Making Tracks – An Edinburgh ‘tramsformation’ begins?

Constitution Street under transformation

Road blocks were enforced, traffic cones were placed and trucks were assembled to initiate construction on the next phase of the Edinburgh Trams network in Constitution Street on Monday.

In four years’ time, York Place and Newhaven should be connected by a shiny fleet of super trams in a £207.3 million project, given the green light by Edinburgh City Council just over eight months ago.

In the first quarter of 2023, trams should be serving the Foot of the Walk, Port of Leith and Ocean Terminal on a new 2.8-mile long line.

While the network extension will bring positive transport, infrastructure and environmental benefits in the long term, unsurprisingly, the decision to lengthen the route was met with mixed reviews.

While the trams have been operating successfully for over five years now, on an 8.7-mile long line from Edinburgh Airport to York Place, their journey from inception and design to construction and delivery was fraught with difficulty and mired in controversy.

After the project revisions, contractual disputes and funding crisis, it took six years and over £776 million to build, but over £1 billion will be payed after interest. Indeed, the cost of this extension rose by a quarter before construction even began.

The 2008 global financial crisis also didn’t help. In order to reduce inflating costs, sections from Ingliston Park and Ride to Newbridge North, Haymarket to Granton and Granton to Newhaven were dropped.

Newhaven, intended to be part of the initial route, was also cancelled bringing the trams to an abrupt halt in York Place, providing a route to the airport that could be achieved already by bus.

Disruption to businesses, danger to cyclists and the suspension of overhead electric cables attached to residential buildings also drew concern and criticism of the project.

Edinburgh Trams are on their way

Despite this, the trams have proven their worth, with the city using them so much that original ridership projections were surpassed, enabling the operation to post pre-tax profits only two years after the trams got going.

More journeys are being made every year with 7.3 million people choosing to use the tram last year alone, more than the entire population of Scotland.

In 2016, another stop, Edinburgh Gateway, was opened providing a transport interchange between the Edinburgh Trams and trains from across Scotland allowing passengers to travel to the airport entirely by rail.

Originally part of phase one, the route to Newhaven is now finally on its way.

Signs point straight ahead to 2023

Should the Newhaven extension repeat the annual passenger growth seen on the first Edinburgh Trams line, as the strong business case suggests it will, Newbridge, Granton and connection to Newhaven (forming a circular route) may yet see trams approaching over the horizon.

With the Scottish Government’s recent declaration of a climate emergency and net-zero target for greenhouse gas emissions in just over a quarter of a century, the case for electrified public transport such as trains and trams will only strengthen.

If lessons have been learned from previous mistakes, considering the monster of a nightmare that was created in the capital city before, the next Edinburgh Tram service to Newhaven should have a much smoother journey.

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