Leith and Granton spur tram routes back on agenda

Tram bosses are examining ways to extend the network. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Tram bosses are examining ways to extend the network. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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PLANS to complete Edinburgh’s original tram network have emerged – five years after the route was controversially trimmed back.

Three options are being considered that will take the line into Leith but briefings from transport officials have also hinted at moves to revive the axed “Granton spur”.

Officials will even re-examine long-abandoned plans for a southern line to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

If plans progress, the Capital may finally boast the full 14-mile tram network it was promised in 2001.

The options being considered include extending the line to Newhaven, the bottom of Leith Walk, or McDonald Road – a move that would see a transport interchange introduced at Picardy Place.

Building only as far as McDonald Road is thought unlikely, it is understood.

A transport source said: “All options are being considered, including the western route and the southern route. Those options will be considered and narrowed down.”

Extending the tram route to Leith – and possibly beyond – will allow the network to boost profits and help recoup some of the £776 million already spent on the pared-down line.

But the move may concern traders on Leith Walk who faced years of disruption while underground pipes and utilities were diverted to accommodate rails that were never laid.

It is understood proposals to extend the terminus from York Place to McDonald Road – a distance of around half-a-mile – have arisen after developers behind the £850m St James Quarter offered more money to the city in contributions than was originally expected. They previously offered to pay for a transport hub as far as Picardy Place.

Now officials are weighing up options to use the extra cash to create a new tram stop on Leith Walk – either at McDonald Road or Elm Row.

Tracks could then be laid in stages as far as Newhaven.

The News previously told how the city was in funding talks with the firm behind the St James Quarter and European Union agencies to help extend the line.

A report laying bare available options for the tram network – and what level of public investment would be needed – will be published late next month.

Axed in 2009 amid contractual disputes and soaring costs, the so-called Granton spur would have formed a connecting loop between Newhaven and Roseburn in the west of the Capital.

But the city still owns a corridor of land where the line could be built after securing the stretch via a Scottish Parliament Act. The entire western loop of the tram had been costed at £87m – around £7m more than the estimated cost of bringing the line down Leith Walk as far as Newhaven.

Rails and other materials needed to extend the line to Newhaven have already been bought and are stockpiled at the service’s Gogar depot. The city already has enough tram cars to service the entire route, with just 12 out of 27 vehicles being used at any one time.

An abandoned final section of the tram project – dubbed phase 3 and costed at £198m but never winning legal approval – would have seen trams run down North and South Bridge, past Cameron Toll and as far as the ERI campus.

The tram service is believed to be meeting budget targets for passenger numbers and ticket sales, with 1.5m tram journeys made in the service’s first 100 days.

In order to cover its operating costs, trams need to carry 90,000 passengers per week.

A spokeswoman for the council said: “A report will be put before councillors in December that will set out options for future public transport investment in Edinburgh.”