Tram chiefs have just £1m left in emergency fund

Work on the track is in its final stages. Picture: Colin Hattersley

Work on the track is in its final stages. Picture: Colin Hattersley

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TRAM chiefs only have £1 million left in an emergency fund designed to meet any unexpected costs, the Evening News can reveal.

And, with the route expected to be running by May, critics fear the seven-figure slush fund might not be enough to meet any ­substantial problems that arise in the meantime.

The line’s operators – who are gearing up for an intensive period of tram testing – believe bouts of bad weather won’t blow their budget, as all the major infrastructure work has been carried out.

And, incredibly, they are even hoping for snow – so they can test special equipment bought to clear the lines.

Despite this, Edinburgh Central MSP Marco Biagi said council taxpayers have learned to take financial predictions with a pinch of salt when it comes to the £776m project.

He said: “Although it looks like everything is now about finished, when it comes to things going wrong with the trams, Edinburgh’s wearied residents have rightly learned to never say never.

“That concern is as valid for the start of a public inquiry as it is for the contingency fund possibly running dry.”

The tram project has been heavily criticised for its soaring costs – but is now down to some comparatively small figures.

In total, £33m of the £34m contingency fund – set aside for any emergency costs – has been spent, with utility ­diversions eating into most of that figure, leaving just £1m.

There is also a £16m chunk of cash in the base budget, which has not yet been spent, but all of that money has been allocated to project costs and is not due to be saved.

Council chiefs – powering towards their spring finishing line – are unperturbed. All of the earthworks along the eight-mile long route from Edinburgh Airport to York Place have now been completed, and these have accounted for huge portions of the budget.

Jobs to be ­finished include cable checks around tram stops – and the testing phase.

This will include “ghost runs” of empty trams along the full route – expected to begin shortly.

Edinburgh Trams major projects manager Alan Coyle said: “I’m confident we’ll still come in within the budget.”

Mr Coyle said of the £1m left in the emergency pot: “The rate of draw down has been significantly reduced in the last few months.

“As you can imagine ­during the period of full construction there was a number of changes that happened during the course of that part of the project.

“The rate of change has slowed to virtually nil. We’re now in a period where it’s [about] testing and ­commissioning.

“There’s no changes in terms of infrastructure. The actual project management costs are reducing dramatically as we step through the programme towards operations. Any ­additional risk out there is very, very minimal now.”

Speaking to the city’s ­governance and risk committee, Mr Coyle said contributions from third parties ­including Scottish Water, were still being finalised and could yet lead to extra savings.

Tram chiefs have said even a severe winter like the one that crippled Edinburgh’s transport network in 2010-11 should almost certainly not blow out costs or the line’s completion date because the earthworks had all been finished.

Colin Smith, of Edinburgh Trams, said management were keen for some bad weather to test the snow-clearing equipment on the line.

He said if they had still been working on the ground there would have been concern, but stressed the fear of severe weather is now “not so great”.

Despite such bullish talk, governance committee member and Tory Councillor Iain Whyte believes the costs still need to be carefully monitored.

Transport tsar confident of deadline

THE city’s transport tsar said the council was refusing to take anything for granted – but believed everything was now in place to see the tram network up and running after Christmas.

Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “The major elements of construction work have now been completed and we can be confident that the current budget position, which includes various allocations and a contingency fund, will see us through to the end of the project.”

We can also reveal that to help meet, or beat, the May deadline, £6.2 million from the contingency fund was spent on “value engineering” to prevent the risk of 22 weeks of delays that could have pushed the finish date later into next year.