JUST over £100 million is left to pay for Edinburgh’s troubled tram project – as council bosses confirmed it could open at least six months earlier than planned.
• £776 million revised budget for trams project
• Passenger services still expected to run by summer 2014
Figures released on Monday showed £669m has been spent to date on the project with just one section completed – the tram vehicle depot at Gogarburn.
Edinburgh City Council says full test runs of the scheme are now due to begin “by early 2014”, with chief executive Sue Bruce pledging that “every effort” is being made to improve the planned start of passenger services that summer.
Ms Bruce said the whole project remains in line with a revised budget of £776m set by the council a year ago when the Scottish Government agreed to take control of the scheme.
The previous cost had been £545m, with the council making up the remainder on top of the Scottish Government’s grant of £500m, which MSPs approved shortly after the SNP came to power at Holyrood in 2007.
With Alex Salmond’s administration refusing to stump up any additional funding, the council is having to borrow millions of pounds over the next 30 years to make up the massive funding shortfall, with the final bill expected to top £1 billion when the costs of repaying the loan are included.
The Scotsman revealed earlier this month how secret talks were ongoing to try to get the first public tram services up and running in time for Christmas next year.However, major disruption is still expected in some areas, including Shandwick Place, well into next summer, while work to move underground utilities along the route from Edinburgh Airport to the city centre are due to continue until next spring.
The overall figure has leapt up £78m in the space of only six months. Although work on the project has been under way for well over five years, almost £260m has been spent over the last 18 months, since peace talks to resolve a bitter dispute at the heart of the project.
Although work on most sections of the route is due to continue for well over a year, test runs will be carried out between the airport and the tram depot within the next few weeks.
In her report, Ms Bruce states: “It has been indicated previously that passenger revenue services will be ready for summer 2014. Every effort is being made to improve upon that.”
Lesley Hinds, the council’s transport leader, said: “The tram is Scotland’s second largest infrastructure project and, as everyone knows, there have been a number of challenges to overcome. However, I’m very pleased that we are continuing to move in the right direction. It’s vital that we build on this progress.”
Holyrood transport minister Keith Brown said: “Since the new governance arrangements were put in place last year, Transport Scotland has played a key role in supporting the council and contractor in getting the trams project back on track, and I am pleased to see that this report shows considerable progress has been made by all those involved with the project since September last year.
”However, we shouldn’t forget that many people and businesses in Edinburgh have been inconvenienced by the tram works, and everyone involved owes it to them to ensure the project is delivered by the summer of 2014.”
But tram critic John Carson, a former head of maintenance at Network Rail, told The Scotsman: “There is not a single part of the project completed anywhere outside of the tram depot and you only have to walk around the city to see how much work still has to be done.
“I can’t see any chance of them being able to get it up and running early at this point, as there would be no point in only opening part of the route.”