Railfuture Scotland - Edinburgh Trams

Railfuture campaigns for a 'bigger and better railway'. By 'railway' we also mean trams, light rail and underground systems as well as the national railway network. Therefore we support and campaign for more tram systems and expansions to existing ones, and this is explained in our book Britain's Growing Railway (see [SHOP] to buy the book and find out more about it).

Tram systems returned to Britain in 1992 (ignoring the Blackpool system, which never closed, but had remained as a heritage system, although completely modernised in recent years). Government support for new systems has alternated between support and outright opposition, primary because some politicans believe (incorrectly in Railfuture's view) that buses can do a good job, and the cost and construction overruns seen on several schemes. Undoubtedly by far the worst construction cost increase was on the Edinburgh Trams and as a result the first line was curtailed.

The good news is that depsite the doubling in cost for a curtailed scheme that was delivered years late, Edinburgh's trams have been popular with the public. More journeys have been made than envisaged and, crucially, the trams will run at a profit sooner than had been expected. This success along with the rate of growth forecast for Edinburgh over the coming years - and the fact that some works on the extension had already been done (and then covered over) plus having bought more trams than they need for the short line - has encouraged Edinburgh City Council to consider extending the tram system providing that they can ensure that the extension will be delivered on time and on budget. In fairness to the trams, once the original problems with the contractor were resolved the project was successfully completed. An Edinburgh Tram Inquiry chaired by Lord Hardie was set-up to find out the causes for the problems.

Edinburgh's rapid population and economic growth

  • Over the next decade, Edinburgh and its surrounding area is expected to be home to a faster-growing population than anywhere else in Scotland. National Records of Scotland projections published in 2016 suggest the city should be planning for an additional 47,000 people by 2024 and an additional 102,000 by 2039 (20% increase)
  • Number of households forecast to increase by over 38,000 (16%) by 2032. A quarter (25%) of this growth is forecast to occur in Leith Docks and Western Harbour area
  • Employment levels in Edinburgh are projected to grow by 7.6% between 2013 and 2022.

Edinburgh Trams extension - progress

On 21st September 2017 the Outline Business Case for extending the line to Newhaven was approved by Edinburgh City Council. The proposal had been closely scrutinised at length by members of all political groups on the council. At the end of October 2017 the council launched a comprehensive tendering process to secure up to two potential partners for the project to extend the tram system by 4.6km, adding eight new tram stops and demolishing the existing York Place tram terminus. Two tenders were issued: lot 1 for the infrastructure and systems contract, and lot 2 - the Swept Path contract. The winner of the infrastructure and systems contract will be responsible for bringing the Edinburgh tram to Newhaven and Leith. The Swept Path contract will be to clear the tram route of all below ground utilities and obstructions, with the necessary works being defined by the contractor awarded the lot 1 contract.

Only if satisfactory responses from potential contractors have been received in autumn 2018 will the council consider giving final approval. The intervening time will provide a further 12 months of evidence of tram patronage. Hopefully passenger growth will continue ahead of expectations. A key issue is the temporary disruption for businesses and residents along the route. This was worse that planned on the initial route because construction works overran. The council will undertake detailed work on traffic management arrangements and measures to mitigate the impact of future works.

Key points from the Edinburgh Trams extension outline business case

  • Capital Cost estimated at £165.2m, including risk and inflation
  • Patronage forecast to almost double in opening year to 14m, reflecting high population densities along the route
  • For every £1 spent the economic return to the city is £1.64 (including wider economic benefits, including social inclusion) and completing the line will provide access to jobs and support business and opportunities in the area
  • Estimated three-year construction period, including 18 months on Leith Walk, followed by approximately four months of testing and commissioning on new line.
  • Significant proportion of major utility works have already been carried out - remainder carried out in conjunction with main infrastructure works, meaning no 'double dig'

Edinburgh Trams - photos from summer 2016

TVM screen showing tram stops

Tram ticket machines show destinations on route map

A nice feature on the Edinburgh Trams ticket vending machines (TVMs) is that rather than having a list of tram stops they show each stop as its position on the tram route so that the passenger touches the stop they want. Obviously something this simple is only possible on a small network. It may need redesigning if the tram route is extended.

Tram at Ingliston Park & Ride stop

A tram arrives at Ingliston Park & Ride stop. One stop before the Edinburgh Airport terminus it is the zone boundary between trams from the city centre. This means anyone going beyond this stop to the airport has to pay a substantially higher fare.

Tram at York Place terminus

This is the inside of a tram looking out of the window when the tram was parked at the current terminus at York Street stop. The sign on the window shows that Wi-Fi is provided. At the time Edinburgh was one of only two systems offering free on-board Wi-Fi (the other was Manchester Metrolink).

All photos by Jerry Alderson.



About Railfuture

Railfuture is an independent, voluntary group representing rail users in Britain with 20,000 affiliated and individual members. It is not funded by train companies, political parties or trade unions, and all members have an equal say.

Railfuture campaigns for cheap and convenient rail services for everyone; better links for buses, bikes and pedestrians; policies to get more heavy lorries on to rail; new lines, stations and freight terminals. In short, a better rail service and a bigger rail system for both passengers and freight.

Railfuture is pro-rail but not anti-road or anti-air. However, we campaign for a switch from road and air to rail. We do not interfere in the running of the railway - we campaign for the quality and range of services provided, not how they are delivered. We are the only champion of all rail users.


Railfuture is the campaigning name of the Railway Development Society Ltd.

A not-for-profit Company Limited by Guarantee.

Registered in England and Wales No. 5011634.

Registered Office: 24 Chedworth Place, Tattingstone, Suffolk IP9 2ND.


© Copyright Railfuture 2017.

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