Wednesday 25 February 2009


I'm not Émile Zola but I wish to cast a stone - or perhaps even two. In this great city of Edinburgh, Scotland's capital, is a farce on a scale which even Joe Orton could never envisage. The Tram, the epithet-inducing Tram; the disaster which stalks our streets and blocks our streets; it is a travesty of political shenanigans gone wrong; an ivory-coloured mammoth; a vast, sloshing money-pit; a veritable monster of vanity and ego; and a mistake.

This travesty of a construction project is being managed by a company called Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE) which lists as its achievements on its website;
  • Edinburgh Trams - thus turning on its head the daft idea that you might want to actually achieve something before claiming it as an achievement
  • Edinburgh Airport Rail Link - cancelled
  • Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine Railway - taken over by Transport Scotland
  • Ingliston Park and Ride - a car park
  • Edinburgh Fastlink - 1.5km of concrete bus lane (that's less than 1 mile, a solitary mile is 1609.75m)
  • Congestion Charging (promoting and delivering) - lost the referendum 74% to 26%
  • One-Ticket - TIE entered into an agreement to manage and promote a ticketing system for public transport

With achievements like these who needs failure? An organisation so bereft of ability needs an effective media management strategy just to survive so they've engaged Mediahouse whose strategy over the current nonsense appears to be to blame "Johnny Foreigner" with the continual references to the fact that the contractor is a German firm. Let's nail a few things:

  1. The contractor did not walk off the job, TIE told the contractor to stop working.
  2. The contract provides for the contractor to be compensated for delays caused by other parties.
  3. The guy who took over in December admitted that costs would rise - although he didn't think it would be much.

The contractor appears to me to be confident that it is TIE that is in the wrong and it would seem unlikely, to say the least, for international companies to risk their commercial reputation and the chance of securing further work for the same of some petted-lip foot-stamping. It would appear that TIE has run out of money and that is the real reason why work has been halted. It also strikes me that the positions being taken by the two sides don't look like positions that are being taken by people who are talking constructively - there is no agreement pending.

This is not a position that we should be in with public money on the line. I believe that the entire project is flawed and should be abandoned now with negotiators being sent in to see whether there is anything that can be salvaged from the breakage rather than continuing to pour money into this crazy scheme and leave Edinburgh with a massive debt that we'll be paying for decades.

If the intention is to carry on with the scheme (howling mad though it is), then we should at least have the figures out in public. TIE will claim 'commercial confidentiality' and 'sensitive discussions' and seek to hide the effects of mismanagement on a grand scale. This is the company who told me on the 19th of December 2008 that the global costs of line 1a hadn't changed since the 7th of December 2007 - which would mean that no risk had been managed off the register in that full year, no risk had passed at less than full impact, no risk had increased in cost and no risk had decreased in cost, that there had been no fluctuation in prices and that estimates had been spot on - in spite of the fact that the design wasn't due to be finalised until about now. There is the possibility that the changes have compensated for each other perfectly - but that in itself suggests horrendously poor management.

If TIE wants to carry on with this scheme, let's have some honesty - let's get the truth about the contractual delays and the penalties due; let's get the proper costs out in the public domain so the people of Edinburgh know how much we're going to be expected to pony up as a result of this thing being foisted on us when 73.6% of the population don't want it. No more hiding, no more misdirection, obfuscation and discombobulation from the company which we, as the public, own - just a straight deal please.

We already remember a few things that we should keep in mind over the next wee while:

  • We know that Edinburgh's education department had to pay £176,000 towards the tram for daring to build a school close to the proposed tramline.
  • We know that the letters of undertaking for the tram oblige full payment in the event of breakage - but we don't know if that's limited to the £512 million estimate.
  • We know that two skelps of land that are needed for the trams owned by Network Rail and BAA are being leased instead of purchased.
  • We know there is a £23 million deficit in the Developer Contributions
  • We know that the Infraco contract (the one the current dispute is over) was closed in January 2008 at a fixed price meaning that any alterations would be massively expensive and that the design wasn't finalised until about now (if it has been finalised) - guaranteeing lots of changes and massive cost increases.
  • We know that MUDFA (utilities diversions) started off late, came in late and found far more to divert than was expected (still not finished) - we don't know how much over budget it was.
  • We know that the council holds the risks on revenues, operating costs and the long-term maintenance of the tram system – all the issues which are suspect
  • We know that the integration with the new rail station at Gogar is not included in the costs
  • We know that some of the Council's spending was to be financed by the sale of land which has plummeted in price.
  • We know that currency fluctuations added millions to the cost a while back, that the contracts were negotiated in Euro - and that TIE didn't hedge currency.
  • We know that the cost estimates were based on finding some "value engineering" savings (doing it on the cheap) - we don't know if those savings were ever found.
  • We know that projections for completing the build are now suggesting the track can't be finished before 2013.
  • We know that there has been no modelling of the deleterious environmental effects of building across the flood plain at Gogar.
  • We know that Architecture and Design Scotland said that the design was guff.
  • We know that track-laying work was supposed to start in April 2008 and hasn't started yet - and that the work in Leith Walk which was supposed to be finished by March 2008 is scheduled to continue until July. Interestingly, all the old stuff has disappeared from that website.
  • We know that line 1b was cancelled ages ago but that TIE kept quiet about it.
  • We know that project costs were shifted onto other budgets to make it appear less expensive than it is.
  • We know that TIE knew that it had funding problems but didn't have a clue how to address them.
  • We know that some politicians have been entertained by the Tram Project.
  • We know that all the previous FOI releases have been removed from TIE's website.
  • We know that there have already been problems with contractor relations.
  • We know that tram fans were already angling for more Government cash in spite of having been told there would be no more.

Trams? Huh! What are they good for? Absolutely nothing!

No comments: