Friday, March 07, 2008

The Tram To Gala - Stop the Madness

In my absence in London two things have happened. This blog is a year old and the great railway debate here in the Borders has entered another phase. It was one of the first things I posted about back in March 2007 saying.

"The train has been approved by a parliament anxious to be seen to be doing the right thing. However, I’m prepared to wager it will not be built. The costs that have been forecast are woefully inadequate for the job and I reckon we will get to the point where someone is going to question the budget overruns that will soon start to be mentioned. We cannot have another Holyrood fiasco."

In 2000 the costs of restoring a railway to Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders was estimated at £73m. When MSPs voted to restore it in 2006 the costs quoted were £155m. Next we were told that the costs will be £178M - but don't worry. According to local MSP Jeremy Purvis "detractors of the rail project had been proved wrong, and maintained: It will be delivered on time and on budget." Apparently the reason for the increase in the last year are due to a, "much more detailed technical assessments. These identified that significantly more work was required on structures such as bridges and tunnels than originally estimated. In addition, costs have increased due to general increases in track, signalling, earthworks and other factors such as environmental mitigation, some land acquisition and design and management. In addition to inflation, there are also new costs such as landfill tax that has now been built into the revised cost estimate.

So first of all we now have it onfirmed the start of the work on the 31-mile line will be delayed at least a year to 2010, and it would not be finished until 2013 – two years later than expected. Sorry Mr. Purvis your first mistake. He's now saying "I do not believe the government's heart is in the project. If it was, they would have used traditional funding methods. People in the Borders will not forgive the SNP if this jeopardises the Borders railway." You're probably wrong again we might be very glad it's scrapped and for another very good reason.

The scheme, previously estimated to cost some £175 million (£217 million at 2012 prices) is now expected to reach £235 (295 million at 2012 prices). According to the SNP Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson (no stranger to controversy) the cost had increased because of additions such as an extra station at Stow. Increasing land costs and extra strengthening work on bridges on the line, which closed in 1969, had further increased the total. Interestingly most of those excuses have already been used.

Our former illustrious leader Jack McConnell called it - “the tram to Gala" and my bet is the tram'll still come off the tracks. But nothing will happen unless we have proper leadership and government. It's all very well people sniping at each other but this is a poorly conceived idea, it's been poorly managed to date and it's still nowhere near starting. Does anyone really think it will stop at £235 million in today's prices? It's highly likely that the blame game will continue while we all suffer - and especially us in the Borders who will end up paying for it. Come 2012, or whenever it finishes, then the over run will be hotly debated, most of those involved in government will have moved on and then we'll have a public inquiry to apportion blame and so forth (further costs of £5, £10, £15 million in expensive lawyers and QCs)

Even on the previous construction costs it was going to take something over 31 years just to repay the capital costs of construction. That's without paying a penny towards finance costs or operating costs.

Stop the madness Now...

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