Tramline dangers

Tramline dangers

judge's gavel and documents
I was cycling in Edinburgh recently and came across a lot of new tram tracks in the city center. In places, the road design obliged me to cross them at a shallow angle. Knowing the risks, I crossed them as perpendicularly as I could and avoided any mishap. But I understand that there have been many incidents of cyclists falling on these tram tracks, breaking both bones and bikes. Had I fallen too, what recourse would I have? Is the council liable?

Cycling UK member who requested anonymity

The risks are reduced if the tramlines are flush with the road surface and if cycle traffic is designed to cross at a 90-degree angle. Warning signs also help to reduce risk. Ideally, tramlines ought to be segregated from cyclists but this is often not feasible.

The Edinburgh tram system has been extremely unpopular due to massively running over budget and the enormous disruption that the overrunning construction caused. There also has been much criticism of the design of the city’s tramlines, which have resulted in many cyclists suffering injuries. Many civil claims brought against Edinburgh City Council by injured cyclists are proceeding through the courts and await resolution.

In 2004 the Court of Appeal upheld an appeal brought by William Roe against four defendants: Sheffield City Council, South Yorkshire Light Rail Ltd, South Yorkshire Supertram Ltd, and Balfour Beatty Power Construction Ltd. In 1995, Mr Roe suffered serious injuries when he lost control of his car when it skidded on the wet tramline which was proud of the road surface by between 5mm and 10mm. In that case, proceedings were brought on the basis that all the defendants knew or ought to have known that the protruding rails were dangerous and slippery, particularly in wet weather.

It was alleged that the council were in breach of their statutory duty under section 41 of the Highways Act 1980 to maintain the road so that it was level. Similar allegations were made against the Supertram companies but with reliance on statutory requirements to lay the tracks level, which are contained in The South Yorkshire Light Rail Transit Act 1988 (incorporating part of the Tramways Act 1870).

This is a complex area of the law and each case turns on its own facts. However, it is possible, in my opinion, to establish breach of duty against a council on the basis that a road was poorly designed and/or a tramline was constructed in a way which caused a risk to road users. Liability, in my view, could be established on the basis that the design of the tramline, or a road or cycle path which crosses it, had created a hazard to road users.

Cyclists need to exercise extreme caution when crossing tramlines. Cross them slowly at a 90-degree angle. Take the primary riding position to deter motorists overtaking so that the tracks can be crossed safely. If the tracks are oblique to the direction of travel, then move further out to enable them to be crossed a 90-degree angle.

In the event of injuries caused by a spill in these circumstances, Cycling UK members can contact Slater and Gordon through the Cycling UK Legal Services Scheme for free advice.

Paul Kitson

Partner from Slater and Gordon Lawyers

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