Tram gridlock fears: City vows to keep moving

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Transport chiefs today insisted they would be keeping city centre traffic under “close scrutiny” once the trams are up and running amid fresh fears of gridlock.

Network Rail’s decision to close Waverley Station to all taxis from Monday, coupled with ongoing complaints over traffic lights in the West End which give priority to the trams, have led to fears of chaos.

The trams are launching tomorrow. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The trams are launching tomorrow. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Engineers have been visible all though the city centre this week working on sequencing and traffic light issues as tomorrow’s tram launch day looms into view.

Transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds insisted plans were in place to cope.

She said: “As with any brand new public transport system there is always going to be a need to keep things under close scrutiny, especially immediately prior to it going live and in the days and weeks after launch.

“Throughout the weekend we’ll have several layers of cover to deal with emerging issues with traffic control.

“It’s been widely publicised that junctions can become blocked due to poor road driver behaviours – for example stopping on yellow boxes, illegal stopping on South St Andrew Street or red light running – and this can interrupt traffic signal phasing and cause hold-ups for the trams and other road traffic alike. We’ll also keep a very close eye on parking issues within the city centre and a tow truck will be on standby to remove any vehicles causing blockages along the tram route.”

Motorists and taxi drivers have told of long waits at lights, with trams unable to exit South St Andrew Street because of tailbacks on Princes Street.

Lengthy delays have also been experienced on The Mound and along Waverley Bridge.

The decision to close Waverley Station to taxis will result in 100 permit-holding taxis being forced out on to the surrounding streets with no rank for them to use.

Cabbie Gerry Maguire said: “I don’t think anyone understands the implications.

“Taxis will still need to pick up and drop off passengers. Waverley Bridge and the city centre will be an absolute mess.

“It’s bad enough at the moment, but the whole city centre will grind to a standstill.”

Independent planning and transport expert Robert Drysdale has kept a keen eye on tram preparations within the city centre and said he was surprised at the level of work still being carried out.

He said: “It seems incredible that there should still be these problems so close to launch.

“I was in Princes Street and two Siemens vans were visible – one opposite Princes Mall and the other in Hanover Street – with engineers working on control boxes, but apparently struggling to overcome the obvious problems.”

Another problem which has been flagged is the pedestrian light-controlled crossing on Hanover Street at Rose Street, which causes tailbacks because it is not linked into the traffic lights at Princes Street and George Street.

Mr Drysdale said: “Siemens engineers were trying to sort this but all they seemed to be managing to do was to switch the lights off from time to time, causing confusion to pedestrians.”

Network Rail has insisted that it will press ahead with plans to ban all traffic from Waverley Station on Monday, amid claims restrictions are being rushed through and have been poorly thought-out. Cabbies who have paid £1800 for a permit will have their money refunded.

Bosses have been warned the move could cause congestion outside the station, put pedestrians’ lives at risk and make life a nightmare for disabled travellers.

Council chiefs, disabled charities and cabbies have all called for the move to be postponed at least until the end of July when the Market Street taxi rank is due to be finished.

Last week, church minister Rev Tom Sinclair was killed when he was knocked over by a reversing car, with witnesses suggesting the driver had tried to enter the station only to find his way blocked by Network Rail security barriers.