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Norwegians’ admiration for Edinburgh trams

The tram stop and crossing to Edinburgh Park at the Gyle shopping centre. Picture: TSPL

The tram stop and crossing to Edinburgh Park at the Gyle shopping centre. Picture: TSPL

  • by ALASTAIR DALTON
 

NORWEGIAN transport chiefs have admitted they are envious of Edinburgh’s new tram line and will use it as a blueprint to help mastermind a major overhaul of Oslo’s ailing system.

The company which co-ordinates transport in the Norwegian capital said despite major delays and cost over runs, Edinburgh’s trams would run faster and cost far less to maintain than their own when they start operating in four months.

The firm, Ruter, is also keen to learn lessons from re-introducing trams to a historic city as it plans more line extensions in Oslo.

Officials are planning further visits to the Scottish capital after Ruter business development director Hanne Norli toured the Edinburgh operation this week.

She told a meeting of the Nordic Horizons group at the Scottish Parliament that lack of investment in the past meant Oslo’s current trams were now too heavy for their tracks, unreliable and very expensive to maintain. She said unlike Edinburgh’s original system, which closed in 1956, Oslo had retained its trams after much debate in the 1970s but had since failed to spend enough on maintenance.

Ms Norli said: “It’s such a luxury to have something that is brand new, but we have to be realistic and work with our tracks.”

She was reluctant to comment on the problems with the Edinburgh tram project, but admitted: “It seems many things went wrong.” However, she said the scheme would have been organised differently in Oslo, with plans being developed in far more detail at an earlier stage.

She said: “We would keep it to a small group of planners … and work things closer further.”

The £776 million scheme is due to be opened five years after the launch date announced when funding was confirmed in 2003.

This is mainly because of a bitter dispute between now defunct Edinburgh city council tram developers Tie and tram line construction firm Bilfinger Berger over changes to the scheme, which were largely decided in the contractor’s favour.

In addition, twice as many pipes and cables as planned have had to be moved from under the tram route, along with many other unexpected obstacles.

Ruter programme director Thorbjørn Thoresen, who is planning to follow Ms Norli in visiting Edinburgh, said: “We have just started the programme to upgrade our network and buy new trams. Oslo’s trams are old, as is a lot of the infrastructure on the lines.

“The city has a difficult geology, and the older lines were not built to carry heavier modern trams.

“New lines, like those in Edinburgh, are built to a higher standard.”

Edinburgh’s transport convener, Lesley Hinds, said: “When we get up and running, our trams will be among the most modern in Europe, and it’s clear that other cities recognise this.

“In Oslo – where the system is ageing – authorities see a positive future for tram and plan to invest and upgrade.

“Despite the challenges we have faced in the past, we’re now in a very good position to capitalise on the benefits of an integrated transport network.”

Edinburgh ‘needs development around tram stops’

EDINBURGH must maximise its tram passengers by developing empty sites beside tram stops, a leading Norwegian transport official has said following a visit to the Scottish capital.

Hanne Norli, business development director of Oslo transport co-ordination body Ruter, said: “What Edinburgh needs to do to make it a success is to allow the development around stations. You could create the demand to justify the cost of building the line.

She said a focus should be the “quite undeveloped” tram corridor between the Gogar roundabout and Edinburgh Airport.

The £776 million, eight-mile line between the airport and city centre is due to open in May.

Ms Norli, who declined to comment on the project’s major delays and cost increases, observed: “Rail infrastructure is expensive, even with budgets that are sound.

“I’m sure the trams will be very attractive and the public will embrace it.”

Edinburgh City Council transport convener Lesley Hinds said: “High-quality public transport infrastructure can impact very positively on investment.

“We are already seeing signs of this along the tram route, such as at Haymarket, where initial work on a new office, hotel, bar and restaurant development is underway.

“Once the tram is up and running, I think Edinburgh will become an even more enticing prospect for investors and, in turn, we’ll see more and more people choosing to use the integrated tram and bus services.”

The council said initial work was underway at several sites along the route, including near the airport, while several firms, including banks, were moving to Edinburgh Park.

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