Illuminated signs will be used to warn unwitting road users to watch out for Edinburgh’s high-speed trams as testing cranks up next week.
More than 150 test journeys will be made each day from Edinburgh Park to the Gogar tram depot starting from Tuesday.
It is the first time the state-of-the-art vehicles will have run along that three-mile section of line – and the first time they will come into contact with traffic and pedestrians.
The latest phase in preparing the £776 million route for full operation has prompted the city council to write to hundreds of employers and businesses in Edinburgh Park, Hermiston Gait and the Gyle centre, warning them about the potential risk posed by the “quiet” trams. Illuminated boards in Edinburgh’s western suburbs will run warnings about tram testing and encourage motorists to be wary of the vehicles, which can reach speeds of up to 45mph.
Posters will also be attached to poles along the section of line being tested as well as other busy public areas across the city to make sure as many people know about the testing as possible. The fresh set of tests will mean the trams crossing the road at two locations – Lochside Avenue and South Gyle Broadway.
The vehicles will also pass over junctions at both Edinburgh Park and Edinburgh Park Station.
Traffic lights and pedestrian crossings will be running at all four sites, but the council remains concerned about members of the public not used to the unfamiliar trams stepping out into their path.
City leaders are keen to avoid a repeat of the experience in Houston, Texas, where the launch of METRORail services resulted in an average 11 collisions per track mile per year as live operations started.
In a letter sent out to all traders in the area, the council warned: “Trams are quiet and you may not notice them until they are very close.”
City transport convener Cllr Lesley Hinds said of the testing: “This is another significant step in the tram project and moves us closer towards completion.
“It will take some time for people to get used to seeing trams running on street and both pedestrians and drivers will need to take extra care while everyone becomes familiar with them.
“I’ve seen first hand in Dublin how trams interact with traffic and as progress continues to be made along the route it’ll be important that people are aware of the differences.
“The target for service launch is now May 2014, but we’ll bring this forward if we can. However, it’s important to recognise the significance of this testing, commissioning and driver training programme. There is much to be done and it’s vital that all the appropriate tests and checks are made.”
The testing will continue five days a week from Monday to Friday until the eight-mile route from Edinburgh Airport to York Place goes live next year.
Only a few trams will pass through the Gyle and Edinburgh Park area at first before the frequency of tests builds over subsequent weeks to at least one vehicle on the track every ten minutes.
The council has warned that the trams:
• Make very little noise;
• Are wider than the tracks they run on;
• Are not separated by barriers from pedestrians on footways, or from other vehicles;
• Cannot swerve to avoid obstacles, though tram drivers can stop the tram quickly if required;
• Have a warning bell, which is sounded to alert nearby road users and pedestrians.
Pedestrians have been told to take extra care when using their mobiles or wearing headphones.
Cyclists have also been advised to cross the tracks at as close to a right angle as possible to avoid slipping or getting wheels stuck in between the gaps of the tram line.
Both drivers and cyclists have been strongly warned not to take gambles at the dangerous junctions.
A statement from the council said: “Wait for the green light. Don’t stop on the tracks or in the yellow boxes.”
A lengthy list of safety precautions includes looking both ways at tram crossing locations for passing vehicles, with parents told to supervise children around crossing locations.
People have also been warned not to touch the live overhead power lines along the stretch, which will carry a potentially lethal charge of 750 volts needed to power the route.
Full testing along the entire line, including Princes Street, is due to start from December 9 – a month-and-a-half after the scheduled end of roadworks linked to the troubled trams project.
The stretch of road from Haymarket Junction to Manor Place is expected to be freed from tram works from Saturday week.
Shandwick Place is due to reopen on October 19, ending more than 18 months of sustained misery for embattled traders in the West End.
The schedule for full testing will involve up to 180 “ghost trams” – vehicles empty of passengers that will run mainly at night – travelling along the full route.
Midnight trials along the likes of Princes Street are expected to avoid peak-time disruption and to avoid a public backlash at empty carriages cruising through the Capital.
Transport expert Simon Johnston, editor of Tramways and Urban Transit magazine, said: “Generally they try to do these things at less busy periods of the day – at night or first thing in the morning – but I’d imagine there would have to be a certain amount of peak-hour testing just so they can see how the vehicles interact with the environment around them.
“It’s probably better to do that without passengers on board in the first instance than it is to potentially disrupt services with a whole bunch of passengers on board the tram.”
Big difference between fares
SINGLE journeys along Edinburgh’s tram line will cost the same as a standard bus ticket, but premium fares out to Edinburgh Airport will set back travellers £4.50.
The Evening News revealed last month that a return pass to the airport terminal would cost £7.50 once the line starts running next year.
A single ticket on the trams will cost £1.50, matching any one-way trip with Lothian Buses.
A total of 52 ticket inspectors are being employed by Edinburgh City Council to police the 17 trams running at any one time. Atkins, one of the world’s top engineering consultants, has labelled having three inspectors for every tram in active service as excessive.
The council has justified the move by aiming for a record low fare evasion rate of three per cent.