Edinburgh Light Rail Halted. The Usual Suspects. The Usual Results.

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BY PANOS PREVEDOUROS PHD – Edinburgh Light Rail called Edinburgh Trams is the second great example of what’s in store for Honolulu. The first one is Tren Urbano in San Juan Puerto Rico where the system was build at twice the original cost and five years after opening it has failed to reach 50% of its opening year ridership forecast.

The “usual suspect” is present in all three projects. Edinburgh, San Juan and Honolulu have the same consultant who prepared the rail project estimates. Here are the results so far in Edinburgh, Scotland:

  • Project originally scheduled to open in July 2011. Rescheduled to 2014 if at all.
  • Original cost was $640 million but now it over $1 Billion.
  • 72% of the construction work remains to be done but only 38% of the budget is left.

Efforts to get Edinburgh’s troubled trams project back on track now seem certain to drag on beyond the Scottish Parliament elections in May. Edinburgh Conservative David McLetchie said: “If people are delaying because they think more money will be forthcoming from any new Scottish Government, they had better think again. My party, and I believe others, are quite resolved there will be not a penny more than the original £500m that was committed and it is up to the city to meet any extra costs.” [1]

This is an important lesson to Honolulu. Federal bailout dollars are highly unlikely.

This Scotsman title says a lot: Keeping track of this fiasco is easier said than done. They summarized it as follows in the following five paragraphs: [2]

Although the disputed issues have been repeatedly described as “complex”, they actually boil down to two simple facts: 1) the council has signed a legally binding contract with the tram consortium to build a tram line between Edinburgh Airport and Newhaven; and 2) it has insufficient money (and has secured no additional funding), to complete the works. With the council liable for construction costs over the £500 million Scottish Government grant, that is desperately worrying for local taxpayers.

How, in a few short years, has the tram project gone from being the “vital” jewel in Edinburgh’s shining crown to a potentially catastrophic financial millstone round its neck?

The answer, again, is simple: over-optimism, arrogance, and a systemic failure on the part of professionals to protect the public interest and purse.

Fears that underground utility diversions would be significant, complex and time-consuming were patronizingly dismissed with assurances that super-duper, high-tech radar technology had located all underground pipes; and, crucially, the public need not fear significant cost increases because risk had been transferred to the private sector under “fixed price” contracts.

The army of private sector engineers, transportation modelers, transportation planners, environmental consultants, property experts, accountants and lawyers, having received protracted and generous recompense for their expertise, have also failed to ensure issues were resolved.

Honolulu is clearly no different: Subservient professionals offer politicians what they want to hear, and clueless politicians believe all of it. Poor planning and bad government guarantee a financial fiasco. Honolulu has all the components for a bad outcome.

Meanwhile, the economic losses at both public and private sector are very real. Edinburgh trams: Three years of hurt for nothing: [3]

  • Traders whose livelihoods have been blighted by the trams project have spoken of their anger over the news that the route could be cut short.
  • Business owners on Leith Walk have suffered three years of disruption as tram works were carried out outside their premises.
  • And much like Honolulu, Edinburgh ordered trains that it cannot use… [4]


[1] https://edinburghnews.scotsman.com/topstories/Tram-scheme39s-mediators-prepared-for.6734919.jp

[2] https://www.scotsman.com/transport-news/Sarah-B-Keeping-track-of.6733652.jp

[3] https://news.scotsman.com/transport-news/Edinburgh-trams-Three-years-of.6572962.jp and I thought it may interest you.

[4] https://edinburghnews.scotsman.com/edinburghtransportplans/Capital39s-2m-trams-close-to.6740841.jp