Princes Street tram pylons avoidable, says expert

The Princes Street pylons may not be entirely necessary. Picture: Neil Hanna
The Princes Street pylons may not be entirely necessary. Picture: Neil Hanna
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A TRANSPORT expert says planners of Edinburgh’s maligned tram system could have avoided building unsightly pylons down the centre of Princes Street.

Professor Lewis Lesley, technical director of light rail company Trampower, has claimed the visual impact could have been minimised at no added cost if cables were hung from buildings along the shopping strip and attached to poles concealed in Princes Street Gardens.

His advice came as Edinburgh councillor Adam McVey urged city planners to investigate a new technology that would avoid the need for overhead cables along the Capital’s picturesque high street altogether.

Bombardier, one of the unsuccessful contract bidders for the Edinburgh project, has successfully trialled a cableless tram system in Augsburg, Germany. Low-floor trams at the European location have been using the PRIMOVE contactless system on a spur line to the city’s exhibition centre since 2010.

The technology works with buried inductive loops transmitting power to trams.

Prof Lesley said even without that technology contractors could have avoided building so many pylons and overhead wires on Princes Street – and saved money in the process.

He said: “The overhead line in Princes Street is over the top for what’s needed. They could have had a more elegant system if they put their minds to it.

“The track they’ve put in would cope with French high speed trains on what I’ve seen.

“They could have had poles in the gardens-side footway, or pavement, and extended a spanning wire to the building opposite with no poles down the centre of Princes Street.

“The poles would have been hidden amongst the trees.”

A total of £700 million out of the project’s revised £776m budget has already been spent, with more than a year before the line’s scheduled opening.

Cllr McVey said technology had moved on since the Edinburgh scheme was first commissioned. He said: “I hope Edinburgh takes advantage of new technology now or in the future.”

It is understood the PRIMOVE technology was still being authorised when Edinburgh was tendering for contracts to build the trams system.

Bombardier claimed the system had been particularly successful in adverse ground conditions such as snow or ice – a common problem for the Capital during the winter months.

The cost may have been a problem however, and Prof Lesley said cableless trams systems were more expensive than those with overhead wires.

He said: “Given how much the tram is already costing – which is twice the original budget for half the original route – I think any more expenditure would bankrupt Edinburgh.”

City transport convener, Councillor Lesley Hinds, said: “The decision to use Overhead Line Equipment [OLE] was made after thorough consideration of all possible solutions. This option was chosen as it offers greater reliability and reduces the risk of service disruption.

“The appearance of this section of the route was carefully considered with a view to minimising the visual impact. The use of modern power equipment, building fixings and poles that share functions such as street lighting have helped to ensure that this is achieved.”

Hinds hits out at fare calls

CITY leaders have hit back at Scottish Government suggestions that Edinburgh council taxpayers should foot the bill for free travel for over-60s on the trams.

Transport Minister Keith Brown signalled he would reject calls for the national free fares scheme to be extended to cover trams.

But city transport convener Lesley Hinds said: “This is the first time I have had any indication of this, after many meetings with Transport Scotland to do with the trams.”

She said the inclusion of the trams in the concessionary travel scheme was always part of the business case.

She said: “On no occasion has it been suggested Edinburgh should fund this.”