So Cllr Burns blames the Lib-Dems and SNP for the trams debacle. Inevitable as such self-serving guff may be, I still smacked my forehead in disgust—perhaps too hard…
…With hindsight, it seems fortunate that Cllr Andrew Burns fell on his head that night in 2003, For, how else would he have had those inspired brainwaves that helped him persuade the then Scottish Transport Minister, Iain Gray, to divert £350m from an ill-conceived tram project into a transport suite of genius, a beacon for creative city transport around the world? Had the original airport tram gone ahead, it might have cost £1bn or might, despite all disruptions, have never been completed. How unthinkable!
But, luckily, Messrs Burns and Gray were clear-sighted men, seeing a tram to serve an airport that already had a major train line at the end of the runway for what it was: a white elephant ‘prestige’ project, short-sighted as London tying Heathrow to its sluggish Tube. As a result, the £17m spent on reopening Turnhouse station in 2009 and linking it to the air terminal with back-to-back shuttles gave a faster, more cost-effective solution than a tram via Sighthill. The passenger surge made Network Rail bump electrification of the Forth Bridge/Fife line above its EGIP priority agenda.
Another £110m was used to link the Brunstane spur round the South Suburban line, including reopened stations at Craigmillar, Cameron Toll, Newington, Morningside, Merchiston and Gorgie. As infrastructure and rolling stock were mostly in place, it was a big bang for our buck. But the stroke of genius was running trains into the under-used Platform 0 at Haymarket to provide easy interchange with the planned trams while avoiding adding to bottlenecks in the Princes Street tunnels.
Then, when an improved ‘circular’ tram plan was introduced in 2012, Haymarket flowered as the major interchange for suburban, tram and airport with western distance routes. And by using the still-extant track beds around northern Edinburgh, this whole area was linked up with no major road or business disruption.
Starting at Haymarket, Line 1 linked Haymarket with Murrayfield, Craigleith, Crewe Toll and Granton. The line then looped through Trinity to Broughton Road before using the old Scotland Street tunnel to give express access to Waverley station where the rebuilt platforms 20 and 1 stood. This fast, direct access to the city centre gave a shot in the arm to moribund Edinburgh waterfront developments.
By 2014, a new Line 4 ran on from here, using Carlton North and Abbeyhill loop to provide good access to Holyrood before using the old Leith Central line to reach Leith and Pacific Quay. Since the South Suburban now ran from bays on the East side of Waverley, this provided easy N/E/S link interchange, similar to Haymarket’s.
As the suburban rail improvements included running half East Lothian trains through the South Suburban and on to the airport, plans for Lines 2 & 3 were scrapped as unnecessary. Total tram costs were then held at £220m, much of which was heavy rail re-routing at Waverley/Carlton. This left £3m of the original £350m surplus to look at system improvement, with introducing a long overdue ‘Oyster’ card high on the list.
It was surprise enough that Labour held Edinburgh against the flow in 2007, but when Cllr Burns’ was carried shoulder-high to the City Chambers by businessmen delighted at the growth of trade across the newly-accessible city, accolades were widespread: Eight new stations; two new tram lines; a city-wide fast backbone for its excellent buses—all within original budget; all working like an integrated transport system. Asked if he planned to put his name forward to replace his old colleague Gray as Labour Leader, Burns said: “this all sounds like a dream…”
…or did I just hit my head?