Private groups are to be offered a chance to see first-hand how the city’s long-delayed transport project is taking shape by taking rides around tracks.
However, despite the first section of the route being due for completion in the spring – when a link between the RBS headquarters at Gogarburn and Edinburgh Airport is due for completion – it will be another two years before members of the public can take a full half-hour trip into the city centre.
The news emerged as transport leaders confirmed talks will begin early next year over possible extensions for the project, which is already running five years late and is going to cost at least twice the original budget.
A new city-wide transport forum is to be formed by the council and will look at the case for future extensions to the city’s waterfront at Leith, Newhaven and Granton; and the south-west of the city, serving the city’s “bioquarter” and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.
Eight months after the first test runs at Gogarburn, the council allowed the first media access to the trams at Gogarburn, the only part of the project which has been completed to date.
Transport leader Lesley Hinds refused to say how much had been spent on the project to date – five months after the bill rose to £592 million. The Scottish Government has capped its contribution at £500m.
An updated timetable published yesterday shows that work is set to continue until the start of 2014 at York Place, St Andrew Square, Princes Street, Shandwick Place and Haymarket.
However, officials working on the project insisted work was proceeding ahead of schedule and Princes Street may be able to fully reopen earlier than planned in the festive season.
Cllr Hinds said a full update on timings and spending would not be available until October.
It is hoped business groups, transport associations, community organisations and heritage bodies will be among those able to take advantage of the first tours, which are due to start before the arrival of the remaining seven vehicles, currently being built in Spain, by the end of the year.
Cllr Hinds said: “We would only be able to take small groups on a pre-booked basis, but it’s definitely the kind of thing we want to look at in terms of improving our stakeholder engagement.
“I think we are gradually seeing a change of opinion about the trams, as people can see more work being done and tram tracks actually going down into places like St Andrew Square and that the tram is actually happening.
“I am very confident the project will be delivered with the £776m budget that the council set last year. I do not expect it to go over that.”
Colin Smith, senior consultant to the project, said “real progress” had been made over the past 18 months since mediation talks were held to help bring an end to a bitter dispute with contractors, which went on for more than two years.
He said all major bridges and structures along the route were now in place, with three different contractors often working at a single site.
Mr Smith added: “People might think that some parts of the project look pretty complete, but none of the sections can be signed off until they are absolutely ready, and there is still a lot of work to be done.”