Newhaven joins the line as more trams planned
Mindful of a history of overspending and acrimonious contractual arguments that beset the first leg of Edinburgh’s resurrected trams, the £207 million extension was given a send-off approaching media minimalism.
A couple of dozen reporters and photographers mingled with representatives of the council and Trams company for a muted pre-opening journey on the 3-mile extension linking the new stop at Picardy Place, at the top of Leith Walk, with Newhaven.
Leith had been the destination of the original line until the dispute with the contractor led to it being truncated. By then the roads had been dug up and businesses disrupted and a public relations exercise has been mounted to ensure local businesses and residents were supported when the diggers returned.
Speaking during the trip along the new route, Council leader Cammy Day insisted the extension into Scotland’s most densely populated area will be good for its citizens and commerce.
“A bar/restaurant went on the market last week and sold almost overnight,” he said, offering evidence of the tram’s immediate benefits. Research shows property prices near the tram stops rising on average by 15%. The Newhaven platform is even part of the entrance to a block of flats that are said to be seeing increased interest.
Councillor Day says work is under way to create a ticketing system that is interchangeable with the buses, while attention has already shifted to the next phases of what the council hopes will become a network.
An extension to Granton has legal approval, but the next big project is extending into the south side, possibly to Little France and the Edinburgh BioQuarter, which he admits is least well served by buses, and also to Dalkeith.
The current line is said to be operationally profitable. However, raising finance for further extensions at a time of budget restraints will prove a challenge and there are talks with Network Rail about using some of its lightly-used suburban lines rather than build entirely new stretches of tram line.
Harald Tobermann, a spokesperson for five community councils, has worked alongside the council over the many years of the project and says about half of its requests have been met. He says there could have been better coordination of buses and trams to create intermodal services.
Other criticism has come from those who say it connects an area already well served by buses, although long-term forecasts suggest buses will not be able to cope with population growth in the area. There have also been cutbacks in bus services.
Delivery drivers have complained that there is insufficient space for parking and that they have difficulty not causing obstructions, including parking on the new cycle paths.
Even so, the council takes credit for delivering this latest stretch on time and on budget, having learned the lessons of the initial project. All of which raises questions about what can be learned from the long-awaited inquiry which has cost £13m and is due to be published in the coming weeks.
Scheduled passenger services on the Newhaven extension begin at Noon on 7 June, though there was an incident at the Gyle where a vehicle brought down the overhead line, causing trams to terminate at Edinburgh Park Station. Engineers were hoping to get repairs completed in time for Wednesday’s launch.
The extended line: