Edinburgh's tram system opens – £375m over budget and three years late
by Robin McKie
Sunday, 1 June 2014
The first passenger-carrying tram ran on Edinburgh's Princes Street at the weekend. Photograph: Rex
Edinburgh's problem-plagued tram system opened to paying customers on Saturday – three years behind schedule, more than two times over budget and limited to a route that covers less than half the network that had originally been planned for it.
The first service left the city's Gyle shopping centre at 5am. Passengers included tram enthusiasts Marjory Broom, 59, her husband George, 63, and son Christopher, 31. "It was chock-a-block, and it was a real carnival atmosphere on board, with people cheering as the tram set off," Marjory Broom told reporters.
Their joviality contrasted with the reactions of many other city residents who have endured six years of disruption as roads have been closed for construction – including a 10-month closure of Princes Street – while businesses have complained of lost trade. "I think the whole of Edinburgh is relieved that the programme is now in place and the city can move on. It's not a day for jubilation," Edinburgh city council chief executive Sue Bruce told BBC Breakfast, after admitting the tram project had been a "shambles".
This view was backed by Edinburgh city council transport convener Lesley Hinds: "You can't underestimate the amount of money over-budget and the time it's been over. That has been extremely frustrating and I think it's been damaging to Edinburgh."
Edinburgh's trams were almost scrapped only a few weeks before construction began in 2007 and later ground to a halt for months when the company in charge of the project fell into a bitter dispute with city authorities. In 2009, when David Mackay resigned as chairman of Transport Edinburgh Limited, which was then in charge of the project, he described the construction of the tram system as "hell on wheels".
The cost of the project was originally earmarked at £375m but has since reached £770m. However, interest costs that still have to be paid on loans raised to complete the project could take its final cost to more than £1bn.
The network was originally supposed to consist of several lines including branches to nearby Leith and Newhaven. All of these were scrapped as costs soared apart from the central line – which opened on Saturday – from the city centre to Edinburgh airport. A total of 27 trams will operate on the line, although only half of these will be in service at any one time. Each vehicle cost £2m, can carry 250 passengers (170 standing) and takes 35 minutes to complete the journey from airport to the system's city centre terminus at York Place. The route has 15 stops, three of which connect with rail and bus services.
Transport bosses are keeping their fingers crossed that the service will operate as promised. "This is a brand new system and, as we start to welcome passengers on board, we'll be keeping a very close eye on the service to make sure our customers get the best possible experience," said Ian Craig, chief executive of Transport for Edinburgh.
Source: The Observer UK.