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Green light ahead for £165M tram contractor search

Edinburgh tram

Edinburgh Council is seeking the go-ahead to seek bids for a new 4.6km tram extension, costing £165M.

It has published an outline business case for the scheme and an accompanying report will ask councillors for permission to start the process of identifying potential contractors later this month. A final decision on the scheme and the contractor is due in autumn 2018.

The capital cost of the project is estimated to be £165.2M, including risk and inflation.

It comes just ahead of the start of an inquiry into a previous tram construction project in the city on Tuesday.

The inquiry into the Edinburgh tram scheme, completed in 2014, will take oral evidence at the same time as the committee reads the report. Construction started in 2007 and the project ran into financial difficulties, spending nearly all of its contingency fund by 2013. The inquiry is looking at why the project, which cost £776M by the time it opened, ran over budget but produced less than originally expected.

Edinburgh City Council has vowed to learn lessons from the previous tram project with the outline business case for the extension. It has said the new scheme should have an industry-standard contract with rigorous project governance. It says there will be better traffic management so that the contractor can have bigger, more flexible sites.

Construction is expected to take three years, with the line running from Leith and Newhaven. Timescales include 18 months on Leith Walk and four months of testing and commissioning. The business case says the scheme will avoid a “double dig” as much of the major utility work has already been carried out.

The report accompanying the outline business case will be considered at a special meeting of the council’s transport and environment committee on 4 September, before going to full council on 21 September.

It has been acknowledged in the industry that finding contractors with the right experience and aptitude to build tram lines in the UK can be difficult.

The Midlands Metro Alliance was set up to deliver tram projects in the Midlands. Transport for West Midlands Midland Metro programme director Phil Hewitt has told New Civil Engineer that the concept for the Midlands delivery body came out of frustrations with the traditional client and supplier relationship.

“What we had clearly identified both through our own experience in Birmingham city centre and looking at experiences of others, is that the attractiveness of tram schemes, particularly to the supply side, didn’t look great. It is an insertion of rail infrastructure into dense urban city centres in the main, where there’s a lot of unknowns, a lot can go wrong, and the ability to make losses is quite profound.”

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