Transport experts insist Edinburgh’s trams project can still be completed within the revised budget even though there is less than £20 million left in the funding pot.
Latest accounts have revealed that £728m of the £742m base budget has now been spent with just over a year until the official opening of the line next summer.
And only £5.3m remains of an extra £34m contingency fund as of March 31.
The figures were released as a report by chief executive Sue Bruce confirmed all road and track works, including resurfacing, were on target to be finished at Shandwick Place and Haymarket by June – up to three months ahead of schedule.
Overhead and ground cabling is still to be installed at Shandwick Place and York Place, meaning that some work barriers could remain at both sites up until December.
Simon Johnston, editor of Tramways and Urban Transit magazine, said the remaining cash could stretch to cover the final costs as most of the high-cost infrastructure such as the tramlines and vehicles had already been paid for.
He said: “Quite possibly completing the rest has already been taken into account with money that’s already been spent or allocated.”
Off-street infrastructure (£116m) such as the Gogar depot, project management costs (£86.1m) including senior staff, archaeology and recruitment fees, and utility works (£85.7m) have taken up two-fifths of the budget so far.
However, the biggest spend has come on claim settlements and general contractor costs totalling £230m.
Conservative transport spokeswoman Joanna Mowat admitted the budget was now extremely tight, but said she was “cautiously optimistic” it would be enough.
She said: “Everyone wants this off-street as soon as possible and any advance in that programme is welcome.
“But we also want them off the streets permanently rather than off this week and then back on next week.”
Business leaders have been assured of better-than-expected progress on the line’s completion, raising hopes of an earlier opening date.
Essential Edinburgh chief executive Andy Neal said: “Everything that I’m hearing suggests that we’re at least on schedule, if not slightly ahead. That would be fantastic. The sooner we clear the place up, the better.”
Michael Apter, chairman of the West End Association, said: “It’s taken far too long. We need to move on as quickly as possible and remind people that we have got a beautiful city that we’re privileged to live and work in.”
City leaders said it was clear that the project was starting to take shape.
Transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “You only have to be out and about in Edinburgh to see the progress being made and I’m pleased to report that by June much of the road and track work will be complete. This means we can push on with a significant programme of work to install overhead and underground cables.
“The project remains in line with the revised budget and many sections are now ahead of schedule meaning the city will be much clearer for summer visitors and for festival season.”
Transport minister Keith Brown said: “I hope the local business community can now plan ahead with confidence and also look forward to seeing further evidence of key aspects of the project coming to fruition over the coming months.
“While the project has caused disruption, their patience is at long last starting to pay off.”
Losses in prospect
EDINBURGH’S trams network faces running at a loss for up to the first five years of operation.
As much as £3.2 million a year will be set aside from the city council budget to cover start-up costs and operational losses.
An annual dividend from Lothian Buses, which could amount to £16m over five years, will be given to tram chiefs.
Passenger numbers are expected to be significantly lower in the first two years of operation than first predicted.
Previous estimates had put the number of travellers at about nine million a year – but that figure now stands at just over five million.
Concerns have been raised over using profits from Lothian Buses, which will run the network, to subsidise the running of the 13km route from Edinburgh Airport to York Place.
The first trams are due to start running along the line next summer.