Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Travesty of the Edinburgh Trams

Building continually delayed, costs soaring, contractors going on strike, road congestion almost unbelievably bad - say hello to the Edinburgh Trams project!

From first-hand experience, I can attest to the scheme's major public inconvenience. For much of last year I worked as a barman in La Tasca in the Omnicentre in Edinburgh, and I would come from my dad's flat in Leith. Normally, you just jump on the 22 or 16 and you do the journey in 10/15 minutes. When the tramworks were in full-swing, you were looking at something closer to 40 minutes at times. That is, 40 minutes to get from the bottom of Leith Walk to the top. Sweating like a sardine in a tin for forty minutes, packed on a 22 bus, the summer sun beating down and making you feel as though you were in a greenhouse, did not leave me smelling particularly fragrant for my tapas-eating and sangria-swilling customers.

May I recommend this excellent post on the newly-discovered A Place to Stand blog (I really do need to get a blogroll in order). In it, he writes:

"Last Friday the contractors on Edinburgh's tram project said they were going on strike for extra money. In the tradition of air traffic controllers they had chosen to announce this strike immediately. Prince's St, Edinburgh's main street, had been closed to traffic to let them work.

The whole project has always been a boondoggle - the local council are putting up £100 million & the Scottish government £500 m to put a single tramline from Leith in the east to the airport in the west. Since it goes through the main streets it will do absolutely nothing to reduce congestion there, its ostensible purpose, simple removing buses but replacing them with trams, whose use & routes are less flexible. But trams are, for ideological reasons (publicly owned & working off electricity made by fossil fuels [& nuclear} while buses use fossil fuel directly) more politically correct.
The sensible options would either have just been to let the free market provide
bus services, which do all the same stuff except costing £600 million & digging up the streets, or an automated overhead monorail system which would cost more, or at least more than the necessary cost of trams, to build but, being automated, far less to run. At least half the cost of buses is the driver. Obviously sensible options were not desired."
Quite so - £600 million as it stands already, with these contractors striking to demand another £80m? What is all this?

The author of the blog, Neil Craig, goes on to link to a letter he got published in The Scotsman, reflecting on the mad amount of public money that has already gone into the trams scheme:

"There has been little discussion of the fantastic level of these costs. Melbourne built the Box Hill extension, 2.2km, opened in 2003, for £12.5 million; and the Vermont South Extension of 3km in 2005 for £13.5m. On that basis the Edinburgh tramway, at 18.5km, should be costing about £105m pounds or indeed quite a lot less because of economies of scale. British public works have a long record of being grossly overpriced. Those in charge refuse to provide any explanation of this and they should."

What is it about public works projects here that they are never completed on time, on budget - indeed, tend to be instead massively delayed and massively overpriced? I pose that not as a rhetorical question, but an open one - can someone please try explaining this to me? The real travesty is that those in charge will not - we've once again been robbed blind of our money.


neil craig said...

Thanks for linking.
I THINK that it is government imposed costs - all the bureaucrats who spend longer shuffling paper (environmental impact reports etc) than it takes to do it plus the H&S Executive.

I got this interesting explanation from a builder on an online newspaper comment http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/2007/05/builders-tale.html

I have NEVER had an explanation from anybody in power which strongly suggests it is indeed their fault.

I must adnit being disconcerted to find how this situation has crept up on us with no public discussion. The previous Forth Bridge, for example was at a standard price (£314 million in today's money) & even the more recent Servern bridge was a fairly sensible price so this is a relatively recent phenomeon.

James said...

The project's a good one, but the delivery by the Nat/Lib coalition has been cack-handed in the extreme. Let's not get the two confused.