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Newhaven tram extension almost complete

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After many years, Newhaven is soon to get a tram service. Plans for an Edinburgh tram route from Haymarket station to Newhaven were unveiled in 1999. These were further developed into an agreed proposal for a 2006 Act of the Scottish Parliament, which led to the project to construct a 18.5km tram line from Edinburgh Airport via Princess Street to Newhaven. When construction started in June 2008, the line was expected to open in 2011 at an estimated cost of £521 million, including £40 million for the trams.

After its well-publicised difficulties, the Edinburgh Tram system opened in May 2014 at a cost of £1 billion for only 75% of the original project. Due to the project’s cost overrun, in 2011 it was decided not to build the city centre-to-Newhaven section despite much utility work being done along this part of the route.

By 2014, trams were a toxic subject in the city due to the project’s excessive cost and delays, with associated extended disruption. Yet when the trams started running that year, they proved to be popular, with ridership well above original predictions. Perhaps surprisingly, it then became politically acceptable for the Council to commission a business case for the completion of the original tram project to Newhaven. After this was finalised, the City of Edinburgh Council approved the Newhaven tram extension in 2019 just two years before the expiry of powers to build the extension granted under the 2006 Edinburgh Tram Act.

Two contracts
In March 2019, the Council awarded two contracts for the tram extension. The first was a design and build Infrastructure and Systems Contract (ISC) for a value of £90 million to a joint venture of Farrans, Sacyr and Neopul (SFNJV). Siemens was also sub-contracted to SFNJV under terms previously negotiated with the Council for the delivery of electrification, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), telecoms, and signalling for trams and road traffic.

The second contract was a £25 million Swept Path Contract (SPC) to clear utilities and obstructions below ground and for the tram’s overhead line system. This contract also included the requirement for archaeological investigations as part of the route clearance. This was awarded to Morrison Utility Services (MUS).

When these contracts were awarded, the cost of the 4.7km extension was estimated to be £207 million with project completion planned for October 2022, or £44 million per kilometre at 2019 prices. This compares with the £35 million per kilometre for the original Edinburgh tram estimate and £78 million per kilometre for its actual cost. However, it should be noted that the Edinburgh tram project included utility work for the Newhaven section and required much more civil engineering work than the original tram project.

Tracks laid on Leith walk

January 2021
Rail Engineer issue 188 (Jan-Feb 2021) reported on the Newhaven tram project and progress since construction work started in November 2019. Track laying had started in November 2020 and was then in progress along 20% of the route by January. Excavations, drainage, ducting, and utility work, including the diversion of a 500mm gas main, were also underway although at that time work had yet to start along a third of the route.

Key to the effective delivery of the project were the traffic management arrangements of which the most difficult part was Leith Walk, the busy 1.8km road between Edinburgh and Leith which, during 2021, could only carry one-way traffic. There were four logistics hubs along Leith Walk to provide last mile support for large-sized deliveries. This was part of a £2.4 million Support for Business package.

In 2020, Covid-19 stopped work on the project between March and June. An updated programme showed that the tram project would be completed in Spring 2023 within its original £207 million budget.

November 2022
A tour of the project in early November showed good progress with utility diversions having been completed by July and, with two final concrete pours, track laying completed in October. By the end of that month, five of the eight new tram stops were substantially complete, 136 overhead line poles erected (64% of the total), 8.5km of communications and utility ducting had been installed as well as 4.3km of drainage. In addition, 609 metres of drainage attenuation pipes have been provided to increase capacity and reduce runoff rate.

Two historic objects were returned during the year. As the 1898 statue of Robert Burns needed to be moved two metres east, it had been removed in December 2019. After receiving specialist conservation work it was placed in its new position and unveiled with suitable ceremony on the morning of Burns night (25 January). August saw the return of the 1857 London Road clock which had been restored by a specialist clock maker. This had been absent for 15 years after being removed in 2007 for the original tram project’s utility clearance work.

In early November, surfacing, hard landscaping, and system infrastructure works were evident throughout the route. At York Place, the end of the 2014 tram line, the single line tram stop was removed in February to be replaced by a double track connection to the new tram extension. Trams currently terminate at St Andrews Square and use York Place as a turnback only. When the route to Newhaven opens, the York Place tram stop will be replaced by a new stop at Picardy Place, 80 metres to the east.

Along Leith Walk almost all overhead line poles had been erected with registration arms fitted to those close to York Place. The project has announced that overhead wires will be energised in stages in November and December with the first live section being between York Place and Elm Row (about 700 metres). With much of Leith Walk open to two-way traffic, there has been a reduction in the number of logistics hubs.

The new tram route will make Leith’s narrow historic Constitution Street open only to trams and pedestrians. During the construction works, footfall has been much reduced, in part due to the impact of Covid-19. One initiative to support businesses during this work is the sale of £5 Itison vouchers which give £10 to spend in Constitution Street businesses.

As the South Leith Parish Church graveyard extended across Constitution Street in medieval times, archaeological investigations were an essential part of the route clearance work. This was done by Guard Archaeology in consultation with the city’s archaeologist. As well as the 369 bodies found during the dig in front of the graveyard wall, other finds included whale bones, a cannonball, and a slipway, all of which reveals much of Leith’s long history. With the dig complete, the project is now rebuilding the 90-metre church wall which will incorporate four OLE poles from which tram wire spans will be secured in buildings on the other side of the street.

From the end of Constitution Street, the route runs adjacent to Leith docks and crosses the Water of Leith on the Ocean Drive bridge which had to be strengthened to accommodate the trams. When this bridge was built in the mid-1990s, it closed navigation to Leith’s inner docks. The route then runs past the Ocean Terminal shopping centre where the Royal Yacht Britannia is berthed. The first tram track was laid here in November 2020. Just beyond is Melrose Drive where the last track was installed. From there a ramp raises the formation to its Newhaven terminus. This is the project’s only earthwork. The Newhaven tram stop is substantially complete and has double track extending 60 metres beyond it to provide a stabling facility.

York Place with tram stop removed.

The delayed inquiry
In March 2019, when the City of Edinburgh Council was deciding to authorise the Newhaven tram extension, it was suggested that this decision should await the findings of the Edinburgh Tram public inquiry. It is fortunate that this was not done as this inquiry, which was set up in 2014, has yet to report despite its public hearings being concluded in May 2018. To date, this inquiry has cost £13 million and has taken over eight years. This is two years longer than the Edinburgh tram project.

In answer to concerns about the length of the inquiry, a spokesperson advised that: “Lord Hardie’s remit is to conduct a robust inquiry and he has made it clear it will take as long as is necessary to get the answers the public wants in relation to the issues surrounding the Edinburgh Trams project.” Yet surely the public would have wanted these answers before the Newhaven tram project was set up? There is certainly public concern about the length and cost of this inquiry.

Without the need for this inquiry report, the substantive reasons for the original Edinburgh tram project’s problems can be found on the inquiry’s website which has 189 hearing transcripts, 228 witness statements, and 6,428 documents. These were, no doubt, studied by those managing the tram extension project. Lessons certainly seem to have been learned from the original project. The Newhaven tram extension has provided improved business support and community engagement. It also remains on track to finish within its £207 million budget in spring 2023 which, due to Covid-19, is only a few months later than the original completion date.

What next?
When trams start running to Newhaven next year, it will be 24 years since they were first proposed and 10 years since Newhaven might have got its trams, had the Edinburgh tram project been delivered to plan. As the new line will serve one of Edinburgh’s most densely populated areas, it will no doubt be well used. It will also provide improved connectivity between the Leith waterfront priority investment zone and the city centre.

In 2020, the City of Edinburgh commissioned a Strategic Sustainable Transport Study to build on the tram’s success and accommodate the city’s growth. Between 2010 and 2020 the city’s population grew by 12.3% which is higher than most UK cities and compares with the Scottish average of 3.8%. The study identified 10 possible tram corridors of which two were prioritised for further development. One is a 6km route to Granton which is mainly along a disused railway that is now a cycle path. This was phase 1b of the 2001 tram proposal. The other is a 12km route to the city’s southeast serving Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. The council plans to complete a final business case for these tram routes in 2025 and aims to have these tram lines completed by 2030.

With the Newhaven tram extension costing £44 million per kilometre, this is a bold vision. Yet the ability of trams to carry, in comfort and with safety, the greatest number of passengers possible in less road space than other forms of transport, offers significant benefits. These are illustrated by UK Tram’s ‘Light Rail Strategy for the UK’ which provides many examples of how trams support economic development and the transition to net zero carbon.

This strategy also shows how Edinburgh’s trams have been instrumental in developers’ investment decisions, enabled various businesses to open new market sectors, and made offices by the tram line more profitable and attractive for staff. With such advantages it is to be hoped that, despite high infrastructure cost and a difficult economic climate, there will be a strong business case for two new tram routes to Granton and Southeast Edinburgh.

David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM
David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEMhttp://therailengineer.com

Rolling stock, depots, Scottish and Russian railways

David Shirres joined British Rail in 1968 as a scholarship student and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Sussex University. He has also been awarded a Diploma in Engineering Management by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

His roles in British Rail included Maintenance Assistant at Slade Green, Depot Engineer at Haymarket, Scottish DM&EE Training Engineer and ScotRail Safety Systems Manager.

In 1975, he took a three-year break as a volunteer to manage an irrigation project in Bangladesh.

He retired from Network Rail in 2009 after a 37-year railway career. At that time, he was working on the Airdrie to Bathgate project in a role that included the management of utilities and consents. Prior to that, his roles in the privatised railway included various quality, safety and environmental management posts.

David was appointed Editor of Rail Engineer in January 2017 and, since 2010, has written many articles for the magazine on a wide variety of topics including events in Scotland, rail innovation and Russian Railways. In 2013, the latter gave him an award for being its international journalist of the year.

He is also an active member of the IMechE’s Railway Division, having been Chair and Secretary of its Scottish Centre.


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