Leader: Wait for tram inquiry before extending the line

A computer generated image of how the trams would look on Leith Walk.
A computer generated image of how the trams would look on Leith Walk.
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The financial fiasco of the Edinburgh tram project will never be forgotten, regardless of how successful the line might become in the future. A proposal to extend the line to Newhaven could be enough to turn the trams into an economic success, but there are calls for the brakes to be put on any further development of the line until the full lessons of the past have been learned – in other words, until after an inquiry into the shambolic project publishes its final report, thus preventing a repeat of the catastrophic failures of the past.

The inquiry’s first public hearings begin on Tuesday, and it is inevitable that witnesses will shed new light on matters that have begged explanation. It is reasonable to presume that the inquiry is likely to highlight where the project went badly wrong, and this knowledge should come in handy as phase two of the line is contemplated.

However, supporters of the extension believe that waiting for the inquiry to report would cause unnecessary delay.

That’s a hard case to argue, against the history of a six-year construction process for the existing line. Inquiries are always lengthy affairs, but although we can expect this one will last longer than the “months” forecast, it is still likely to take a fraction of the time wasted on part one of the tram line.

And of course, the delays and over-spend were only part of the story. Businesses adjacent to construction work were badly affected, and some did not survive.

None of this should happen again. If a second phase is to take place, the plan for execution has to be flawless. Starting work before the inquiry reports means taking a risk that no-one should be exposed to this time around.

An extension to the tram line would be an improvement of the existing service, but it is not essential. The inquiry might have no definite end date, but in practice, neither did the first phase of the tram line. A little patience here might go a long way – all the way to Newhaven, with a bit of luck.