Thursday, 12 March 2015


In 2008 my home city of Edinburgh embarked upon an ambitious project; to construct a new tram system.

It was to cost a staggering £375million, and even at the time it was hailed as a waste of money. The original plan was for it to go from the shore line of the Firth of Forth, across the city, terminating at the airport. A total of 11.5 miles. That's £32million per mile. However, it went through a number of delays, and even a change in contractor at one point, which extended the completion date. It finally opened for service in May 2014, but with only 8.7miles completed, at a final cost of what is expected to be £1billion, or £114million per mile!!

Imagine what else we could have funded for that!

The main criticism of the project, apart from the cost, is that it doesn't really go anywhere that useful. It has only 15 stops and is used primarily by commuters on it's single line, or people going to and from the airport. Look at this map which shows a comparison between the tram route system in 1950 to the newly opened route (they are at the same scale):

There are plans afoot to complete the final stage, but I wouldn't like to be the politician that proposes that one!

Edinburgh had trams in the past, from 1871 to as recent as 1956, which had a route length of 47 miles. In the area I live in, near Portobello, when the roads are occasionally dug up remnants of the old tram system can be seen. In fact where my old deli stands used to be the stables area for the horses in the days of horse-drawn trams, and nearby, and still there under the tarmac road, is the old turntable for rotating the trams around.

Though I was never in favour of such an extravagant expense, I had hoped that it would be a style of tram in keeping with a World Heritage City, something say like the San Francisco or Amsterdam styles. Unfortunately we ended up with a Japanese bullit train style, each coming in at £1million.

That said, my friend David took an astonishing photograph of the trams recently:

David's skills as a photographer are outstanding, and the photo above was "commended" in the Urban Category for Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year. You can see more of his images from Scotland at this link:

So do I have anything good to say about the trams?

Well, surprisingly, yes. Last Sunday my friend Pauline and I, decided that we would take a journey on a tram for the first time. Afterall, to have an honest opinion you need to be fully informed.

It was remarkably quick and it seemed as if all the traffic signals were biased toward the tram and there was virtually no delay. It was Sunday I suppose, but we completed 13 of the 15 stops in around 20 minutes. The journey was very smooth and it took corners as if it were on rails. Oh, that's right, we were! It costs the same as a normal bus fare (unless you go to, or are coming from, the airport) and runs about every 10 to 15 minutes.

It was fun I have to admit, especially when it swept around a bend or rang its bell on approach.

The tram is here to stay, and may even be extended in the future, so we thought we had better make good use of it, and so after a little shopping, coffee and cake, we jumped back on for the return leg.

On reflection it would seem overall that a billion pounds doesn't go as far these days.

Only 8.7 miles apparently.

No comments: