Edinburgh trams latest: What's next for Edinburgh trams? Extension plans for Granton, Musselburgh and Dalkeith
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Trams have started carrying passengers down Leith Walk after an absence of almost 70 years.
The opening of the extension from the city centre to Newhaven was a landmark occasion, not only marking the return of trams to Leith for the first time since 1956 but also the successful completion of a tram project by the council following the previous scheme to reintroduce trams to the Capital, which was dogged by problems from start to finish.
The route down Leith Walk and through Leith on to Newhaven should have been part of that first scheme nine years ago, but that section of the line was cut out as part of the revised plans which saw taxpayers pay nearly twice the original price for about half the line, delivered three years late. In contrast, the “Trams to Newhaven” project was completed on time and within its £207 million budget. And now the council wants to go further.
So what's next for Edinburgh trams? What we know about Granton extension
Taking the tramline to Newhaven is not the end of the council's ambitions for trams in Edinburgh. Next on the agenda is going to Granton, now the site of a massive £1.3 billion regeneration programme, including thousands of new homes. A spur from Haymarket to Granton was part of the original tram scheme, known as phase 1b, but was dropped when costs started to escalate.
With an increasing population and a jobs boost expected, the area is now set to get its tram link after all. In the past, council leader Cammy Day, who is Labour councillor for Forth ward, has argued strongly for completion of the tram line all the way from Newhaven to Roseburn, taking in Granton. "It's the area with the lowest car use in the city, so people rely on public transport - and it's all off-road so it's easier to do."
What about trams going to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary?
A tramline to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary at Little France was envisaged as Line 3 of Edinburgh’s proposed tram network back in 2001. It wasn’t covered by the cash from the Scottish Government, but the plan was to fund it from the income from the city’s proposed congestion charge. However, the idea of such a charge was rejected in a referendum in 2005 and so there was no money for a line to the Infirmary.
But the hope of a quick and easy route to the Capital’s main hospital in the south-east of the city did not go away. And now it is linked with the plans to take the trams to Granton. A new north-south tramline would run from Granton through the city centre, out to Little France and on to Dalkeith. Although the most obvious benefit might be for people going to visit at the hospital or attending outpatient appointments, the financial case for the line probably relies more on the ongoing development of the BioQuarter next door.
So is this all about finishing off what was planned in the first place?
Extending tram services to Newhaven, Granton and the ERI were all part of the original proposals and abandoned at different stages as the route was reduced to going from the airport to the city centre. But the original scheme also included an extension to the west of the airport, going to Ratho Station and Newbridge. And now the council has signalled that particular route is likely to be dropped in favour of a line going west along the A71 corridor past Hermiston, which would serve Heriot-Watt University and other developments out there, on the grounds it would have a stronger business case than the line to Newbridge.
Does the public get any say in the future of Edinburgh trams?
A three-month consultation on the north-south, Granton to Dalkeith route is due to be approved by transport committee in August and get under way later this year. One of the key issues to be decided is whether the route follows the original plan of using the Roseburn cycle path or goes via Orchard Brae, allowing the well-used cycle path to be retained. There has also been talk of a possible branch off the Granton-Dalkeith line, going to Musselburgh
When could the new Edinburgh tram extension happen?
The timetable envisaged for the new north-south tram line between Granton and Dalkeith would see it open in 2035. The council’s transport convener Scott Arthur has said the long timescale involved is “frustrating”. And the Capital’s slow progress in expanding its tram network contrasts with some cities south of the border, like Manchester which opened its first line in 1992 and now has seven lines radiating from the city centre to Altrincham, Ashton-Under-Lyne, Bury, East Didsbury, Eccles, Manchester Airport and Rochdale. Manchester has a total of 93 tram stops along 57 miles track, making it the largest light rail system in the British Isles
How are Edinburgh trams going to be paid for?
Edinburgh council doesn't have any funding for new tram projects. But it is hoping the Scottish Government will provide finance to develop the tram network as part of the national transport infrastructure.
Cost is obviously a sensitive issue when it comes to trams, given the experience of the first tram project which ended up costing £776m – more than £200m over the original budget – and a projected £1 billion once loan repayments are taken into consideration.
Wasn't the SNP against Edinburgh trams?
When the SNP came to power at Holyrood in 2007 it tried to scrap Edinburgh’s tram project, which had been granted funding by the previous Labour-Lib Dem coalition administration. Opposition parties combined to defeat the SNP bid and the then Finance Secretary John Swinney agreed to give the city the promised funding but "not a penny more".
The SNP remained critical of the project, both at Holyrood and the council. But the Scottish Gvernment’s second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR 2) published in December 2022 endorsed expansion plans for “mass rapid transit” although there was no promise of cash. And during the SNP leadership election, Humza Yousaf told the Evening News: “I'm a great supporter of what's been done with the tram network.”
But there is still some reluctance to embrace trams fully – when the Scottish Government introduced free bus travel for under-22s it refused to extend the scheme to cover the trams as well. Under-22s who live in Edinburgh do get free tram travel thanks to the council and Edinburgh Trams, but the council is still pressing for a change of heart by the government.
And what's happened to the Edinburgh tram inquiry?
The inquiry chaired by former Lord Advocate Lord Hardie into what went wrong with the original project was set up in 2014 by Alex Salmond, who promised a "swift and thorough" investigation, but it still hasn't reported. Public hearings began in September 2017 and ended in May 2018. The inquiry has cost £13 million, as much as the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war. However, it was announced in April that Lord Hardie's report has gone to the printers and its final publication is expected imminently.