The Edinburgh Trams Nightmare

Over four years ago I started making plans to come to Edinburgh, UK, to study a master degree. Naturally, I did some research into the city beforehand and found out that one of the major local issues was the construction of a tram network that would run from the airport all the way to the city centre.

Edinburgh Trams from the 1900s
Edinburgh Trams from the 1900s

I remember reading that a large percentage of the locals opposed the tram system, partly because the bus system is already an excellent travel option, but primarily because of the chaos the construction would cause. By the time I read that, I believe it had already been under construction for quite a while.

I moved to Edinburgh over two years ago, only to find Princes Street (one of the main streets in Edinburgh) still closed due to the construction. Buses were taking an alternative route, but the people still weren’t happy. This seems quite logical, as it had already been under construction for years with no end in sight.

About a year ago I remember quite clearly that the works on Princes street were finished. The end seemed near. Then shortly before the Pope’s visit not so long ago they even placed a tram on the rails on Princes St. But, was it functional? Well, the thing itself seemed pretty functional… but the rails lead nowhere! Yes, Princes St. had rails installed, but at each end they just terminated abruptly. Construction was still not finished, and there was no evidence to why the works were halted.

Shortly after the scandal grew as the council got into endless debates with the construction committees and the mediators. There was a lot of frustration over the cost of the whole project, and the fact that it was coming out of the public’s pockets. Then they started a debate over whether to scrap the whole project and remove the tram lines, or finish the project off. The issue was costs of course: Is it cheaper to go on or to back off? This was followed by more discussions…

At the end of August, 2011, there were several interesting events reported in the news. I believe the first one is that the council decided to back out and scrap the project. Alarmingly quite a lot of people complained, including citizens who initially opposed the project. Afterwards, the tram chiefs decided it might be best to terminate the line at Haymarket. Finally, according to the Metro newspaper, a consortium (Train manufacturer Bombardier and French company RATP) declared that they would like to take over the construction of the trams and offered a good price. They tried the same previously but were rejected.

Now for my personal view: This is an absolutely ridiculous matter. Come on, years to build a tram system? How hard can it be? So much debate about the costs, so much time wasted, so much money spent on ridiculous meetings in posh hotels that reached no conclusion, so much chaos in Princes St. for years. I wonder how stupid a group of people must be not to be able to develop a proper system, a clear view of the costs based on materials and labour, a precise estimate of time, and a funding effort to obtain the money from various sources instead of relying primarily on the council.

Half of the tram line is already there! It’s just a matter of being intelligent, adding some numbers, deciding on the best strategy, and going ahead with it. You can’t back out now. That would be like NASA saying “oh, sorry astronauts, we’ll have to leave you up there on the ISS because we’ve disbanded all our shuttles and it would cost us too much money to get someone else to bring you down.” (I seriously hope that doesn’t happen, that will be the moment I lose faith in humanity).

Anyway, that is just my 2p on this issue. Think first, then act, but don’t spend too long thinking, and don’t back out when you’ve already started to act.