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Keeping “off-track”: Personal injury claims and tram tracks

Keeping “off-track”: Personal injury claims and tram tracks

The Edinburgh Trams have now been part of the city’s landscape for 5 years. The council voted to extend the tram to Newhaven with the new line scheduled to open in early 2023.

The recent opinion of the Court of Session in, Elizabeth Fairley v Edinburgh Trams Limited; and Iain Lowdean v Transport Initiatives Edinburgh Limited and City of Edinburgh, should give the planners some pause for thought when finalising the plans how the tracks interact with the cities fledging cycling infrastructure.

As someone who cycles through the centre of Edinburgh on a daily basis I’m well aware of the dangers the tracks create, be it slipping on the tracks, a wheel being caught in the tracks or being squeezed up against other traffic. In fact I’ve altered my route a couple of times in the last few years at points I don’t feel comfortable at with the tracks. The death of a student in May 2017 after her wheel  got caught in the tracks highlighted the potential risks to the wider public.

The opinion handed down by Lady Wolffe  focussed on two accidents on the tracks by cyclists, one at Haymarket and one on Princes Street. The accidents occurred when the cyclists were crossing the cycle tracks and a wheel became stuck in the tracks. The Pursuers argued that the design of the tracks and the flow of the traffic forced them to cross the tracks at a shallow angle.

Lady Wolffe found in favour of those claiming. At first blush, it appears she was keen not to provide any sweeping statements about the risks posed by the tracks. She focussed instead on the particular risks and circumstances of each accident. However those who have had an accident on the tracks should be encouraged by the content of her discussion.

Lady Wolffe noted that in assessing the potential hazards, consideration should be given to the level of traffic, weather, speed of the rider and their level of skill. She acknowledged the vast majority of cyclists will find themselves travelling at peak time. Accidents are more likely to occur at pinch points on the network where cyclists are required to perform unsafe manoeuvres . Establishing there was an obvious risk should not be difficult in the majority of cases. In my own experience, accidents happen when the roads are busy and cyclists find external factors pressuring them into having to proceed in a way they would not if the road was quiet.

This is an encouraging decision for cyclists in the capital. Hopefully the council opt for more segregated cycle lanes away from tram tracks such as those seen in cities such as Utrecht and Berlin. There is an acknowledgement that the tracks pose a danger. The advice in the past from the Council has more often than not focussed on the approach angle. This decision reflects the experience of those who use the routes, namely that with other traffic, pedestrians and obstacles this advice is not always applicable or useful. Lady Wolffe  states that “cyclists cannot be expected to make wise choices at all times.” Hopefully the work which has already been carried out to improve the design is applied to the rest of the network. The best protection however is segregated cycleways where possible.

Thomas Redpath is a Senior Solicitor in our specialist Personal Injury team. For further information, please contact Thomas on 0131 603 8364, email or contact any member of the Personal Injury team on 0800 731 8434 who will be pleased to assist further.

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