Eyewitnesses speak of horror following tram track death

A cyclist has died after appearing to get her bike wheel stuck in a tram track and then being hit by a tour bus in the first fatal accident linked to the city’s tramline.

The 24-year-old died from her injuries shortly after the accident at the junction of Princes Street and Lothian Road during rushhour yesterday morning. Witnesses have described how the bus driver had no time to react as the cyclist, who has not yet been named, fell in its path.

Floral tributes have been paid to the 24-year-old cyclist. Picture; Jon Savage

Floral tributes have been paid to the 24-year-old cyclist. Picture; Jon Savage

A law firm representing 141 cyclists injured by falling on the Capital’s tramlines said the council had failed to heed warnings about the risks and called for “urgent action” to make the tracks safer to cross.

Patrick McGuire, a partner at Thompson’s solicitors said: “Almost two years ago to the day I spoke out about the need for urgent action to be taken by the council to make the tram lines safer for cyclists because if it wasn’t we would be facing a fatality.

READ MORE: Tram lawyers: ‘We warned you 2 years ago a cyclist would die’

“No action was taken to make these safety improvements. Today’s awful accident is heartbreaking and all the more so because this should not have happened.

The cyclist was hit by a Rabbies tour bus at the west end of Princes Street. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The cyclist was hit by a Rabbies tour bus at the west end of Princes Street. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

“Those with responsibility over this matter must take a long hard look at themselves today.”

Mr McGuire claimed other UK cities with tram systems – which include Sheffield, Manchester and Croydon – had not experienced anywhere near the same levels of accidents as Edinburgh.

Earlier this year, Edinburgh’s Court of Session heard the number of bike-tram accidents in the Capital was “significantly higher” than other UK cities, a claimed previously disputed by the council. It has been suggested that the accident rate in Edinburgh might be higher than in other cities due to greater efforts to collate accident statistics here following extensive campaigning and publicity surrounding the potential risks.

A city council spokesman said: “We were very saddened to hear of the tragic accident involving a cyclist and a minibus in the city centre.

Police tape off the scene of the accident at the west end of Princes Street. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Police tape off the scene of the accident at the west end of Princes Street. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the young woman.

“At this time, we cannot speculate on the circumstances of the accident but we will work with Police Scotland as they continue their investigations.”

The 16-seater minibus operated by Rabbie’s Tours was carrying visitors from a number of different countries, including the US and Norway, on a day trip to the West Highlands.

One passenger, who did not want to be named, said: “The bus had stopped at the traffic light and the bike pulled up alongside in front.

“As we started off it looked to me like their bicycle got caught in the tracks and they fell over right in front of the bus.

“It looked to me as if she was stuck and lost her balance trying to pull the bike. It’s a very difficult situation. I don’t think there was anything she [the driver] could do.”

A spokesman for the firm said: “We are deeply saddened by the news and our thoughts and sympathies are with the woman’s family and friends.

“We are giving our full assistance to the police officers investigating the incident.

“We are also supporting our colleague involved in the incident, who is extremely shaken and upset.”

Cycling campaign group Spokes said it had discussed safety concerns for cyclists with the council ten to 15 years ago when the tram line’s layout was being decided.

Campaigner Ian Maxwell said yesterday’s tragedy made it clear more needed to be done to make the tracks safer for both cyclists and pedestrians.

He said: “Spokes members and all Edinburgh cyclists send their sympathy at this tragic loss. We know that there are lots of things that could be done to make central Edinburgh safer and more pleasant for cyclists and pedestrians.

“We urge the new council to act swiftly and decisively to make these changes.”

READ MORE: Spokes: ‘safety measures could have reduced chances of tram track tragedy’

The council said it took road safety “extremely seriously” and constantly reviewed its measures to ensure the Capital’s roads were safe for all users, including cyclists.

A spokesman added: “Cycle safety is of utmost importance to the council and to this end we have gone to every effort to raise awareness of the impact of the tram on all road users.

“Since before the launch over three years ago we have carried out extensive awareness-raising activity both online and on-street, in partnership with other organisations, much of which has focused specifically on cyclists.

“As part of this, markings were added to the road at Haymarket to direct cyclists along the safest possible routes.

“Like many other European cities, Edinburgh now incorporates both cyclists and trams and, as in these cities, cyclists are advised to take care when travelling near the tram 
tracks.

“The council advises: ‘Anyone cycling near to and around the tram tracks should take care while they get used to them, especially in wet weather conditions as the tracks will be slippery. It’s best to cross the tracks as close to a right angle as possible and to take extra care to avoid getting wheels caught in between the rail grooves.’”

The accident happened at about 8.30am and a cordon was put in place for around two hours while investigation work was carried out.

The cyclist is believed to have been riding a traditional road bike with the kind of narrower tyres which make it easier to get trapped in the tracks. A number of safety moves have been considered and ruled out as ineffective in recent years.

Police are now appealing for anyone with information about the collision to get in touch.

Sergeant Fraser Wood, of the Road Policing Unit in Edinburgh, said: “Sadly, as a result of this collision, the young woman sustained injuries that she could not recover from. Our sympathies are with her family and friends at this time.

“As part of our ongoing investigation we remain keen to speak to members of the public who witnessed this incident, or who have information that can assist us in establishing the full circumstances of what happened.”

Those with information are asked to call 101 and quote incident number 643 of May 31.

In a separate incident, a cyclist sustained minor injuries after being involved in a collision with a car on Causewayside at 5.20pm. Inquires into the incident are ongoing.

Our readers share their views on the accident

Yesterday’s incident sparked a strong reaction on social media. Here’s what some of our readers had to say.

Paul Sutherland: “So very sad. RIP. Just a waiting game until this happened. Very surprised it hasn’t happened sooner.”

Helen Lee-Keenan: “So very sad but an accident waiting to happen. Cyclists and tram tracks should never be together.”

Ron Valentine: “I really hate to post this but I wrote to the council before these trams were running warning this could happen. I didn’t want it to happen, but today I was proved right unfortunately.”

Chris Ryan: “I seem to remember more than one warning that exactly this incident would happen. If there is going to be trams, cyclists are going to have to be banned from the routes.”

Mark Ramsay: “I’ve also fallen a couple times on the tram tracks as a cyclist and hate riding the tram tracks especially in the winter. Condolences to the cyclist and her family and friends.”

Mark Anderson: “A real tragedy. I wouldn’t cycle along Princess Street or any of the other tramways. It’s just too easy to trap a wheel.”

Chash McTernan Kariuki: “This happened to my daughter’s boyfriend on Princes Street not long time ago, he was lucky to escape with no injuries apart from his helmet broken from the ground impact. He got shaken and he has not used the bicycle since that incident.”

Analysis from Spokes

Spokes, along with every traveller, is distressed at the dreadful death of someone making the kind of journey we all make every day, only to be caught in a road crash tragedy.

Our thoughts are with family and friends.

Surgeon Professor Chris Oliver has analysed an astonishing 192 cycling and 53 walking tramline-related injuries treated at the Royal Infirmary.

Sadly, the tramline problems originate 10-15 years ago, when the layout was decided with inadequate consideration to cycling – and indeed to walking – despite advice from a Netherlands transport designer whom Spokes brought over.

We hope Lord Hardie’s inquiry into tram decision-making will identify why decisions on the layout did not take this issue more seriously.

Subsequent councils have had to deal with the aftermath.

The council has managed to reduce crashes significantly at the top blackspot, outside Haymarket station, with a brightly-coloured lane highlighting the dangers.

However, much more needs done there and elsewhere to reduce the continuing toll of injuries – and now Edinburgh’s first tramline death.

The West End junction is another blackspot, where traffic pressures, combined with a corner, often mean that a cyclist is forced into crossing tramlines at a poor angle.

One solution might be advance cycle traffic lights, allowing the cyclist precious seconds to cross the tramlines before motor vehicles. We proposed another option in our Bulletin no.123 (see Spokes.org.uk/bulletin).

The council must act swiftly to install such measures at all tramline danger points, and any tram extension must have cyclist and pedestrian safety as a top criterion.

A continuing policy of reducing city centre motor traffic will also lessen the pressures that contribute to this and other types of crash.

Only through determined council action can central Edinburgh become as safe and attractive a place as it deserves to be.