Trams chief says sorry for city centre gridlock

TRAM chiefs have apologised for the "disastrous" diversions which brought the city centre to a standstill, as they prepare to go back to the drawing board to keep Edinburgh moving.

The first day of diversions around Princes Street caused gridlock yesterday as work to move utilities under The Mound junction saw traffic banned between Frederick Street and Hanover Street.

Drivers and bus passengers faced delays of up to an hour as the diversions, coupled with a number of traffic light failures, resulted in chaos.

Now, following crisis talks between the city council, tram firm TIE and Lothian Buses, buses were due to be allowed back on to Princes Street westbound from this morning.

Other emergency changes include additional signs to help drivers understand the new arrangements, more traffic wardens on duty at rush hour, additional road markings and new unloading and waiting restrictions to be placed on both sides of George Street between Frederick Street and Hanover Street.

A further meeting between police, council, bus and TIE representatives will take place this afternoon to address any further difficulties experienced by motorists during this morning's rush hour.

Police Sergeant Caroline McKay said: "The plans are pretty fluid at the moment – if they are not working they will be tweaked." She added that some drivers were not paying attention to the new diversions this morning .

The Evening News understands that buses may be allowed back eastbound if the same level of disruption continues today.

Driving groups and opposition politicians today demanded the mess was sorted out immediately, especially given the works are meant to last until April.

Willie Gallagher, executive chairman of TIE, said: "I would like to apologise for the delays to both bus passengers and drivers today as a result of the introduction of the temporary traffic management measures to undertake the utility works around The Mound.

"Despite careful modelling and planning, it was clear by the morning rush hour that the temporary traffic measures were not fully working.

"We would ask all bus passengers and drivers to allow a bit more time in making their normal journeys, and we will continue to monitor the improvements and changes over the next few days."

It is unclear why The Mound works were started in the middle of the week when previous major tram works, including Shandwick Place and Haymarket, were given "soft" launches at weekends to allow for any teething problems to be ironed out.

Pedestrians trying to get across George Street were left with no crossings after traffic lights put in to replace the zebra crossings failed, but these lights are expected to be working by early evening today.

Colin Barclay, 40, a Big Issue seller whose pitch is on the corner of George Street and Hanover Street said there had been a number of near misses.

He said: "I am astounded that nobody has been hurt yet on these crossings. It is just an accident waiting to happen and has been for weeks.

"People are using them like they still think they are zebra crossings, and there have been a few people getting abuse from van drivers for walking in front of them."

The congestion problems around the city centre have been exacerbated by ongoing tram works at Haymarket, as well as the closure of Canongate for resurfacing work.

Bruce Young, Lothian and Borders co-ordinator of the Association of British Drivers, said: "It is unacceptable that they can't get this sort of thing right from the start.

"But I believe that the long-term intention was to close The Mound to all traffic, so this is perhaps a sign of things to come.

"We are going to see them try and force people on to public transport by re-engineering the roads, so this is only the start of a deliberate policy to try and force a change in behaviour."

And politicians also rounded on tram bosses.

SNP Lothians MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville said today: "I am very disappointed that, just like on Leith Walk, TIE has not been able to make a good job of tram works on our city's main shopping street. The first day has proven to be completely disastrous for TIE and they will really need to work fast to sort this mess out as this is just not acceptable."

Councillor Andrew Burns, the city's Labour leader, said: "I know that some problems are to be expected, but the scale of what happened yesterday morning strongly suggests to me that the changes just have not been explained, publicised or communicated effectively."

Bus services passing through the busy Mound junction are currently being diverted via George Street or Market Street and Waverley Bridge. General traffic is being redirected via Market Street, Waverley Bridge, St David Street and then George Street or Queen Street.

The diversions will last until December, when the Christmas roadworks embargo starts, but will return in January when the rest of Princes Street closes to traffic for six months for tram track laying work.

Iain Coupar, marketing director for Lothian Buses, said: "We experienced delays of up to an hour on some services. The traffic lights sequence was not working well, and we had to cope with the sheer volume of traffic being funnelled on to George Street.

"On Princes Street it is buses only, but on George Street there are cars and lorries as well. So while the delays have been unacceptable, it is the first day, so hopefully we can a see a speedy resolution to this."

Utilities work on Walk to last until Christmas

WORK to move underground pipes on a busy stretch of Leith Walk for the city's tram project will last until Christmas.

The utilities diversion project at the bottom of Leith Walk was expected to be completed by June, then September, but tram bosses have today admitted the work has overrun again.

Manderston Street will be reopened within the next two weeks but other holes on Leith Walk between Stead's Place and Kirk Street will remain until December.

And the news comes as traders and residents face the start of preparation work to lay the tram tracks.

It is understood that problems with telecoms and gas sub-contractors are partly to blame for the hold-ups, but tram firm TIE today put the delay down to "operational challenges".

Traders today hit out at the level of disruption and poor information from TIE.

The overall programme for the tram line has not been affected by the latest delays.

Alan Rudland, vice-chairman of the Leith Walk and Constitution Street Traders Association, said: "It is crazy. I just don't see how they can possibly integrate both works in such a tight space – the logistics just don't add up.

"I am not surprised about the delays, though. The biggest problem for us and our members is that we are trying to keep people informed about these chances and the goalposts keep moving."

A spokesman for TIE said: "The utilities work continues to be on programme. In Leith Walk, TIE and Carillion have deployed additional resources and increased working hours to address the technical issues, and the operational challenges that continue to arise given the complexity of Leith Walk utilities.

"TIE appreciates the patience and co-operation of Leith Walk traders and residents during this period."

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