Posted 26th August 2011 | 7 Comments

Edinburgh city centre tram dreams are shattered

This will now be the last tram in Princes Street, placed on display there a year ago. The lines which have been built on this section have become redundant

This will now be the last tram in Princes Street, placed on display there a year ago. The lines which have been built on this section have become redundant

EDINBURGH councillors have voted to abandon a key section of the city's new tram line along Princes Street to St Andrew Square.

Following a warning that completing the route through the city centre could now cost £1 billion, it has been decided to limit the service to the section between the airport and Haymarket.

The crisis talks in the council chamber included LibDem councillors still urging completion of the line along Princes Street, but they were opposed by Labour and Conservative members, who won the day when the LibDems' coalition partner the SNP abstained.

A Labour resolution to abandon the Princes Street section was backed by the Tories, and passed with 25 votes.

Andrew Burns, the Labour Leader on the council, said: "The decision to complete the tram project to Haymarket is clearly the option with least risk and which leaves the city with an asset. It was the only option before council which provided a viable way forward, and I am glad that the council supported that option."

But council leader Jenny Dawe described the decision as 'hearbreaking'. She added: "I am really angry that Labour and Tory Councillors have rejected the professional advice of our chief executive and officers and some of the most highly regarded legal, technical, financial and engineering experts in the country.

"This was the option that was supported by the business community within the city and would have seen a profit realised."

Councillors had a new report before them which said completion to St Andrew Square would incur borrowing costs of £15.4 million a year for the next 30 years.

The price of abandoning the scheme altogether has also fallen more than once recently. Put at £750 million in June, which would have been only £20 million less than carrying on, the price tag for scrapping the project has now fallen to £651 million, while the cost of continuing through the city centre has risen to around £1 billion, once borrowing costs are taken into account.

The project, which is more than three years behind schedule, has been mired in a long-running dispute between contractors Bilfinger Berger and the council-owned tram development company TIE, whose own future is now in doubt.

Meanwhile, the city has bought 27 CAF-built trams which presently have nowhere to go. Tram chiefs have been trying to sell some of them to other operators, both in Britain and around the world, but so far without success.

One rebuff has come from Transport for London, which needs more trams for its increasingly busy network in the Croydon area. After being offered a leasing deal by TIE, TfL has now ordered six new trams from the Swiss builder Stadler instead.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Keith Muir, Edinburgh, Scotland

    This same pro tram propaganda is trotted out ad nauseum by toy tram fanatics at every turn. Maybe we should use all of their money to build a line with continually escalating costs and see how keen they are then?

  • jak ganley, sutton, united kingdom

    There Is No Way It Should Cost 1billion To Construct A Tramway Someone
    Is Making Shed Loads Of Cash. Maybe Its The Same Cowboys Who Built
    The WCML Upgrade Which Is STILL Collapsing Every Week.

  • Rob, West Yorkshire

    What a short-sighted decision. The UK takes another step back into the dark ages on transport. We must be the least advanced European country regarding transport. Even some former USSR countries have better infrastructure. We look a shambolic disgrace.

  • Brian eastwood, Richmond VA, USA

    Does anyone have any explanation for the extraordinary incompetence of the parties responsible for the planning, supervision and execution of the original scheme?

  • Geraint Griffiths, chester, England

    What a joke.

  • Tony Pearce, Reading, UK

    A disaster like this only turns other Councils away from investing in such schemes.

    Places like Bristol could have made their proposed Tram system work but when they observe this cock-up which Councillors would ever want to risk a Tram project in their Town.

    I'm a great believer in free-enterprise with private capital. If they can raise the money, then the project can probably be done and run at a profit. Schemes financed by the Tax-payer often go horribly wrong.

    Memo to HS2 planners.....Let private enterprise build it but don't use Public money.

  • Joel Kosminsky, London, Britain

    Trams ('light rail') are now modern, quiet, virtually non-polluting transport for great numbers of people. Every modern tram system has been a key factor in business and leisure growth, car movement scale-backs, population mobility and new jobs in the locales served.

    New trams also generate new bus routes as feeders, giving more opportunity in every sense, and through ticketing encourages travel. However, as is usual in Britain, the cost-benefit analysis was 'amended' to deliver the project when a more honest CoBA would show better overall returns but later... Those arguing against have not examined the bigger benefits because they are longer term, which isn't compatible with balance sheets and election results.