Page last updated at 07:54 GMT, Thursday, 4 March 2010

Transport chiefs 'want Edinburgh tram network'

The new Edinburgh trams are being tested in Germany
The new Edinburgh trams are being tested in Germany

By David Miller
BBC Scotland environment correspondent

Transport bosses in Edinburgh have told BBC Scotland they are determined to push ahead with plans for a city-wide tram network.

Their intention comes despite the problems plaguing the construction of the capital's first new tram line.

Edinburgh's trams will begin arriving in the capital next month.

But it will be at least 2012 before the tram line linking Edinburgh Airport with the city centre and Leith actually opens for business.

The first of Edinburgh's new trams is being checked over by a team of engineers on a test track in northern Germany.

Clear message

Transport chiefs are hoping the arrival of the trams, among the most technically-advanced in the world, will mark a turning-point in public attitudes to the £500m project.

Marshall Poulton, head of transport at Edinburgh City Council, said: "I think it sends a very clear message to the public in Edinburgh.

"It has been a very difficult journey for all the citizens in Edinburgh to this point in time but now the tram is a reality.

"We'll be getting our first tram delivered within the next few weeks."

edinburgh trams inside
It is not known when passengers will begin using the trams

Mr Poulton added: "It is a good quality product which is being delivered by the tram manufacturer. It's comfortable, it's quiet and it's a really pleasant ride."

Alastair Richards, the managing director at Edinburgh Trams, has worked on public transport projects across Europe.

He said initial opposition was always replaced by enthusiasm once tram lines were up and running.

And he said there was no reason to suspect Edinburgh would be any different.

"Almost every single scheme faces opposition to that initial stage," he said.

"But within about a month or so of opening that has changed from problems with people not wanting the tram to suddenly the problem being that everybody wants the tram."

The extent of the disputes we are having here is a disappointment to us, frankly
Gordon Mackenzie, transport convenor

Tram bosses have long harboured ambitions to build a line to the new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on the southern outskirts of Edinburgh.

Now, for the first time, it has emerged that a third route running to east of the city along London Road is also on the wish list.

Mr Richards said: "There are plenty of opportunities, plenty of scope down to the south of the city, across the Bridges corridor; also scope out along the London Road corridor out east."

That ambition is likely to generate renewed controversy.

Soaring costs and seemingly endless traffic disruption have already caused frustration and anger in the capital.

Council leaders know they will have to win over the public - and that will be virtually impossible to achieve until the complex dispute with tram contractors is resolved.

That dispute means work in key areas is again at a standstill.

'Detailed negotiations'

Gordon Mackenzie, Edinburgh's transport convener, said: "It is a disappointment to us that we have not made the progress that we want to.

"We are in detailed negotiations with the contractor about cost and the programme.

"It is part and parcel of large projects. There are often disputes of this nature.

"The extent of the disputes we are having here is a disappointment to us, frankly."

Any decision to push ahead with proposals to build a network of tram lines in the capital will come with a large price tag attached and the cost could be political as well as financial.

But for now, the immediate priority is to end the deadlock which is threatening to throw the tram project further behind schedule.

The new trams may begin arriving in Edinburgh next month but it is still by no means certain they will begin carrying passengers as scheduled sometime in 2012.

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