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INSIDE TRACK: Capital tram system will bring new risks to roads

WITH May upon us, the capital is gearing up for the transport event of a generation as its long-awaited trams finally start rolling.

No launch date has been announced yet, but before the month is out Edinburgh's long-suffering public should see the six-year project wound up and routine passenger journeys between the city centre and the airport under way at last.

In preparation, it emerged drivers have been undergoing specialist training on how to handle emergency situations, such as removing a dead body trapped beneath a tram - one of 12 "worst-case scenarios".

It might seem morbid, but the reality is that with this new mode of transport will come a fresh set of traffic dangers as other road users adjust.

In the 10 years since Nottingham launched its Express Transit system there have been three fatal collisions, while the Sheffield Supertram saw an initial spike of two deaths and 15 serious injuries in the first three years of operation, from 1994 to 1997, although this has dwindled to just two fatalities in the last decade.

Part of the risk around trams is that they are quieter than other road transport and take longer to stop. The stopping distance for an Edinburgh tram travelling at 20mph is 91ft compared to 39ft for a bus travelling at the same speed.

There are no other tram systems in Scotland, but the Department for Transport gathers accident figures on eight tram and light rail networks south of the Border.

The statistics show crashes involving the vehicles fell from a peak of 45 in 2005 to 26 in 2012. The majority of road users killed or injured - 88 from a total of 271 over eight years - were pedestrians. Among the victims were a 37-year-old man who was killed in Sheffield in 2011 when he ran in front of a tram, and a 13-year-old girl who suffered "catastrophic injuries" when she was flung 15ft through the air after being struck by a 50-tonne tram in Nottingham in 2012.

After pedestrians, tram occupants are the next most likely to be hurt - typically in slips and falls if the vehicle stops suddenly or derails. There were 83 incidents of tram occupant injury between 2005-2012. The cost of compensating commuters was highlighted in San Francisco last year when it emerged the city was paying out an average of $12 million (£7.1m) a year in damages to passengers who had suffered broken bones, bruises and severed feet in the city's crowded cable cars. In one of the worst incidents, five passengers were injured last February after a streetcar struck a bolt. The conductor suffered facial and tongue lacerations, while the driver was left with internal injuries and cracked ribs.

After pedestrians and passengers, motorists are next most likely to be involved in crashes with trams - accounting for 57 of the incidents recorded by the DfT. Although concerns have been raised about the risk to cyclists, the experience south of the Border shows pedal-bikes were involved in just 6% of collisions - 16 out of the 271. Scottish figures show that road safety generally is improving and, with the right training and culture in place, the traffic risks should be kept to the minimum

Contextual targeting label: 
Automotive

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