A Plea to the SNP on trams.

Monday, October 11th, 2010 @ 1:58PM

On Friday, I went on a site visit to the Edinburgh Tram Network. Starting out at the airport and ending at the Gogarburn depot. It was a very ‘educational’ visit and it’s clear that although a lot of work has been done, the trams are a long, long way off whizzing down Princes Street - and there’s little chance of it going much further than that at this stage.

It’s fair to say that Edinburgh Trams are a textbook example of how NOT to do public procurement eclipsed perhaps by the Scottish Parliament building only.

The fate of the trams however is not helped by a media reliant on leaks and a political administration in Edinburgh City Council which is one part incompetent, one part in denial.

The main dispute lies between TIE and the engineers Bilfinger Berger, except the don’t appear to be doing much of the engineering work… having subcontracted nearly 100% of the work out to other companies who are building various parts of the line on various terms and conditions. At the moment, the fallout with the consortium is so bad that work is at a near standstill.

In the top left and right pictures you can see the tram depot at Gogarburn. It will serve as the maintenance point for all of the 27 tram vehicles (I’ll come back to this) as well as the HQ for all Tram staff - likely to be around 250 new jobs. Each tram will come off the line into this depot to be filled up with sand, checked and cleaned before being sent on towards the airport to sleep. All the drivers will sign in here and it will also serve as the main control room for the network.  The depot is very impressive and nearly complete.

And what of those 27 trams? Well, as I understand it, 14 of the vehicles are ready, 13 of which are currently sitting in a hanger in Spain where they were built. They’ll stay there until the line is complete from the depot to the airport so that they can be properly track tested. The other vehicle is sitting on Princes Street.

Today’s Scotsman reports that TIE will have too many vehicles and may need to sell some. Well that appears to depend on just how far into town the trams go. At the moment, the perceived wisdom is that St Andrews Square is the best we can hope for. That would be an absolute travesty and a real kick in the teeth to all those traders on Leith Walk whose businesses have been affected by so much upheaval.

Let me be clear - scrapping the trams is simply not an option - too much has been built already. But if you listened to the views aired by the SNP’s Steve Cardownie and others - you’d think we could just hang up the hard hats tomorrow and pretend it was all a bad dream.

There will be a tram system and even if it only goes as far as Haymarket it will still, after 3 years, make a profit. But the margins are much better if it makes it to St Andrwes Square, and better still should it make it’s original destinaton of Newhaven.

However - its future is critically dependent on developments over the next few weeks and months. There is every possibility that the dispute could end up in court and the work could be suspended indefinitely. That is not in the interests of anyone.

So with that in mind, I will make a plea once again to the SNP Councillors and MSPs in particular to stop criticising the trams for a cheap hit and get behind finding a way forward.

The trams will serve as a huge asset to our city - but to what degree and when is largely dependent on you having the vision to see this project through. Take up TIE’s offer and visit the site - see for yourselves exactly what work has been done and what challenges lie ahead.

Every penny spent on court fees, is one penny less spent on the track down to Leith.

We all know you didn’t vote for it. That you don’t like and you don’t want it - but that does not negate your responsibility to look after the public purse.

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