EDINBURGH’S trams have welcomed on board their first passengers, in a “crowd test” to see how the £776 million system copes with a rush of people.
A total of 1,000 volunteers rode between Edinburgh airport and Haymarket in a safety trial that included everything from clambering aboard to crossing the tracks.
They posed as One Direction fans flooding out of Murrayfield stadium to catch a tram home – as concert-goers are expected to do following a 3 June gig, just weeks after the line opens.
Trams director Tom Norris said no date had been set for the launch in May, which will be announced four weeks in advance.
City council transport convener Lesley Hinds insisted the opening would be only a “slight celebration” because of the project’s past woes.
She said yesterday’s “guinea pigs” had enjoyed the experience, and they did seem impressed, although diehard tram opponents were unlikely to have rushed for these first tickets.
None of the passengers appeared flustered as the trams rapidly accelerated to 50mph on the off-street section of the line – it will run on the streets between Haymarket and York Place in the city centre.
One woman seemed so underwhelmed at being among the first on a capital tram for
58 years that she read a book.
Mr Norris said staff had watched how people behaved, including how far they moved down the carriages, and how they crossed tracks to reach the opposite platform – unlike railways, there are no footbridges.
Trams will run every five minutes – maybe every three minutes for major events such as those held at Murrayfield.
Mr Norris said: “The great thing about trams is you can queue them up.”
A straw poll by The Scotsman found passengers were generally positive but there was no unqualified endorsement for the controversial scheme, which is running both very late and way over budget.
John Douglas, 59, a former hotel night porter, said: “The Americans will love them – there are a lot of things to see. They will definitely be a hit.
“I was not too keen on the project to start with because of all the roadworks. It was a pity it took so long to get up and running. Now it is, I think more people will be for it than against it.”
Aileen Williams, 51, was also equivocal. “It went a bit faster than I expected,” she said. “I think the trams are a good thing, but you never know what will happen once the novelty wears off.”
But her daughter, Samantha, 18, an Edinburgh Napier University student, said: “I certainly prefer trams to buses – they are a lot bigger and there’s more room to stand.”
Bev Boon, 52, a healthcare worker from Livingston, said: “The most impressive thing was how smooth and quiet they are. For rugby games at Murrayfield, it will be part of the atmosphere. There has been a lot of frustration with the traffic problems caused by the scheme, but now it’s almost operational, I think it’s probably been worth it.
“I saw the potential in trams, but it was a huge expense.”
Jacqueline Kennedy, 35, from Cambuslang, near Glasgow, said: “It was more like a train than a bus. It’s so quick to the airport, I might fly from Edinburgh rather than Glasgow.”
Her son, Ben, six, who was on an officially sanctioned day off school, was also impressed. “It went so fast – I would like to buy it,” he said.
Veteran passengers included Gregor Robertson, 71, who was among those on board Edinburgh’s last tram before the system was closed in 1956. He recalled: “I took a screwdriver with me and took some fittings home. I thought it was too late for me to be prosecuted, so helped myself liberally.”