A SANTA train is the closest Edinburgh’s hard-pressed taxpayers will get to seeing a tram this year.
After years of disruption and a budget that ballooned to £1bn, tram bosses have decided a bogus Father Christmas astride a fake locomotive will help raise spirits this festive season.
The bright red train will trundle along Princes Street this December, carrying up to 25 footsore shoppers at £2 a time.
But if council chiefs hoped the Santa express would bring them badly-needed positive PR, they were wrong.
Critics reacted furiously to the idea, branding it as “crazy” and a further waste of taxpayers’ cash.
A spokesman for campaign group Taxpayers Scotland said the council risked open itself to more ridicule.
“Perhaps Santa can give us a sneak-preview of how much a real tram system will cost to keep running through busy streets,” he said.
“We all know the huge financial hole that the council has dug for itself for the tram system. They’ve spent millions and all they’ve managed to give us is a wee Santa cart.”
He added: “Have they considered all the system overhead and public safety issues that might be involved and how much are they going to cost taxpayers?”
The Princes Street Santa Train is part of the council’s winter celebrations, which are being paid out of the £445,000 “Open For Business” budget.
It is understood the walking pace Santa Train will run along the middle section of the street between December 4 and Christmas Eve.
Despite the enormous cost of the trams fiasco, adults will have to fork out £2 for the privilege and children for £1.50. They will run between 4 December and 24 December.
Sohail Ashraf, manages an electronics shop on Leith Walk, which was originally part of the trams project but was axed as costs spiralled.
He said: “This is crazy. I don’t know why they’re just wasting more time and spending more money.
“This Santa Train will not give any help to our business. They should be spending money finishing off the trams more quickly instead of this. It won’t be much of a compensation.
“It’s very frustrating, they’ve spent more than two years digging roads and stopping traffic.”
Even the cost of the Santa Train is mired in confusion.
A spokeswoman for Edinburgh Council said earlier today: “As far as we are aware the Santa Train will be paid for by money from the Open For Business budget.
“The events team of the council will be running the scheme.”
Fundays, a company which hires out rides over the festive period, said the cost of renting a Santa Train buggy over that period would be between £15,000 and £20,000, depending on location.
However, a council insider later claimed the Santa Train would be self-funded from the sale of tickets.
The Edinburgh trams project was originally budgeted at £375 million, but various overspends and delays have driven cost estimates up to around £1bn.
The line will now go from Edinburgh Airport to St Andrews Square in the city centre. A plan to cut the route even further, stopping it at Haymarket, was scrapped after the Scottish Government threatened to pull its contribution.
A dispute with tram builders Bilfinger Berger led to work stopping two years ago. A new deal has since been signed with the German firm.