TRAM bosses have released a series of pictures showing progress on the project, just days after engineers claimed the scheme was now “even more out of control” than when arms-length council company TIE was in charge.
The photographs show the state of work at various points along the route between the airport and York Place.
And officials said work on re-laying the track in Princes Street was on course for completion ahead of schedule in the next few weeks, paving the way for the road to be reopened to buses next month.
The Capital’s main shopping street has been closed to all traffic since last September, with a month-long suspension of work over Christmas. It was scheduled to re-open in July, but now officials say the work is nearing completion and Princes Street will be returned to normal next month between Lothian Road and Waverley Bridge. The works at the junction of Princes Street and South St Andrew Street will not finish until the end of the year.
Publication of the “trams construction photo update” on the Edinburgh Trams website comes after the Evening News reported earlier this week that a group of four civil engineers – claiming 150 years of experience between them – had written to council chief executive Sue Bruce insisting the risks which plagued the controversial project for years while TIE and the contractors were at loggerheads still existed.
The Edinburgh-based group, led by long-term tram critic John Carson, claims council chiefs have actually made the situation worse by deciding to extend the curtailed route into York Place instead of stopping it at St Andrew Square.
In their letter to Ms Bruce, the engineers said: “In our view, the tram project is even more out of control than it was under TIE. The risks that existed then continue to be critical and to impact the project.”
The council has rejected the criticism and has insisted the project is on a sound footing since TIE was dissolved.
Officials say the project is on schedule for trams to start running in summer 2014 and within the revised £776 million budget approved by councillors last year.
Ms Bruce sent an e-mail to all the political groups on the council earlier this week, giving an update on the tram project following the final meeting of the all-party oversight group for the project before the elections.
In it she said: “The project is progressing according to programme. We are meeting all programme and budget targets within the revised scope.”
The next meeting of the next oversight group is due take place later this month.
Princes Street was originally closed for track-laying for nine months in 2009. But in May last year it was announced the work would have to be redone after the road surface began cracking up.
Contractors Bilfinger Berger relaid the track, replacing the previous surface around the tracks with black-dyed concrete, at no extra cost to public funds.
They claimed at the time that the original design of the tracks on Princes Street had worked well on tram projects in other cities, but that Edinburgh presented unique challenges – particularly the weather and the number of buses –which had caused the Tarmac to crack.
Transport convener Gordon Mackenzie said: “It was a disappointment it had to be redone, but we’re pleased it is now being finished slightly ahead of schedule, at the contractors’ expense.
“There is still a lot of work to be done elsewhere, but the information we have from officials is the project is on schedule, in some places ahead of schedule, and within budget.”
Mr Carson, a former head of maintenance at Network Rail, said it was “ludicrous” that the track in Princes Street had had to be relaid.
However, he said the contractors were doing “a Rolls Royce job” on Princes Street and estimated it could be completed within four weeks.
He said: “They say the contractors are paying for it, but it must be costing someone an absolute fortune. If they can do it that way now, one has to ask why it was not done that way the first time.” The work on Princes Street has also included installing the poles to carry the overhead lines, which will power the trams, though the lines themselves will not be installed until closer to the end of the project in 2014.
Other parts of the route featured in the “photo update” include the Saughton tram stop, where the council says work is progressing well, track laying between the Ingliston park-and-ride site and Edinburgh Airport, which is said to be on schedule for completion early next year and the A8 underpass, which has allowed traffic restrictions at the Gogar roundabout to be lifted.
Preparation for track installation on the Balgreen Road to Carrick Knowe stretch of the route and bridge works at Russell Road and St Andrew Square, where preliminary works have begun for the track preparation works, also featured on the website update.
Work blamed for slump in shopper levels
SHOPPER numbers in the city centre have plunged as work on the Capital’s tram line continues, according to a new report.
The Essential Edinburgh Trends Report shows that, in March, footfall in areas affected by tram works collapsed compared with the same period last year.
Shandwick Place in the West End saw its shopper numbers drop from 373,600 to 195,700. In Princes Street, there was a 14.2 per cent decrease to 834,350.
Disruption caused by tram works led to a 7.2 per cent drop in sales turnover in February compared with the same month last year – significantly larger than the 0.6 per cent fall seen in Scotland as a whole. Across the UK, sales actually rose by 2.3 per cent.
Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said: “As Edinburgh has once again performed below Scotland and UK figures, the impact of tram disruption is clear.
“New footfall counters clearly show more people on George Street where the buses now run, with reductions on Princes Street.”
Track-laying works are continuing between the Ingliston park-and-ride site and Edinburgh Airport.
They are due for completion early next year, but by the end of this year, this section of the route will form part of the test track running from the Gogar depot to the airport.
The Ingliston site is one stop from the airport.
Construction is also continuing on the tram stop at the airport and is due to be completed by early 2013.
Platforms have now been built on either side of the tracks at the Saughton tram stop.
But the shelter structure, furniture and ticket machines at the stop, off Saughton Road, will not be installed until nearer the end of the project in 2014.
This section of the route, which replaced the old CERT guided busway, was one of the earliest parts of the line to see track laid.
IT MIGHT have taken two goes – and two prolonged closures – to get it right but now tram bosses say Princes Street will reopen at the end of next month after contractors Bilfinger Berger have relaid the track at their expense.
The firm said there had been a failure of the mastic bond between the flexible road surface and rigid tram track. The area around the tram rails has now been reinforced with concrete, which has been dyed black to blend in with the road surface.
St Andrew square
THE whole east side of St Andrew Square, next to the bus station, is currently closed off as preparation works get under way for track laying.
Both North and South St Andrew Street have also been shut since January, and none of the works are due for completion before the final quarter of the year.
St Andrew Square was to be the terminus for the curtailed route, but it will now go round the corner into York Place.
COMPLETION of the current tramworks in Princes Street will be a milestone in the project.
Clearly the city centre is the most complex part of the works and Princes Street is an important element in that.
You can see from walking along the street that the work is virtually complete.
Before the contractors hand back the site, no doubt there will be a rigorous inspection to ensure the track and the associated work is of the quality and durability we would expect.
The traders have been vary patient and will now be looking forward to buses returning to Princes Street because that is what will drive up footfall. They cannot come back soon enough as far as the shops are concerned.
Policy director at the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce