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Going off the Rails

Robin Copland

I honestly do not know how many cities have trams.  I know that in the UK, there are a fair few and some of the networks are extensive.  Manchester and Sheffield, to name but two, have lines going all over the place and I am aware that Sheffield’s network is so well-used that a major upgrade programme has just been announced.

Edinburgh now proudly joins these and, of course, many other European cities in having its very own tram – I was going to use the word “network” there again, but that’s not strictly true; “line” might be a better word.  I can tell you without a moment of research and with no possibility of disagreement from anyone, anywhere that Edinburgh’s tram line excels in one area above all others – and that is its cost per kilometre.

Here are the facts.

  • Fact one: the line (drastically shortened from original plans) runs from Edinburgh airport to York Place in the city-centre.
  • Fact two: it runs for 14 kilometres.
  • Fact three: it cost a staggering £776m to build, which means that…
  • Fact four: it cost £55.43m per kilometre.

And this, by the way, happened in Scotland, where we jealously guard the pennies so that the pounds can look after themselves.  Or at least, we do until September when, if we vote for independence, there will be an interesting negotiation on our continued use of Sterling as a currency.

Furthermore, and just to add flavour to the stew of mismanagement that prevailed throughout the commissioning and building of the project, the line does not add particularly to the city’s transport infrastructure. 

  • The airport is already well-served by a fantastic bus service that delivers its passengers to the city centre quicker than the tram ever could;
  • True, there is a link station at the city’s Haymarket railway station, but criminally, there is no link to its major railway station, Waverley in the city centre – this despite the fact that there are already ramps in and out of the station that could have easily been adapted to accommodate the trams.
  • You can’t put a bike on the tram, so, if your idea was to help take traffic off the streets, that isn’t exactly going to help.
  • For large parts of its run into town, the line goes through a no-man’s-land of small industrial units and offices – the citizens of the city will have no particular use of the facility.

It is such a shame; I fear that the honest citizens of our great city will not take to the tram and there will be no appetite to do what needs to be done – namely extend the line to Leith and to Granton.  It will continue plying its trade, ringing its bell and be seen for what it is – an irrelevance; and an expensive irrelevance at that.

There are, of course, lessons to be learned in all of this – lessons that any negotiator worth their salt will do well to heed.

  • Have a vision and ensure that all of your transactional negotiations are pointing in the same direction as your strategic vision.
  • Sense-check that vision against projected market demands – don’t be drawn into a vanity project.
  • Ensure that competent, professional negotiators are put in charge of any meetings between the commissioning party and their appointed contractors.
  • Sign commercially-watertight contracts with penalty clauses built-in.

Easy enough in hindsight.

Oh – and one other thing: don’t, whatever you do, allow town councillors anywhere near the negotiating table.  All I’m saying!

Robin Copland

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