TRAMWORKS will be cleared from the streets of the Capital in less than five weeks – paving the way for the line to be open for test runs on Princes Street before Christmas.
City leaders today announced a new timetable for the project which will see passenger services underway by May at the latest.
That means that up to 180 “ghost trams” - vehicles empty of passengers which will run mainly at night - a week will start running along the full eight-mile route from the Airport to York Place from December 9.
The council said that road works associated with the project would be cleared from the streets for the first time in six years by October 19.
It had been expected that a start date for services would be announced today, but the council has stopped short of that, saying only that they would be running by May at the latest.
Transport Minister Keith Brown said the project’s leaders would continue to “look for opportunities to bring the programme forward even further where at all possible”.
An announcement for the start date is now expected in January.
The improved picture for Edinburgh Trams comes just days after the News revealed how the final hurdles to city-centre testing were set to be lifted in a move that will finally see Haymarket, Shandwick Place and West Maitland Street reopen to traffic after more than 18 months of disruptive tram works.
Several contractor blunders that saw hundreds of metres of concrete ripped up and relaid along the key stretch in recent months is thought to have contributed to the delay of the start date announcement.
Under the original timetable, the tram network should have gone live in February 2011, but protracted contractual disputes between the city and contractor Bilfinger Berger sparked significant delays and saw costs spiral from £375 million to £776m.
A revised start date of summer 2014 was announced in December 2011.
Transport convenor Councillor Lesley Hinds said the tram saga was now coming to an end and she still hoped the launch date might be brought forward from May.
She said: “Within weeks the city centre will be clear of tram works for the first time in six years – the end of the tram project and the beginning of a tram service are clearly in sight. I’m pleased that the end date for the project has been brought forward but I’m very keen for it to be finished even earlier if possible.
“I’ve asked that all of these timeframes are reassessed at the beginning of next year so that any further gains in progress can be factored into our plans. Our target launch is now May 2014 but we’ll bring this forward if we can and we’ll announce a start date for the tram service when we’re 100 per cent sure.
“There is major testing work to be done on tram stops work, a major testing, commissioning and driver training programme and, of course, a Scottish winter to get through.
“As we near the completion of the project, we are approaching a time of real opportunity for our city.
“There has been major investment in infrastructure and now we want to see transport options fully integrated as part of a system that will benefit residents and visitors while ensuring that Edinburgh is well positioned in the eyes of potential investors.”
Last month, the city revealed a new umbrella body – dubbed Transport for Edinburgh – would run the tram and bus services. The new firm, headed by 11 members, would operate an integrated transport system inspired by networks in London and Manchester.
Four elected councillors – two from the administration and two from opposition parties – will be appointed to the body as non-executive directors.
Hinds to chair
Three other non-executive directors with “suitable transport experience” will complete the board, which will be chaired by Cllr Hinds.
Transport for Edinburgh will eventually be responsible for introducing cycling and walking routes into the network, but will concentrate solely on trams and buses in the first year.
Once operational, around eight trams an hour will run through Edinburgh’s streets at peak time, with fares pegged at £1.50 for a single journey – the same as the city’s buses.
Transport chiefs have vowed that tickets and time-tabling would be “fully integrated” to allow transfers between bus and tram.
Passengers will have to pay a supplement to travel to Edinburgh Airport, but that figure has yet to be agreed upon.
A total of 52 ticket inspectors, known as “revenue protection officers”, will be employed to snare fare dodgers and police the 17 trams running at any one time.
THE ROUTE TO FULL OPERATIONAL STATUS
TRAM testing from Edinburgh Airport to Edinburgh Park Station is set to begin week commencing October 6.
All streets of the Capital are set to be free of tram works by October 19. Haymarket, Shandwick Place and West Maitland Street are among the final stretches to open to traffic after up to 18 months.
Tram testing from the airport to York Place is set to begin on December 9.
Festive shoppers can expect to see trams being trialled along Princes Street as they pick up their Christmas gifts.
Around 180 trams a week could be tested along the eight-mile route.
Full tram service scheduled to be up and running for passengers by May 2014.
It is thought the start date could be improved significantly – barring setbacks with testing and remaining track works.
Transport chiefs will launch a city-wide safety and awareness campaign before December and the city centre tram testing phase.
The vast bulk of the tram infrastructure will be in place by next month – but some localised planned works may “occasionally” impact on traffic until the beginning of the tram testing phase.
ROADWORKS RELIEF FOR TRADERS
TRANSPORT Minister Keith Brown today welcomed the tram-tastic news and said a Capital free of roadworks was “good” for traders ahead of a busy festive season.
He also said the announcement will halt “misleading speculation” over the tram roll-out.
He said: “Today’s announcement further underlines this Government’s commitment to modernising transport systems across Scotland. Alongside the £500 million the Government has committed to the trams, our investment programme at Haymarket, Waverley, the new Gateway station, Borders and in electrification will revolutionise the rail network and public transport in central Scotland.
“Our record of delivery and robust project management speaks for itself.
“The announcement that the infrastructure work will be completed and handed over to the council by next March will ensure they are in a position to have trams running ahead of the revised delivery date.
“We will continue to work with the council and the contractor to look at opportunities to bring the programme forward even further where at all possible. This is good news for people and businesses in Edinburgh and we are all looking forward to a city centre free of road works and major disruption ahead of busy Christmas period.”
He added: “It puts an end to the misleading speculation about when the tram would be finished and provides clarity for businesses to plan with con-fidence.”
Tracking progress of transport link
• September 2001: Edinburgh City Council launches a new transport blueprint, which includes the reintroduction of trams.
• December 2003: Cost of the two tram lines is estimated at £473m, leaving a £98m shortfall.
• March 2007: First work on Edinburgh’s tram project gets under way in Leith, with the scheme due for completion in February 2011.
• May 2008: Final contracts worth £521m for the project are signed off by the council and Tie.
• February 2009: A dispute flares between Tie and the construction consortium just before work is due to start on Princes Street, amid claims the contractors are demanding more money.
• March 2010: As the dispute drags on, reports emerge that Tie and the council have been warned the earliest start date has slipped to 2014.
• June 2011: Lib Dems win crucial vote to press ahead with a curtailed tram line from the airport to St Andrew Square.
• September 2011: Councillors overturn previous vote and back tram line to St Andrew Square with price tag of £776m. Scottish Government says it will now “oversee” the project.
• April 2012: Council chiefs admit £592m has now been spent on the tram project.
• May 2013: It is revealed that plans are being drawn up to extend Edinburgh’s tram network as far as Dalkeith. Land is being set aside for a possible future spur link to the Midlothian town, passing the ERI.
• July 2013: Reports that trams could go live for passengers by mid-December are denied by city chiefs.
• September 2013: York Place finally reopens after being closed for 14 months for tramworks.
• May 2014: New delivery date for tram operations – announced today.
• Summer 2014: Completion timetable set in December 2011.
Comment: ‘At last we have some good news’
Like everyone else, we’ve been desperate for good news on the trams - and now we have some.
There are plenty who will understandably say, “we’ll believe it when we see it”.
But we can be sure the council is supremely confident of meeting the targets it has set today.
The focus now must be on making the most of what we have and ensuring as many people as possible gain from what is finally being