Trams in new setback as 1,100 underground glitches discovered

Tests have unearthed more than double the number of so-called 'conflicts' that were known about in August. Picture: Greg Macvean/TSPL
Tests have unearthed more than double the number of so-called 'conflicts' that were known about in August. Picture: Greg Macvean/TSPL
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OFFICIALS in charge of Edinburgh’s troubled tram project last night played down the discovery of more than 1,100 clashes with pipes and cables along part of the city’s proposed tram line.

The result of the latest tests, carried out using specialist equipment on a stretch of line for the first phase of the £776 million project, has unearthed more than double the number of so-called “conflicts” that were known about in August.

These all affect the design of a 1.3 mile-long section of track and the overhead cables.

But the city council, which has taken charge of the scheme after winding up its tram company, insisted underground pipes and cables would have to be diverted in only 150 locations from the tested route from Haymarket to St Andrew Square, where the initial tram line will end.

And a spokesman insisted the figure was much lower than expected and that it could be accommodated with the £34m set aside as a contingency fund.

The latest problems have emerged weeks after work began to repair botched tramworks on Princes Street, which will see the thoroughfare closed to traffic until next July.

Councillors agreed in September to press ahead with a curtailed first line to St Andrew Square, after the Scottish Government said it was prepared to oversee the project, four years after pulling the plug on the involvement of its agency, Transport Scotland.

Problems with underground tramworks have been the source of many of the project’s problems, leading to lengthy delays, disputes with contractors and soaring costs. The scheme is now running at least five years late and is £400m over budget.

Many of the new problems are in the Haymarket and Shandwick Place areas, with some pipes and cables needing to be diverted to accommodate poles for overhead lines.

However, the council admitted that the most of the tests had only been carried out by drilling bore holes and major digging work had yet to be carried out.

One source at the council said: “Some of these utility diversions should have been made in the past but weren’t.

“There are 1,100 clashes on-street from Haymarket to York Place, but of these, only circa 150 are likely to require diversions. The rest can be designed around so we don’t have to move them.”

A spokesman for the council said: “The vast majority of potential conflicts can be overcome with a simple design change.

“For those that can’t, the utilities will be diverted. This is not unexpected and, indeed, the number of diversions required is substantially less than budgeted for in the contingency fund.”

Jeremy Balfour, Conservative group leader on the council, said: “There are still lots of risks with this project and we do not know what the final bill will be, so people are rightly concerned.”

Lesley Hinds, Labour’s transport spokeswoman on the council, said: “It was always the concern with the St Andrew Square option that there was more risk involved, as there was more disruption on the road and more utilities on the route.

“It gives a concern that, if there are that many utilities in conflict, have they put enough contingency in for the cost?”

Council officials said last month they expected a promised public inquiry to find that the authority made “a big mistake” in agreeing to shoulder the burden for problems with the underground works.