Edinburgh's trams: Prepare for more battles as the network expands – Alastair Dalton
They were a well-established part of the Edinburgh’s transport network until being scrapped in 1956, but the chaos over their reintroduction nine years ago threatened the entire project. In stark contrast, building the tram line extension to Newhaven is nearing completion without any major hitch, with tram testing underway since Monday. It suggests the still-incomplete tram inquiry could become a £13 million irrelevance.
Edinburgh City Council transport convener Scott Arthur even told BBC Scotland on Thursday that the £207m extension might come in under budget, and he later told me there was a “possibility rather than a probability” it could open ahead of the planned but unspecified target date in June.
Looking further ahead, let’s hope inquiry chair Lord Hardie’s conclusions will help avert any potential repeat of the past turmoil, delays and cost over-runs which plagued the initial Edinburgh Airport to city centre line. That’s because the city council – along with the previously unenthusiastic Scottish Government – says the trams very much won’t end in Newhaven.
When first announced two decades ago – I was there – the tram scheme was to be a network of three lines, and much of that is included in Transport Scotland’s latest blueprint, the second Strategic Transport Projects Review. This includes a route from Granton in the north of the city, through the city centre to Dalkeith in the south.
But the precise route is where things get tricky, and there’s a battle going on between the council, which wants the tram to be within reach of as many people as possible, and those who argue that sticking to the originally-planned off-road sections is vital to make the project affordable and stop trams getting clogged up in traffic. They also point to the increased disruption from tram line construction and the likely need for permanent parking bans along parts of the route.
The council is considering switching the northern section of the route from Granton-Craigleith-Roseburn-Haymarket to go via Orchard Brae, Queensferry Road and the narrow, historic Dean Bridge into the west end. But some transport experts have told me that consultants who originally advised that this was a bad idea are now recommending it to the council. It would also avoid disturbing a wildlife corridor.
A further hurdle is North Bridge, linking the east end of Princes Street with the south side, which is seen as unable to cope with trams as well as buses and other traffic. The Mound, halfway down Princes Street, would appear to be a solution, although some argue that taking the trams down Lothian Road at the west end of Princes Street and then south-east past The Meadows should also be considered.
There will be many trade-offs as this project develops – over cost and convenience, construction disturbance to traffic or wildlife, and between journey times and the proximity of tram stops to people.
So let’s hope the tram inquiry report provides some long-awaited wisdom to assist with the planning of the next stage of the network to ensure Newhaven is not the final stop on Edinburgh’s tram revival journey.
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