Tram project in worse state than ever, claim engineers

Tram tracks taking shape at Haymarket
Tram tracks taking shape at Haymarket
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THE trams project is now “even more out of control” than it was when arms-length council company TIE was in charge, a group of civil engineers has claimed.

The Edinburgh-based group led by long-term tram critic John Carson have written to council chief executive Sue Bruce, insisting the risks which plagued the controversial project for years while the council and the contractors were at loggerheads still existed.

The city council has rejected the criticism and has insisted the project is on a sound footing since TIE was dissolved.

Transport leader Gordon MacKenzie recently told the Evening News the work was ahead of schedule and the line may even be up and running by the end of next year.

However the four engineers, who say they have a combined 150 years of experience, claim council chiefs have actually made the situation worse by deciding to extend the curtailed route into York Place instead of stopping it in St Andrew Square.

In their letter to Ms Bruce, the engineers said: “In our view, the tram project is even more out of control than it was under TIE. The risks that existed then continue to be critical and to impact the project.”

They claimed the design of the project was incomplete, although the original intention had been for it to be completed by the end of 2007; the project suffered from the absence of a single experienced individual; the diversion of underground utility pipes and cables was “still far from complete”; and the cost of taking the tramline from St Andrew Square into York Place was not included in the current £776 million budget.

Mr Carson, a former head of maintenance at Network Rail, said: “All successful projects have a leader, someone in day-to-day control that has experience of building projects. This project has lacked that from day one and getting rid of TIE just exacerbated it.”

His fellow signatories included Derek Shepherd, former managing director of Taylor Woodrow in Nigeria and Ghana, Alistair Laing, who worked on a series of major construction projects for the World Bank, and Alan Welsh, who worked for BAE.

Meanwhile, West End traders claimed TIE would have done a better job of managing the current tram works.

Michael Apter, chairman of the West End Association, said the area around Shandwick Place was strewn with litter and did not have proper signs telling people where they could cross the road. And he said Princes Street, when it was closed previously, had been much tidier and better signed.

He said: “What the council has done has done in the last 12 months has been a shadow of the response we would have got from TIE in terms of how the site was managed and the kind of signs we had.”

Labour transport spokeswoman Lesley Hinds said it was up to Ms Bruce and officials to answer the engineers’ points. But she said: “One of the concerns I have is that we seem to ignore people who have expertise.”

However, Cllr Mackenzie said: “Since we have revised the project’s governance arrangements, the evidence supports our contention that the project us going to the revised schedule and within the revised budget.”

He acknowledged there had been problems with signage at the West End and said the issue was being addressed.

A council spokesman said: “The council has now taken the lead on delivering the project, which has gained fresh momentum in recent months and is enjoying its busiest and most constructive period to date.

“All the work, including design, utility diversions and construction, remains in line with expectations and we are on course to deliver the project within the revised budget by summer 2014.”