I voted against Edinburgh’s single tram line. But here’s why new plan is a good idea – Steve Cardownie

If Edinburgh is serious about tackling climate change, reducting congestions and cutting air pollution, the city needs to be bold, writes Steve Cardownie.

Wednesday, 15th January 2020, 6:00 am
The current line from York Place to the airport has exceeded passenger number expectations. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Readers with long ­memories should not have been surprised to learn that Edinburgh City Council has dusted off the original tram network proposals and repackaged them as part of the city’s draft mobility plan.

Proposals for a tram network for the city originally surfaced nearly 20 years ago and comprised of a tram network with routes connecting the city from east to west and north to south. Whilst the latest extension to Newhaven will finally see the completion of what was Tram Line 1a, the city council has unveiled ambitious plans to complete the rest of the network, which should go a long way to help improve the environment and reduce traffic congestion.

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Whilst far from perfect, the current line from York Place to the airport, which started carrying passengers from 31 May 2014 has, we are reliably informed, exceeded passenger number expectations. This has given cause for optimism that other lines will perform even better given that the routes will be planned rather than hastily rushed through for political purposes, as was the case with the current line.

Line has to be improved

It has been documented elsewhere that the project came in well over budget and well outwith its scheduled time frame (which is currently the ­subject of a public inquiry – also likely to come in well over budget and outwith its scheduled time frame) so I don’t intend to rehearse the facts and figures here. I will restrict myself to merely commenting that the current line was not what the city needed nor wanted and was always going to exceed its budget, which is why I voted against the proposal at the time.

Out of a proposed extensive network we were left with an 8.7-mile route with 16 stops so it seemed obvious that the line had to be improved and the only way of doing that was to extend it so that it would run down to Newhaven and at least complete one tram line that was in the original plan. The city council took the same view and that work is now underway and trams are expected to start carrying passengers on the route in early 2023.

The two other proposed extensions in the plan would see the line branch off to Granton (Line 1b in the original plan) with the other branching off to the ERI (what was Line 3.) In the SNP group on the council at the time (of which I was elected leader), we held the view that we were not against the principle of a tram network but we were against the proposal that was put to us for the ­construction of a single line. It would appear that the current city council SNP group are on the same track.

No shortage of passengers

With proposed new developments on the city’s waterfront, which is largely an untapped resource at present, and with the BioQuarter set to employ thousands of workers on the city’s southern border it is perfectly reasonable that these areas should be serviced by a tram that is part of a city-wide network.

The ERI treats around 100,000 ­people annually at its accident and emergency department and has upwards of 900 beds. The new Sick Kids hospital has 242 beds, which should mean that there will be no shortage of passengers on the new tram route. Add in university campuses and it is not to difficult to understand that the economics should stack up.

Once adopted by the transport and environment committee tomorrow, the draft mobility plan (which contains a raft of other proposals) will go out for public consultation, which should ­provide ample opportunity for stakeholders to express their views.

One thing’s for sure – the status quo is not an option, for if we are serious about tackling climate change, reducing traffic congestion and guaranteeing clean air in our city for generations to come, then we have to be prepared to embrace change, make bold decisions and start to make a difference.