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Edinburgh Tram Line

The first modern light rail system in Scotland opened on 31st May 2014, linking Edinburgh Airport with York Place in the east of the city centre. The Edinburgh Tram Line extends for 8.7 miles (14 km) but represents only a fraction of the network promised in 2001. On completion, there were fifteen publicly-accessible stops with a further, Edinburgh Gateway, added in 2016. There is an additional staff-only stop at the purpose-built Edinburgh Tram Depot at Gogar. This depot includes the tram control centre, administrative offices, workshop and cleaning facilities. The line is operated by Transport for Edinburgh, an arms-length company owned by the City of Edinburgh Council.

Edinburgh's first tram was horse-drawn and began operating on 6th November 1871 on a 3¼-mile / 5¼ km line between Haymarket and Leith. Within four years new lines ensured the length of track quadrupled. Routes were converted to cable-traction between 1888 and 1907, giving the city the most extensive and longest-serving cable-powered tram network in Britain. The local authority, Edinburgh Corporation, took over the network in 1919 electrifying and expanding it in the inter-war years. Peak usage came in 1947 with 193 million passenger journeys, a figure well in excess of the 126 million passenger journey on the modern tram and bus networks combined, the latter covering a much more extensive set of routes.

Initial proposals for a modern system came in the 1990s, with plans for a line crossing the city from west-to-east, a northern loop and a line to the south coming to the fore in 2001. Approval was given by the Scottish Parliament in 2006 for the first two of these lines. In 2008, a consortium comprising German engineering firm Bilfinger Berger, German electrical conglomerate Siemens and Spanish tram-builder Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) were contracted to build the system. At Saughton, the route re-used the former guided busway which operated 2004-09.

Controversy soon struck, with political squabbling, and then construction was beset by management problems, technical difficulties, delays and budget overruns, which saw costs rise from £375 million (in proposals in 2003) to £545 million (as construction began) and a final figure of £776 million but for only a fraction of the network originally proposed. The technical difficulties included existing utilities, which had to be moved, not being found where expected, archaeological remains, which needed to be carefully excavated, and even an unexploded bomb near Edinburgh Airport. The construction proved enormously unpopular with the city's residents as it brought road closures, traffic gridlock and bankruptcy to some small businesses along the route. The line eventually opened three years behind schedule. The problems resulted in legal disputes between the city authorities and the contractors, which reached arbitration and ultimately gave rise to a public inquiry that began in 2015 and will cost at least £7.2 million.

Usage and revenues have exceeded expectations, bringing the service into profit within two years of opening and two years ahead of schedule. Passenger numbers rose from 4.92 million (2014-15) to 5.38 million (2015-16). The trams offer environmental benefits, cutting city-centre pollution, and Edinburgh Council have claimed economic benefits, through fast and efficient access to Edinburgh Park, the Royal Bank of Scotland Headquarters at Gogar and government offices at Saughton. However, many airport users still make use of a seemingly duplicative bus service also operated by Transport for Edinburgh.

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