Comment: Government should help pay for trams

So now we know the cost of taking the trams to Leith – or, to be more accurate, the best available estimate of what that final bill might be.

The investment needed will be huge – as we always knew it would be – because major transport infrastructure never comes cheap. Taking the line to Leith will cost £79m, and getting to its original intended destination in Newhaven an extra £66m on top. And, with 1200 pipes under Leith Walk still to be moved, that cost won’t be purely financial.

Those headline sums are not, of course, the most important figures involved. They will be in the final business case which weighs up whether the extra cost of building and operating the extension is likely to outweigh the returns from attracting extra passengers. The suggestion that a line to Newhaven, through the most densely populated neighbourhood in Scotland, could almost double passenger numbers is encouraging. But these are the figures which the city needs to be absolutely certain of before putting another penny into the project.

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The question of who pays for the extension should only be theoretical until that case has been convincingly made. But it is encouraging that the Scottish Government has not on this occasion ruled out putting more money in. If the extension is to go ahead, then 
Holyrood should help pay for it.

When Dublin came to extend its Luas light rail system, the citizens of the Irish capital were not expected to shoulder the cost themselves. The Irish government instead recognised that the whole country benefited and gave its financial support. Similarly, the UK Treasury is expected to fund around half the cost of London’s proposed Crossrail 2, ensuring the people of London are not on their own paying for a project which will also benefit the rest of the UK.

It would be to the Scottish Government’s great credit if it was to forget the rhetoric of political battles of the past and recognise its potential role in the future of the trams.