Tramline's in a whole lot of rubble

THE piles of rubble which sit behind metal fencing at the side of Bankhead Drive are the only sign that the area will one day be part of Edinburgh's much-maligned tram line.

With no workers on site and a notice that shows the completion date left ominously unmarked, there is much here to feed the cynic's view of where the tram scheme is headed.

As the project reaches a critical point in its development, the Evening News took a journey along its 11-mile route in search of signs of progress.

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We set off in the knowledge that at one stage the project was due to be completed next month, although that target date had already slipped by the time work started in April 2007.

On the way, we found new viaducts being erected and new tracks being laid, but also, in many places, virtually no sign of progress either being made or having been made. One of the most striking impressions was the lack of any obvious sign of work, apart from at two relative hives of activity. Elsewhere, we spotted only around 15 workers.

Setting off from Edinburgh Airport early in the morning, we hoped to reach Newhaven by the end of the day.

Despite the best efforts of some cabbies to advance the myth that the tram does not reach the airport, there are indeed some signs of progress right outside the terminal building. Work has been completed on a new bridge which will bring the tram round towards the front of the terminal, dropping passengers off around two minutes walk from the building.

According to the route map, the next stop on the tram line is at the Ingliston park and ride.

Just a short walk from the airport, the plot is today still basically fields.

A minicab driver relaxes by his car nearby, enjoying a morning smoke. "I've heard they're going to dump the passengers in that field and take them to the airport by bus," he says.

In fact, the diggers are in the process of creating the bed on which the tram line will run.

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Given the myriad of problems elsewhere on the route, this would appear to be one of the more straightforward bits. A superficial glance suggests that relatively little has been achieved here. Only three or four workers were there.

The same cannot be said for our next stop at Gogar.

Perhaps stung by criticism, tram firm TIE seems to have pulled out all the stops and the site is buzzing with activity.

The city clearly needs somewhere to put its tram fleet, which is expected to arrive in increasing numbers later in the year.

A huge sign announces that the depot will be complete by 2010, and while still behind the original schedule, the windows have been fitted out in the control centre and an access road constructed. Things look like they could be on course here.

There are also positive signs at nearby Edinburgh Park, where a new viaduct has been built over the road, but it's an altogether different story at Bankhead.

Trains pass on the nearby Edinburgh-Glasgow line and cyclists use the bike lanes which run by the side of the road, but there is no sign of anyone from the tram project.

The situation looks much better a little further down the line at Saughton. Free from the disruptions that have blighted much of the on-street work, contractors have managed to lay tram tracks along the route of the old guided busway.

But of the tram line's 11 miles, perhaps less than a mile has tracks down.

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Anyone visiting the city centre would be hard pushed to find any indications that there is a major project under way.

While work is continuing apace on a huge viaduct at Haymarket station, with plenty of signs of activity, much of the streets around the West End have been cleared of works.

The viaduct, which tram bosses had originally intended for completion in late 2008, will carry the route in the direction of Murrayfield Stadium.

All other activity in the Haymarket area has ceased. The same is true at Shandwick Place, which had been expected to close for up to 18 months.

The ongoing dispute with contractors has left retailers in limbo, not knowing when to plan for the road's closure.

One dejected restaurateur says he lost around 25,000 a month between February and May this year when traffic was restricted to one direction.

"There was no reason to have this road closed," he says. "They're playing with people's lives. The reality is that the trams are never going to get as far as Shandwick Place, and if local businesses can't have their say, then what hope is there."

The same picture emerges in Leith, perhaps the area which has suffered the most.

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Today, there is no sign of work, with even the red and white road barriers removed from Leith Walk.

As our journey ends, we pass Ocean Terminal to Newhaven, where the only remnant of the tram works is a large trench at the side of the road.

It's easy to become cynical about the tram project. Many now long for any good news which could herald the beginning of the end of disruption. On this evidence, they may have a long wait.

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