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INSIDE TRACK: Transport trauma is not unique to Edinburgh

THE road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The saying is suited to many a transport project but, for the good people of Edinburgh, the passage through the nine circles of tram hell is finally at an end.

In less than 48 hours, the capital's newest vehicles will be carrying their first passengers. The inaugural journey at 5am on Saturday is expected to be marked by a relatively low-key celebration, befitting a project that has been a thorn in the side of many traders and residents.

It has at various times been described as a fiasco, a debacle and hell on wheels, with some detractors predicting that the chaos of recent years will worsen when the trams start rolling and drivers are faced with less road space and confusion over new tram traffic lights.

Nevertheless, this is a watershed moment for Edinburgh and a perfect moment to reflect on what has occurred, and how Scotland's transport chiefs have fared in comparison to counterparts elsewhere. Scotland is not unique, after all, for occasional mismanagement of public money and major infrastructure disasters.

Take, for example, the catastrophic gaffe by France's national railway operator, SNCF, which revealed last week that it was facing a €50 million (£40.5m) bill after ordering 2000 trains that were too big for many of the country's platforms. The glitch, prompting the inevitable jokes about "the wrong type of train on the line" had apparently come about after the rolling stock supplier failed to verify the measurements given to it by SNCF.

It turned out these were based on stations built less than 30 years ago, whereas most of the country's railway stations (some 60%) were constructed more than 50 years ago and had platforms too small to accom­modate the glitzy new TERS trains. Hence the lofty bill for modifications.

Edinburgh's trams project has certainly had its howlers though. In August last year, tram workers were forced to lay a 25 metre stretch of concrete outside Shandwick Place for a third time after it dried the wrong shade of grey - a rare period of Scottish sunshine apparently affecting the material's integrity.

This was a minor inconvenience, however, in comparison to the 2011 decision to dig up Princes Street for a second time after contractors admitted their work was "not satisfactory". The consequent resurfacing saw the thoroughfare closed to traffic - first one half and then the other - for the best part of a year. In both cases, contractors footed the repair bill, though that is probably meagre comfort to taxpayers who saw the bill spiral from £375million to £779m at the same time as the route halved and the timescale doubled.

This is not a unique experience. Spare a thought for the construction team behind San Francisco's newly "quake-proofed" Oakland Bay bridge, which was running six years behind schedule when more than two dozen rods used to anchor the $6.4 billion roadway to vital earthquake safety structures cracked on tightening.

The problem pushed back the opening of the record-breaking structure (it is the world's largest self-anchored suspension bridge) by another six months to September last year.

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