Visitors to Glasgow taking a taxi should be carefully about commenting on local football matters. But, in Edinburgh, the great no-no for taxi drivers is the shambolic tram project that began in earnest in 2009.
So far, it has cost c£440 million, it has defiled the world-renowned Princes Street and is years away from becoming fully operational – even along a much truncated route. Like several notorious and highly ambitious projects - the East African groundnuts scheme, Concorde and the Millennium Dome come to mind - things seem to have gone from bad to worse.
Long before Edinburgh’s tram project was given the go-ahead, there were serious doubts as to whether it was really needed. After all, a high-quality bus service currently plies the route between the airport and Waverly Railway Station. Relations between Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (Tie) and the infrastructure contractor, Bilfinger Berger and Siemens (BBS) have often been fraught. But, having got so far – at such massive cost - what does Edinburgh City Council do now?
On May 11th, it confirmed that various works will be undertaken over the next eight months to deal with the most urgent road repairs. Beyond that, it is doubtful whether – and when – Edinburgh’s tram system will be completed. Furthermore, the obvious route – the airport via Princes Street down to Ocean Terminal/Newhaven – seems likely to be curtailed.
And, of course, considerable additional funds will be needed. To date, some 80% of the £545 million projected cost has already been spent – and the project is nowhere near being 80% completed. No doubt, more than one party should shoulder the blame for this fiasco. Surely, though, 160 years after the completion of the legendary Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s pioneering Great Western Railway, we should be capable of laying a few miles of tramway and supporting equipment without all the grief that the Edinburgh project has thus far encountered.