Scotsman speaks out on Edinburgh tram boondoggle.

Today in The Scotsman, Alastair Dalton recaps the sorry tale which has seen work on Edinburgh’s new £545 million tram system bogged down by logistical and financial entanglements.  His story is one of two published today, as well as an editorial in which the paper says the city’s bus network “must not pay for the trams.”

All dressed up and nowhere to go: Edinburgh tram on display in Princes Street, 29 April, 2010. By Flickr user Cowrin, via Creative Commons license. Click for photostream.

Dalton offers what seems to be a straightforward summary of the boondoggle that has pit contractors against city council-owned firm TIE, formerly Transport Initiatives Edinburgh.  In a memorable one-liner, he notes: “Every major component of the project for which (TIE) is responsible has hit problems, except for the one element not happening in Edinburgh — the manufacturing of trams in Spain.”

Worse still, he notes, “Lothian Buses, the city’s main operator, may be asset-stripped to pay for the scheme to be completed.” In a separate Scotsman piece today, Brian Ferguson delves into what impact such a move could have on Lothian Buses. Ferguson spoke with two former Lothian Buses executives, and writes that insiders “say the bus company’s finances may be irreparably damaged” if the subsidy plan moves ahead. Ferguson writes that “Neil Renilson, former chief executive, and ex-chairman Pilmar Smith are worried services will be cut and bus fares hiked” in what they call “complete folly.” Tram firm executives declined to speak to the paper, Ferguson says, although “sources close to the city council say using the bus company’s profits are more acceptable than selling it off or pulling the plug on the entire tram project.”

Dalton concludes his piece (“Radical action key to future of the capital’s trams vision”) with this thought: “The solution might be to pass the project to a new pair of hands.” The newspaper itself, in its leader for today,  seems to advise that Edinburgh Councillors should take “cognisance of the warnings over the future of the capital’s public transport infrastructure issued by” Renilson and Smith. That leader can be found here, although the full piece is only available to registered subscribers.

The whole affair seems to be a sad example of muddled planning, and an embarassment to Scotland’s beautiful and historic capital city. For more resources on this saga, see:

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