Atkins Diet for Trams?

I was going to try to content myself with a quick tweet at the emperor’s-clothes insanity about to be laid before Edinburgh City Council next week, anent a writhing can of pythons (possibly Monty but this has gone far beyond mere worms) called Edinburgh Trams, but rage got the better of me. The heart of it is an appendix, the Edinburgh Trams Business Case Audit from consultants Atkins. My own take on the whole history to date can be found at

For twelve years I’ve been proud to represent people as a councillor—but never have I
been so glad not to be one in Edinburgh because, in this Atkins diet, there are no palatable options. Besides scrapping the lot (cost £750m), Atkins considers stopping the line at St Andrew Square, Foot of the Walk and Newhaven (the revised Line 1a plan) and concludes that the first carries the best cost benefits from their analysis. This is heavily predicated on the fact that over £450m has already been spent. It is also points the way to the likely decision of the council next week.

Given the circumstances (i.e. between a superheated rock and a hard place with knobs on), any choice will attract criticism. But for Lesley Hinds and other Labour rentaquotes to get on their high horse about mismanagement by the present ECC administration stinks of hypocrisy. Ms Hinds and her Labour colleagues were running ECC when disastrous decisions were made, whether to hire a bunch of incompetents to run TIE in the first place, to shirk due diligence in ensuring TIE was kept on a tight rein in the second, or to allow their own egos to trump business acumen in the third.

The original “Trinity Loop” line (Princes St – Leith – Newhaven – Granton – Craigleith – Murrayfield – Princes St) was well conceived and the only element of the first plan. It fed fast public transport to an area that had none. The whole waterfront development evolving from Leith to Granton needed more than buses to serve it properly.

When Iain Gray awarded £375m to fund the project in March 2003, that was for the Trinity loop alone. Begg’s disciples Cllrs Hinds, Anderson, Aitken et al—with no extra funds and no business plan—decided they could risk adding a second line because so much ECC investment was riding on Edinburgh Park, they had a mile-long white elephant
guided busway there to justify and they wanted the ‘status’ of serving the airport.

The penalty for their hubris did not hit until February 2005. Rejection of congestion charging blocked funds to pay for shortfalls. Not only did Line 3 (Newington – Cameron Toll -Craigmillar – Musselburgh) get the heave but, instead of the same being done to Line 2, the original Line 1 was pared back again and again, until all that was left of the ‘network’ planned was the added ‘ego’ line to the airport—stopping at Haymarket.

Forget that TIE was a poorly managed black hole for money; forget that city businesses lost untold millions from building disruption; forget that profitable Lothian Buses are in line to have this financial albatross strapped round their neck. Labour leadership of ECC created this mess circa 2003. The eight years since have been wasted blaming others.

Scrapping the lot today would cost £700m, with £460m already spent. Although a clean option, this can’t be sensible. But what, other than the writhing pythons on ECC’s desk?We need bold vision: the Scottish Government must take this (currently laughable) key project out of TIE’s grubbily incompetent hands and completes it—the whole thing, Line 1 (not 1a) Trinity Loop entire, as well as the Line 2 airport link—with or without private involvement. This might cost £200m more than scrapping the mess we have now, but it will give the capital city a full, viable tram network that could pay its way—and even justify extending it. That is, once the sharp stink of incompetence has faded from everyone’s nostrils.

And, lest we forget, Edinburgh used to run an fine tram system (see below). It remained essentially intact until ‘modernisation’ replaced the entire system with buses in 1956.

About davidsberry

Local ex-councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Retired in 2017.
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