing up the casualties, some very seriously injured. People were carried away on stretchers,"Hannah Collier, 23, told Sky News.
“Everyone just literally went flying,” said Martin Bamford, 30, from Croydon, who was on the tram and recalled it “speeding up” before it derailed.
“There was a woman that was on top of me... I don’t think she made it at all. She wasn’t responsive.”
Asked about the driver, Bamford said: “I asked him if he was okay. He said ‘yeah’. I said to him ‘what happened?’ He said he thinks he blacked out.”
Bamford was speaking outside Croydon University Hospital, where he was being treated for fractured or broken ribs.
Probes were under way to determine what caused the 300-tonne, two-car tram to derail and tip over onto its side. The Rail Accident Investigations Branch said the tram derailed as it was negotiating a “sharp, left-hand curve” with a speed limit of 12 miles (19 kilometres) per hour.
A spokesman said: “Initial indications suggest that the tram was travelling at a significantly higher speed than is permitted.” . Deputy Chief Constable Adrian Hanstock of the British Transport Police (BTP) indicated that the death toll could rise further. “At least seven people have lost their lives as a result of this incident,” he said in a statement.
“Our officers will continue to work tirelessly throughout the evening to formally identify them and provide care and support for their families.
“We expect to be at the scene for at least the next 24 hours, continuing searches and carrying out forensic examinations.”
Local residents described hearing a loud bang and seeing the wounded being carried away on stretchers. The London Ambulance Service said 51 patients had been taken to two local hospitals. Several people were treated for minor injuries such as cuts and bruises at the scene.
Doctor Phil Moss, the clinical director of the emergency department at St George’s Hospital, said they treated 20 patients. “The patients who have gone to the operating theatre will certainly be kept overnight if not for several days or even weeks,” he said.
London Fire Brigade said it had been working to free several trapped people.
London’s only tram system, which opened in 2000, links several south London suburbs along 17 miles (28 kilometres) of track. More than 27 million passengers used the service from 2015 to 2016.