Deep trouble on trams route
A NETWORK of tunnels under the city centre is hindering preparations for Edinburgh's £592 million tram line.
The extent and size of the tunnels - which were built to house cables for the Capital's first tram network more than 100 years ago - is understood to have taken engineers by surprise.
Safety checks to ensure the roads above the tunnels - which run from Leith Walk to Haymarket via Princes Street - are capable of carrying the trams is now expected to take longer.
The long-abandoned tunnels are around 3ft wide and 6ft tall and were used by mechanics to service huge cables that pulled tramcars around Edinburgh at the turn of the previous century.
Today TIE - the council-owned company in charge of the tram project - said it had taken the network of tunnels into account when it drew up its plans.
However, a source close to the project said the extent of the tunnel network had taken engineers by surprise and was making life more difficult for them.
The source said: "It is not as if they didn't know about these tunnels but the extent and size of them was certainly not fully appreciated. It has certainly not helped the project's timescale."
Work digging up the city's roads to divert utility pipes is still expected to get under way in June, although the company is yet to identify the areas where the first work will be carried out.
Initial work started this month - before being abandoned almost immediately for the Easter holidays - with a trial project to divert pipes and cables from the route.
The work at Ocean Drive in Leith will give contractor Alfred McAlpine a better idea of how work along the rest of the route will pan out. Details of the full programme of utilities diversions along the entire route from Newhaven to Edinburgh Airport are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
TIE said today it did not expect the tunnel network to create any problems for the construction. A spokesman for TIE said: "We have taken these [tunnels] into account when developing the design and construction of the scheme."
But the city's SNP leader Steve Cardownie, a staunch opponent of the trams scheme, raised concerns the tunnels could lead to more expensive work being needed.
He said: "These tunnels have been there for a long time and you would think that any issues would have been ironed out in advance.
"I worry that we will see problem after problem drip out if this project goes ahead and it will only push the final bill up."
Cable trams were introduced to Edinburgh in 1888 and ran until 1923, when they were replaced by electric trams. Edinburgh once boasted the fifth biggest cable tramway in the world, based on one in San Francisco.
Transport Minister Tavish Scott last month announced the Scottish Executive had given approval in principle to the tram scheme.
A final business case, including costings not yet available for the tram cars and installation of overhead lines, is expected to be approved in the autumn.
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