‘Edin’ for a fine future

Trams glide effortlessly along Princes Street. And they are popular - a year into Edinburgh Trams’ operation, more than 370,000 extra passengers are using the system against the anticipated figures. 

Yet this is a system that had a difficult (and well-documented) birth. A quick search on Google quotes prices of £231 million and £375m over budget. “Three years late” is also mentioned in headlines. Type in “Edinburgh trams delays” and the word “fiasco” comes up. Troubled, it is fair to say, would be an apt description. 

In total, the scheme cost £776m. Funding had first been confirmed in 2003 at an initial £345m, with the launch date for the project set at that time for 2008. In 2004, a 15-year operating deal was awarded to Transdev for the operation and maintenance of the network… in 2009 that was cancelled! 

Bills for the reintroduction of trams in Edinburgh were passed by the Scottish Government in 2006… at which point funding of the entire system was deemed not possible. The two surviving lines were then split into four phases. These were: 

  • Phase 1a - Newhaven to Edinburgh Airport via Princes Street. 
  • Phase 1b - Haymarket to Granton Square via Crewe Toll.
  • Phase 2 - Granton Square to Newhaven.
  • Phase 3 - extending the airport line to Newbridge.

In 2007, the first big threat appeared when the Scottish National Party (SNP) vowed to cancel the scheme to save money. The SNP-led minority government agreed to continue with the scheme provided no more public money was spent. The city’s council cancelled Phase 1b in 2009, which saved £75m. 

Construction began in 2008, by which time costs had risen to £521m. Opening was then set for 2011 with an original budget of £545m, but in 2009 a dispute over changes to the project between Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (Tie, the now defunct city council tram developer) and Bilfinger Berger (which built the scheme), resulted in further disruption and delays. Interest payments over the next 30 years will reportedly cost the council £228m.

In June 2011 the council voted to continue with the scheme, but two months later voted to cut the section from the airport to Haymarket, reducing the cost to £715m. Then a decision was made to reverse that. On November 29 2011, York Place was announced as the eastern terminus. 

The trams were built in Zaragoza, in Spain, by Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF). Because of the various cutbacks, only 17 of the 27 vehicles are needed. 

There is an inquiry into the project’s troubled history, launched in June last year by then First Minister Alex Salmond. On May 27 Lord Hardie, the chairman of the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry, issued a formal call for persons or organisations wishing to be designated ‘core participants’ in the inquiry to come forward.

Yet there is also praise for the system. In January last year, Norwegian officials confirmed they would use Edinburgh as a blueprint for Oslo’s system, which The Scotsman described as ailing. 

Prior to the launch on May 31 2014, trams had last served Scotland’s capital in November 1956. Proposals for their return had surfaced in the 1990s, and initially it was suggested they would run from Newhaven to Princes Street. Three lines were subsequently suggested, with further destinations. 

May 31 marked the first year anniversary, and official figures show that 4.92 million journeys were made in that period. 

“The first birthday was a very exciting day for all of us because it rounded off a hugely significant year for everyone involved,” says Tom Norris, director and general manager of Edinburgh Trams. 

“We’ve beaten our targets and we’re on the right path. The success we’ve worked so hard to achieve is down to the commitment and hard work of everyone involved in delivering the service day in day out.

“We were absolutely delighted with the initial surge of interest when we launched, but even more grateful that the local and visiting public have continued to give us their support.

“We have developed the service over the first year and we’ll continue to improve and adapt to keep our passengers happy, while being ready to take advantage of opportunities that come our way. The airport is growing, Transport for Edinburgh is developing well, a new tram stop will link us to the Fife line, and our city is going from strength to strength. We’re ready to be at the centre of that development and part of the continued success of Edinburgh.”

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