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Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Last Friday the contractors on Edinburgh's tram project said they were going on strike for extra money. In the tradition of air traffic controllers they had chosen to announce this strike immediately Prince's St, Edinburgh's main street, had been closed to traffic to let them work.

The whole project has always been a boondoggle - the local council are putting up £100 million & the Scottish government £500 m to put a single tramline from Leith in the east to the airport in the west. Since it goes through the main streets it will do absolutely nothing to reduce congestion there, its ostensible purpose, simply removing buses but replacing them with trams, whose use & routes are less flexible. But trams are, for ideological reasons (publicly owned & working off electricity made by fossil fuels [& nuclear} while buses use fossil fuel directly) more politically correct. The sensible options would either have just been to let the free market provide bus services, which do all the same stuff except foe costing £600 million & digging up the streets, or an automated overhead monorail system which would cost more, or at least more than the necessary cost of trams, to build but, being automated, far less to run. At least half the cost of buses is the driver. Obviously sensible options were not desired.

The good news for the SNP & the country is that they opposed this project & it was forced through by an alliance of the other parties. I strongly suspect that this piece of nonsense is a major reason why the SNP poll readings kept rising after they took power & had such a long honeymoon period. If they are sensible they will refuse to rescue it. Theoretically this is a clear breach of contract by the builders & they would have to not only repay all the money they have received but for all other cost incurred. The contractors say that there have been changes demanded by the civil servants & certainly one of the problems with the Scottish parliament was everybody & his dog changing the design after it had been approved thus pushing up costs. If so the civil servants who did this after giving absolute assurances that it was done & dusted & there would be no cost increases out to be fired. If so the contractors have a decent legal case & should take it to law - striking is still breaking their contract.

There are thus 4 issues which the letter covers but not in depth. - the grossly inflated initial costs of this boondoggle; the impropriety of the contractors using these tactics to extort more; the way the SNP government are not on the hook for this & can thus dump it; another call for an explanation by those in power as to why our public costs are so many times greater than the rest of the world's:

"It appears the builders of Edinburgh's tramline are playing chicken with the government to get more money. We were given many specific promises that there need be no further increase. In which case if the civil servants in charge have acted honestly, they could not have instructed non-contracted extra work as the consortium claim. Have they acted honestly?. However the proper procedure for the contractors would be to carry out the contract as stipulated & sue, or go to arbitration, over any extras not to break the contract by going on strike.

In any case they would do well to remember that the tram project was not put forward by the government but forced through Holyrood by an alliance of the other parties - a cynical playing to vested interests which they may not now be willing to repeat. The contractors could easily find the contract voided because of their breach & thus them liable to repay all costs incurred.

There has been little discussion of the fantastic level of these costs. Melbourne built the Box Hill extension, 2.2 km, opened in 2003, for £12.5 million; & the Vermont South Extension of 3 km in 2005 for £13.5 million. On that basis the Edinburgh tramway, at 18.5 km, should be costing about £105 million pounds or indeed quite a lot less because of economies of scale. British public works have a long record of being grossly overpriced. For example the new Forth Bridge was costed at 13 times more, after inflation, than the previous one. Those in charge refuse to provide any explanation of this & they should."

Refs - Melbourne tram costs - I have taken costs at today's exchange rate of $2.25 = £1
Forth Bridge costs
Also in the Herald slightly edited.

Better than a tram is a trollybus. A trollybus can run on electricity such as nuclear, but is cheaper to build and can steer around obstacles.

Here in Mesa we have a new "light rail system" that was built between the various cities that make up our metro area. I rode the LR system the day it opened and it is just a glorified bus. Correction, an expensive glorified bus, that hogs a major part of the road with its' own private right of way.

We we warned about the LR system when the county's transit funding plan came up for a vote, and the sheeple still voted for this monstrosity. The LR system was included as part of a 20 year budget that included commuter freeways and many other needed projects. The owner of Shamrock Farms dairy decided to run ads against it, but it still won! Every people get the government they deserve.
I remember Glasgow's trolleybuses when I was young. Apart from running on electricity they seem neither better nor worse than buses. If they really wanted something innovative they should go for automated overhead monorails.
I rode a monorail in Las Vegas the last time I visited. The monorail was located behind the Casinos and gave me a perfect view of their dumpsters, large transformers and seedy businesses off the strip when I rode it. According to what I heard the entire system was built without public financing and would be paid off in ten years.

It would have been better if the MR had been built in front of the casinos on the strip so that I wouldn't have to walk so far to get to the stations.
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