26 September 2022

Edinburgh Tram Track Injuries – will they ever stop?


A recent article in the Scotsman Newspaper entitled “Edinburgh trams: £1.2 million paid out over cycle accidents on Edinburgh tram tracks” highlighted the amount of compensation paid to injured cyclists following accidents on Edinburgh’s tram tracks since 2012. This figure will continue to rise as accidents continue to happen unless changes are made.

The article reported that there have been 422 accidents involving cyclists on tram tracks with the majority occurring at Haymarket and Princes Street. The first claims for compensation against Edinburgh City Council were heard in the Court of Session in 2019. 

Elizabeth Fairley and Ian Lowdean sued ECC after falling from their bicycles and sustaining injury. Ms Fairley came off her bike outside Haymarket Station on 16 October 2013 whilst trying to ride across the tracks. Her wheel slipped and she was thrown into the middle of the road. Mr Lowdean's incident took place on Princes Street, just beyond the junction with Frederick Street on 22 October 2012. He attempted to cross over the tram tracks, but his rear wheel slipped and he was thrown from his bicycle. ECC denied liability stating that both cyclists should have taken greater care when crossing the tracks. In her judgement, Lady Wolffe stated that both cyclists “bore no responsibility” for the incidents and awarded damages against ECC. 

Both of these cases were run as ‘test’ cases. The idea was that it would reduce the cost of raising multiple actions for the hundreds of cyclists injured and whatever the judgement, other cases would follow the same principle. Following these successful test cases, many assumed that the other cases under similar circumstances would be straightforward. Astonishingly, this has not been the case. 

The Council continue to contest cases by denying liability despite a previous finding against them. There is no doubt each case must be decided on its own merit, but in our experience, there seems to be no logic in ECC’s approach. We have acted for numerous injured cyclists following tram incidents and yet the approach taken by ECC is so predictable. Liability is denied forcing the injured into time-consuming litigation. Invariably, cases are settled, but only often after a contested and expensive litigation process. As a result, ECC incur the court costs as well. So, whilst the figure paid out in compensation is staggering, the reality of what is actually being paid by ECC, will be far higher. A different approach is urgently required as, at present, we would argue there is a complete mismanagement of taxpayers’ money.

This year marks the five-year anniversary of the death of Zhi Min Soh, who was tragically killed after it was suspected the wheels of her bicycle got trapped in the tram tracks at the junction between Princes Street and Queensferry Street and she fell into the path of a minibus. While this case proceeded against the insurer of the minibus rather than the ECC, it is a clear example of how dangerous the tram tracks are for cyclists when negotiating their way through moving vehicular traffic. 

Following the unnecessary loss of life, changes were made to improve cycle safety and the tracks at junctions. Red surfacing at recommended crossing points for cyclists and “Give cyclists space” signs were installed. However, this is simply not enough and accidents continue to happen. If one looks back to when the trams were first introduced in Edinburgh, cycling campaigners, Spokes, called for trams and bicycles to be kept separate by having designated safe cycle lanes. Why have such recommendations been ignored and why does the Council continue to deny liability?

The tram tracks are now being extended to Newhaven and are estimated to be completed by Spring of 2023.  Segregated cycle lanes are being installed in this phase; however, cyclists continue to be injured on the tram tracks at Leith Walk as they attempt to join the designated cycle lanes. In my opinion, the zig-zag cycle lane on Leith Walk is likely to put cyclists in conflict with pedestrians and create a further hazard. 

The £1.2 million paid already by the Council to injured cyclists will continue to rise, but we must stop and think about the human cost too. The suffering following painful injury, the loss of income from time taken off work to recover and NHS treatment costs. The question must be asked “why is this continuing to happen and what is ECC going to do about it?” Burying one’s head in the sand and fighting legal cases achieves nothing. The Council must get the infrastructure right and accept responsibility early to avoid ever soaring claims and costs.

Jodi Gordon – Partner at Cycle Law Scotland


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