UP TO 60 cyclists injured in accidents on the city’s tram lines are set to sue Edinburgh City Council for more than half a million pounds in compensation.
The riders, who have sustained broken bones and ligament damage after slipping on the metal tracks, have launched legal action against city transport authorities.
Last night, lawyers claimed the cases could be the “tip of the iceberg” after an orthopaedic surgeon at an Edinburgh hospital reported a steady stream of cases since the tramlines were laid. Lawyers also warned that they thought only around a third of all accidents had so far been reported.
The cyclists claim the design of the tramlines and warning signs currently in place amount to negligence by city transport authorities. They are demanding compensation and improvements to the system to prevent further incidents. They claim that other cities with tram networks have not suffered the same high level of accidents.
The first test case is due to heard at Edinburgh’s Court of Session by November. If successful, the city could have to pay out as much as £10,000 per claimant – potentially a total of more than £500,000.
A third of cyclists making claims sustained fractures in falls – three with broken collarbones and three with broken wrists.
One cyclist suffered broken toes after being run over by a bus. The rest suffered cuts, bruises, sprains or ligament damage.
Stewart White, an associate dealing with accident claims at Edinburgh personal injury lawyers Thompson Solicitors, said there were six accidents in the first week after the tram tracks were initially laid on Princes Street in 2009 – and a steady stream had been seen since.
“It has got to the point where it is ridiculous,” he said. “The council claims it is trying to encourage active travel, but the moment you ride a bike anywhere there is a tram track, you take your chances.
“We’re confident of proceeding and that a successful judgment will pave the way for settling the remainder. The council have repudiated liability in every case. The position has been that the tram tracks are there to be seen, and that’s it.”
He added: “I personally have witnessed a couple of accidents involving the tram tracks which have not been part of the legal action and we estimate there are many more which have gone unreported.
“We believe we are only looking at about one-third of the number of cases here having been reported. It is the tip of the iceberg.”
Prior to the tramlines being laid, in a report commissioned by the council’s arms-length company behind the project, Tie, Dutch experts Goudappel Coffeng suggested a “dedicated bi-directional cycle lane”, which would keep cyclists away from the trams.
“They need to look back at the advice they received from the Dutch experts before they ever laid a tram track,” added Mr White.
Chris Oliver, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and a keen cyclist himself, said there had been a noticeable increase in the number of patients treated following cycling accidents since the tram tracks were laid.
He said: “There have been no fatalities yet, but we have had quite a lot of fairly serious injuries. We see a lot of fractures to the upper body – wrists, clavicles and so on. We can do the best we can to fix them, but some of these people will be left with long-term disabilities which will affect their working life. It is very sad.”
He added: “It just should not be happening. The design of the tracks is just bad – this hasn’t happened like this in Sheffield or Croydon.”
The cyclists say the tracks should have rubber covers on them, known as “Velostrail” which would help stop bikes from becoming trapped but still allow the trams to travel on the line.
Other options include removing all traffic from the north side of Princes Street and introducing a traffic light-controlled right turn at Haymarket, where a large proportion of the accidents have taken place.
Cyclists are told to cross tram tracks at an angle of between 45 and 90 degrees to prevent accidents, but experts say that is nearly impossible on a busy road.
Dave de Feu, organiser of cycling group Spokes, said: “One problem is that the wheels get stuck in the gaps, but the other issue is when bikes skid along the tracks, especially when it is wet.”
He added: “We understand that Velostrail is very difficult to put in and extremely expensive, so we are not saying this should be the only option.”
Duncan Wallace, 43, a keen cyclist who smashed his wrist in December, leading to an operation to insert a metal plate on Christmas Eve, said: “It was a wet day and my bike wheels slipped into the tram track. When that happens, you have no choice, your bike just collapses.
“As I fell, my wrist was jammed into the raised central reservation in the middle of Princes Street and was smashed really badly.
“I think it is negligent of the council not to have rubber covers on the line. The cost of not having them is showing up in NHS Lothian A&E.”
Fellow biker David Steele, 55, a keen cyclist and engineer who clocks up 7,000 miles a year on his bike, said his head was nearly crushed when he fell off his bike while crossing tram tracks at Haymarket on 4 January.
He said: “I got my front wheel across the first tram track and the next thing I know, I’m lying on my back looking up at a bus which is just over the top of my head. If it hadn’t stopped, I would have been crushed.”
Councillor Lesley Hinds, Edinburgh’s transport convener, said the council could not comment on pending legal cases.
She added: “In terms of cycling, the council advises that anyone cycling near to and around the tram tracks should take care while they get used to them, especially in wet weather as the tracks will be slippery.”
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