Edinburgh Trams

In 2006 the Scottish Parliament passed laws to reintroduce a tram network to Edinburgh. However, in May 2007, the SNP won the Scottish parliamentary election and formed a minority government. The SNP want to scrap the tram scheme because they don’t think it gives value for money.

They may well be right that the tram scheme isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t represent the best value for money. But consider: the present tram proposals are the result of years of discussions and planning, and the Scottish Parliament’s term of office is only 4 years. If, after every election, the old govement’s plans are scrapped, then any scheme that takes significantly longer than 4 years is unlikely to go ahead.

So the tram scheme should be kept, because it will bring better transport facilities to Scotland’s capital, even if it isn’t perfect.

  1. merrick said:

    Given the enormous stick the government took over that other grand Edinburgh spending project, Holyrood, it seems fair enough to ask questions before deals are signed.

    The SNP haven’t scrapped the tram project. They haven’t even really delayed it – asking for an audit report to be submitted within three weeks is quite a tall order, I’d have thought.

    You’re right that if government’s habitually overturn a previous administration’s long-term plans then nobody will ever do anything long term. But the SNP aren’t cancelling all other long-term plans.

    More, if a government is committed to fulfilling a previous administration’s plans – even if they’re stupid giveaways of public funds that the new party opposes – then what was the point of the new lot taking office? Isn’t the change what the electorate voted for?

    Given the ridiculous planning errors in Sheffield’s trams (running them along bus routes to poor areas at twice the price; unsurprisingly, the use rate was low), or in Manchester (another grandiose Manchester Establishment plan to look all sexy from afar at the expense of people who actually live there; providing the most expensive urban transport service on earth), a review is very wise.

    In Leeds, they planned a tram system because, well, it’s cool and shiny and other cities have them so we should too. The plan was to run it along major arterial roads. No dedicated tramways, so no alleviation of congestion at all, just a big white elephant. A fraction of the proposed sum put into the buses would have yielded better results. thankfully, a review took place and the Leeds scheme was scrapped.

    I do want to point out that I’m not anti-tram; the Nottingham system seems to have been well thought out and enacted, with the exception of the ban on people taking bikes on them.

    It’s just that these schemes are colossal and prone to local politicians being dazzled by the new broomness of them.

  2. Robert said:

    Altogether: Monorail… Monorail… Monorail!

  3. G. Tingey said:

    Monorails dont work, trams do.
    Look at the number of (other) European cities that have very effective trams.

    For some reason, they are hated by (some)politicians here.

    And, the Edinburgh tram project is associated with “labour”, so for the SNP to kill it is a huge exercise in Willy-Waving.

    The demise of the Leeds tram system was a disaster, but then Alister Darling was involved, wasn’t he?

  4. Merrick: “Isn’t the change what the electorate voted for?”

    Most voters didn’t vote for the SNP. But most voters did vote for parties in favour of the tram (Labour, Lib Dems, Tories).

  5. Andrew said:

    G.Merrick: I don’t have numbers on the original votes on the bills, but four out of five of the political parties in Edinburgh currently support keeping it… which, if that’s reflected nationally, suggests a heavy majority of MSPs would vote to keep it.

    It was a Lib/Lab project initially, and together they could easily outpunch the SNP; any notional vote would just come down to whether or not the Tories and Lib/Lab backbenchers like it…

    The SNP may be the executive, but they’re still very much a minority group. An interesting sight in British politics, and always one to provide amusement.

  6. If, after every election, the old govement’s plans are scrapped, then any scheme that takes significantly longer than 4 years is unlikely to go ahead.

    Not if the incoming party agrees that the project is a good one.

  7. CH said:

    The tram scheme is a bit off. Instead of running them along the roads, they’re going to tear up a chunk of Edinburgh’s cyclepath network for a route from one shopping centre to another. As if cyclists and pedestrians are already not in cars so it’s OK to inconvenience them some more, but heaven forbid the mighty motorist might be troubled.

    The rationale for trams seems to amount to them being public transport for people who won’t use buses. Whether these are refuseniks who’ll never leave their cars, folk who aren’t reached by the current buses or just snobs, there must be more effective ways to spend the money.

  8. The rationale for trams seems to amount to them being public transport for people who won’t use buses.

    Well, no. In public transport planning, the usual rationale for trams is twofold:

    1) With a dedicated route, they avoid traffic congestion completely thus providing a transport system that adheres to a regular schedule. Buses still get caught in traffic. Arguably an effective bus-route system would address this issue, but I’ve never seen one of them. Has anyone?

    2) Trams produce no emissions at street level (and can theoretically be powered by electricity from renewable sources). Replacing diesel-burning buses with electric trams can — and often does — bring significant environmental benefits (not limited to emissions… “noise pollution” is also reduced).

  9. James said:

    Before you reject trams, come and have a look at them in Zurich. They really make this city a pleasure to live in and I think Edinburgh without a similar rapid transit system would be missing an opportunity. Underground really isn’t a pleasant option, monorail is too expesive and ugly, buses don’t run to schedule. In the European Union in general, trams are a major success story. Bar Luxembourg, you are one of the only cities that relies on buses alone.

    Only my views, others are entitled to theirs.

  10. Merrick said:

    G.Tingey, I’m intrigued to know what sort of ‘disaster’ it was that the Leeds tram scheme was cancelled.

    As Jim Bliss notes in favour of trams, ‘with a dedicated route, they avoid traffic congestion completely thus providing a transport system that adheres to a regular schedule. Buses still get caught in traffic.’

    The Leeds system was based on trams going on existing roads. This not only means that they don’t avoid any of the traffic, but if there’s a partial blockage (such as the frequent accidents at Hyde Park Corner where the tram was due to go) the tram can’t get round it, the bus can.

    Hundreds of millions of pounds on a system worse than what we’ve already got seems a bad plan to me.

  11. G. Tingey said:

    And, of course, the new Minister for Transport in Scotland has … a pilot’s licence.

    Let’s all fly and f*ck up the environment!
    Almost as sane as expanding Stansted airport ……

  12. Its usually a good thing that government doesn’t get anything done. Government action means a) increased taxes b) loss of freedom c) increased bureaucracy and d) unerring inaccuracy in the choices made.

  13. chris y said:

    Most European cities that have good tram systems have had tram systems continuously, and their development has been in the context of road and other infrastructure development, which has made it much easier to get right than superimposing a new technology on a city which has developed without light rail for 30 or 40 years.

    For example, in the case of the Sheffield disaster, the weight of the rolling stock (52 tonnes) required replacing the main sewerage along a considerable length of the track, but this was not predicted or planned at all, and translated into delay and overspend for which nobody was willing to accept responsibility. But what was worse, when an extension was proposed, much of it was planned to run along further lengths of the same streets, and once again no impact assessment on the sewerage was included in the plans. Fortunately, the DoT had the sense to kibosh it before the people of Sheffield got stuck with another £10m. overspend bill.

    Comparing planning disasters like this with the situation in Zurich, Brussels or Lisbon is not comparing like to like. The SNP were very right to mistrust any proposal that had been accepted by Labour, the party of grandiosity par excellence. Edinburgh may well need a light rail system, but it deserves one that’s been properly planned and costed.

  14. Merrick said:

    ColoradoRight, Government action means a) increased taxes b) loss of freedom c) increased bureaucracy and d) unerring inaccuracy in the choices made.

    Yes, absolutely, what fine analysis with no inaccuracy or such broad generalisations that the statement has no real meaning.

    Let’s stop this evil government action! Curse them and their provision of the NHS!

  15. Gordon Mackley said:

    It is never a bad thing to review enormous capital expenditure before you proceed, provided that that does not become an excuse to do nothing.

    There is much wisdom in the other comments. You do need to get alignmnets away from congested roads for fast reliable transit. It is also environmentally sound to use electricity and to emit no roadside fumes.

    BUT you do not necessarily need trams on rails to fulfil these requirements. You can run direct electrically operated buses (trolleybuses). A trolleybus system is quicker and cheaper to install with less disruption and the vehicles are able to manoeuvre around obstructions. Over 350 cities around the world use them and Leeds (who also had their tram scheme abandoned) are now planning to use them.

    Edinburgh could get a much bigger clean non oil reliant transport system using trolleybuses for the cost of just one showcase tram route.

  16. From a more anti-statist point of view it might be a good thing if any really expensive government project would have to have the support of 2 generations of governments. If you believe that government spending should generally be reduced the more barriers to such things the beter.

    I would support this except for those projects I want.

    Another alternative would be to streamline the governmental system so that projects get off the drawing board in less than 4 years.Quite a lot of countries manage that and it is a factor in the high costs of UK public projects.

    On the other hand it could just be that a tramline will be an expensive white elephant & we should go for a monorail which would have the advantage of actualy getting people off the roads.

  17. stephen said:

    Hi Guys
    Trams are an excellent form of transport if you have a large pot of gold to spend, have a city in a large flat space which has been rebiult after wwII to mordern large transport route standards. Amsterdam great, Dresden fantastic, Frankfurt amazing (Ive lived in all these places) However Edinburgh is an ancient city with geological constraints just as much as the narrow streets and old alleyways. Edinburgh is also growing and therfore a more flexible alternative to Trams is the best way forward. We could have a more conventional system useing what are known as trolley buses, essentially TRAMs without tracks or electric buses. No large roadworks, less expensive to implement, Just as green, FAR MORE FLEXIBLE. Not transport carnage while the roadworks are being implemented and more monies to go back into the public purse for further projects.
    Trolley busses work perfectly well in other old europen cities (Bern, Genf, Luzern and Zürich) and are really fantastic in Salzburg where Mozart was born another old city which cannot have both tracks and roads seperated without destroying the beautiful old heart of the city to achieve it

  18. dearieme said:

    “an effective bus-route system”: there’s a guided bus route in Adelaide (S Australia). They’ve had it for ages, so it works. But they haven’t expanded it beyond the original route, so it presumably isn’t all that good. Trolley buses sound less mad than trams: why on earth would anyone opt for steel-on-steel traction?