The move follows the outspoken statements of former UK transport secretary and chancellor of the exchequer, and self-confessed “tram sceptic”, Alistair Darling, who seems to take pride in his cost-cutting past.
He continues to be persona non-grata in Nottingham, where he failed in the 1990s to derail that city’s tramway scheme which has helped transform the city into the pride of the Midlands.
Let’s be honest. Only running trams as far as Haymarket knocks out most of the reasons for having them in the first place, but at least passengers heading for the airport will be able to get out of the city faster.
Leaving tracks to nowhere on Princes Street will be a painful reminder of what might have been, and an embarrassing exhibition to visitors of yet another poorly executed public infrastructure project.
Whether it’s the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, hospitals, schools, or military projects, massive cost over-runs are nothing new.
However, top-to-bottom mismanagement of planning and construction elsewhere – often the British disease – is still no reason to curtail the Edinburgh tramway project in such a drastic fashion.
The decision taken back in June to only build as far as St Andrew Square ticked most of the boxes for what the tramway could deliver. It would have given the city a demonstration line, a tantalising taste of things to come. To see what trams can do, visit Manchester, Croydon, Nottingham or Sheffield, where short “starter” lines have paved the way to substantial expansion. Trams are packed almost to overloading, and polluting cars are increasingly banished from the city streets.
As many of us in the industry are already more than aware, one of the key issues that has seen Edinburgh’s magnificent fleet of new CAF trams lying idle is the disruption and ill-feeling caused by moving the cables and pipes that are buried under the streets.
The truly staggering costs tied up with replacing and renewing all this apparatus has seen the cost of the tramway rocket, but it has to be asked why the builder should be asked to foot around 80 per cent of the bill for utility diversion and renewal in the first place.
It’s a fact that £545 million should have been enough to build the full proposed tramway. It is not enough, however, to build a tramway and pretty well rebuild large sections of the under-foot city in tandem.
I am sure the plan to open a line from the airport to St Andrews Square could have been achieved within a reasonable timescale and for around £800m. The new plan will not achieve dramatic cost savings, but will instead neuter the new line’s profitability and, ultimately, success.
It might be worthwhile to go away for ten years, in the knowledge that everyone will come to their senses and recognise that trams bring immense benefits. Once trams are established, all of the disputes and delays will soon disappear. I can guarantee that.
l Simon Johnston is editor of Tramways & Urban Transit