A tram passes Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh trams extension opening finally announced

A tram passes Edinburgh CastleImage Edinburgh Trams press centre

The long awaited next phase of Edinburgh’s tram line now has a date for opening. Citizens of Scotland’s capital have marked their diaries for 21 June this year. Finally they will be able to ride a tram from airport to seaport. A small matter of ten years behind schedule.

What is possibly the most expensive tram line in the world is about to get a little bit longer. By midsummer, the single tram line that is Edinburgh’s network will finally reach the seaside suburb of Newhaven. It marks the culmination of an original intention to link the waterfront quarter of Leith with the modern city centre. It ’s the first time in nearly seven decades that a tram will have run along the two mile (3.2 kilometres) boulevard of Leith Walk.

Three years in the making

It has been an absolute disaster. That is the widely held view of business owners along the route of the Edinburgh Trams. However, the local authority, and those that use the single route between the city centre and the airport, are generally more complimentary of the service. The 8.7 mile (14 kilometres) line currently runs from the airport to St Andrew Square, in the heart of the city. It interfaces with the national railway network on the outskirts of the city, and at Haymarket, in the west of city centre.

A map of the proposed full Edinburgh Tram network
Edinburgh did originally intend to have a much more extensive tram network

Opening of the extension to Newhaven, adding a further three miles (4.6 kilometres), is now due on 21 June (perhaps spurred on by Berlin’s expected extension opening). The work has taken nearly three years, including a short hiatus for the pandemic. The stop at York Place is being replaced with one a few moments away at Picardy Place. However, the turn back will be retained at the former location. Whether the city’s experience with building the street running sections will preclude further extensions remains to be seen.

Overruns, disputes and fallouts

The tram project has been the subject of much controversy and acrimony over the years. It was first planned by the local authority in Edinburgh as a three-line network, covering most of the city. However, successive cost overruns, disputes with the contractors and a fall out with the company formed to manage the precept (Transport Initiatives Edinburgh) forced several rethinks.

Tram works in the street in Edinburgh
Foot of Leith Walk tram tracks with Edinburgh Castle two miles distant (image Simon Walton)

With a long running enquiry into the debacle, the Scottish government also limited funding, which eventually resulted in only one half of one of the three lines being completed – for about the original cost of the entire network (776 million pounds, 923 million euro). A premature purchase of a fleet of bespoke trams has left the depot with a surplus of units, used in rotation on the curtailed line from the city centre to the airport.

Further reading:

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

9 comments op “Edinburgh trams extension opening finally announced”

Alisdair Milliken|22.02.23|16:07

This article feels like it’s written with a vendetta against the Edinburgh trams. The lack of distinction between the original disastrous trams project and the extension seems to be used to taint the latter with the former. Although along the original route, the extension project seems to gone much more to plan and budget. Being a Leith resident, I have heard the complaints of business but most are accessed on foot by locals, more interesting shops have appeared along the route than disappeared.

Allister McDowell|22.02.23|21:33

This project differs from the original one in that it did not suffer from a problematic and seemingly never-ending contract, nor was it entangled in controversies. While some disruptions have occurred, the project’s second phase is proceeding as planned, and its budget is being adhered to. However, the article’s tone is needlessly pessimistic.

Paul Arnott|22.02.23|21:59

The whole project should have been binned when they had the chance, I think it was a few years into the initial build. It was obvious at that point the whole thing was going to be a debacle. I think there was an unofficial vote around that time but as usual the council plowed ahead with this folly. The damage to local businesses cannot be understated as well as the overall detrimental effect to the road network namely increased congestion and danger to cyclists.

graham davis|13.04.23|03:56

Before it all began, I could catch a bus from Elm Row to the airport. Now I can get a tram. Whoopi! Might be a little quicker but what a waste of money! But it’s electric! and so will most cars be soon. What was wrong with making buses electric? The bus service was voted one of the best in UK and Europe.

graham davis|13.04.23|04:07

The powers that be simply don’t want cars. They will now pack us like sardines on the trams. Ah, but the pedestrians will flourish and get ploughed down by cyclists! Have you ever seen a more complex cycling route? They don’t even use the new cycle lanes anyway, or at least not in the right direction. They don’t know which way to go and bus stops are on the road side of the cycle paths. I despair!

graham davis|13.04.23|04:21

I was getting off a bus with my pram and a cyclist going 30mph on an electric bike ploughed me down. The baby didn’t stand a chance!

graham davis|13.04.23|04:46

I sincerely hope it all works in the long run but right now pedestrians and cars use the cycle routes to walk or unload their vehicles on Leith Walk. No enforcement yet. It took vigilantes to stop the left turn southbound into Leopold Place. The planners seem to think they’ve got it right. I hope sanity prevails.

graham davis|13.04.23|05:00

The pram, baby and cyclist was made up, but a scenario that could happen all too easily.

Louise Gracie|22.05.23|15:17

You are quite right Graham. This scenario is not exaggerated. It is a problem getting off the bus on Leith Walk, especially if there is a queue of people behind you and you don’t have the time (or the space) to check for cyclists before crossing over to the pavement.

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