A LIGHTNING storm crippled the city’s trams, leaving carriages powerless on the track for two hours just a fortnight before the route is officially opened to the public.
A section of the long-awaited network – due to accept passengers for the first time on May 31 – was struck by lightning on Tuesday afternoon.
Trams – which are being tested daily ahead of the launch date – did not run between the Gyle depot and the city centre for nearly two hours, and eight were stranded powerless mid-route.
Council officials said the lightning prompted “temporary power issues” but the link between the Gyle and the airport was unaffected.
The incident prompted warnings that a repeat could “paralyse the whole city centre”. But despite concerns about travel chaos after the launch of the controversial £776 million project, the council said the two-hour disruption to the network was a “good opportunity” to test its emergency responses.
The incident – which took place at around 4.20pm, during a late-afternoon deluge in the Capital – also embarrassingly hampered tram trips for transport delegates attending a conference at Murrayfield.
“The delegates had been promised a ride into town on the tram and the organisers were making a big song and dance of it,” one source told the Evening News. “Unfortunately, the delegates were let down as the tram was struck by lightning and the whole system wasn’t working.”
But officials insisted that the attendants of the Album Conference at Murrayfield, organised by Lothian Buses, got their promised tram trip later that day. The power went back on at about 6.10pm.
Lothian Tory MSP Cameron Buchanan said he had heard that the lightning strike had left one tram blocking traffic at Haymarket, though tram bosses denied that.
And Mr Buchanan called for emergency plans to be put in place before the next time lightning struck. He said: “This is definitely something that has not been thought about and it just adds to people’s frustration about the project. We need to know what happens in these situations. We get lightning quite regularly in Edinburgh. What happens if people are on the trams?
“If trams are left powerless at junctions, it paralyses the whole city centre.
“People need reassurance that this kind of problem will not happen again and the next time we have lightning the whole place won’t come to a shuddering halt.”
Edinburgh Pentlands MSP Gordon MacDonald also said the public needed reassurance that another strike would not disrupt city transport.
“I have always been concerned that the trams by their very length have the potential to be a roadblock at major junctions,” he said. “Assurances need to be sought from the tram operator that contingency plans are in place in order that existing traffic congestion is not made worse by a tram breakdown. We also need to be clear about what would happen to the tram passengers if there was a repeat of the lightning strike and the resultant loss of power on the line.”
Edinburgh Trams said when the power was lost, three trams were at the stops at Haymarket, the West End and York Place with five others on the off-road section of the route.
General manager Tom Norris said: “Lightning hit part of the tram infrastructure in the Gyle area which gave us temporary power issues. This provided a good opportunity for us to test our emergency procedures.”