Trams by next year? They always seem to pull something out of the hat at election time

DELAY after delay has turned Edinburgh’s tram project into a seemingly never-ending journey, but now city transport convener Gordon Mackenzie says it could all be over by the end of next year.

The official timetable has July 2014 as the final completion date, when the long-awaited trams will at last be up and running.

But Councillor Mackenzie said the work was currently ahead of schedule and claimed there was “every prospect” of advancing the scheme further.

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Opposition councillors voiced scepticism and claimed it was treating the people of Edinburgh like “idiots” to claim such a long-delayed project could now be delivered early.

Cllr Mackenzie said an update from the council’s “independent certifier”, appointed after last year’s mediation talks, reported the project was within the revised budget of £776m and up to 22 weeks ahead of the latest schedule.

He said: “It shows we are ahead of programme. We have been as far as five months ahead. There is every possibility that the trams will be running early in 2014 and potentially even before that.”

He said a mild winter, a better working relationship between the council and contractors, and more effective execution of the works – such as combining the Shandwick Place and Haymarket sites – had allowed the project to progress more quickly.

The official note of the meeting says: “Cost engineering initiatives had resulted in 22 weeks of time being banked. The utility works would impact and reduce this time period, but the 22 weeks would protect the project programme.

“Further opportunities to achieve betterment of the project, in terms of duration and costs, would be examined in the near future.”

Cllr Mackenzie said one way of bringing the opening of the line forward was to look at carrying out training and testing in parallel with work on the line.

He said: “If we continue at the current rate of progress there is every prospect of getting even further ahead of schedule, which means an early completion is very much on the cards.”

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He accused other parties of “scaremongering” by claiming the cost of the project was set to increase beyond the agreed budget.

However, council Labour group leader Andrew Burns said it was “farcical” to claim the trams were ahead of schedule and said he would take claims from the current administration with “a huge pinch of salt” less than two weeks away from the council elections.

He said: “I would be the first to acknowledge there has been progress, but to try to pretend it is ahead of schedule is to take the people of Edinburgh as idiots.

“The whole project is years overdue and millions of pounds over budget. The people in charge of it should concentrate on finishing what has been started and stop pretending the project is on schedule or, laughably, ahead of schedule.”

Tory group leader Jeremy Balfour said: “The project is still almost three years late and well over the budget we first agreed. We will wait with scepticism to see when the tram is delivered.”