THE long-awaited Edinburgh trams have finally made their first journey between Edinburgh Airport and York Place after six years of building work and controversy over cost over-runs and disruption to the city.
Overall, the controversial scheme to return trams to the streets of Scotland’s capital has cost around £776 million.
The sight of trams running in Edinburgh will not be new to the city’s residents, since testing of the system got under way earlier this year.
But today the new service - described as “an efficient and sustainable” addition to Edinburgh’s transport options - was fully launched and opened to the public.
Tram enthusiasts Marjory Broom, 59, and her husband George, 63, were on board as the first service left the city’s Gyle shopping centre at 5am today.
Mrs Broom said: “We’re all tram enthusiasts so we’ve been following the progress of the trams for some time.
“I thought they were fantastic, absolutely fantastic. It was chock-a-block, and it was a real carnival atmosphere on board with people cheering as the tram set off.”
She added “We’ve been on trams all over the world and the tram in Edinburgh today was really, really smooth. It was the first tram and it was standing room only, it was very, very busy.
“I’m really excited we managed to get on - there would have been no buzz being on the second tram.”
The family all travelled on the first tram as it went from the Gyle shopping centre to York Place in Edinburgh city centre, before heading out to Edinburgh Airport and then back to the Gyle.
Mr Broom praised the new service, saying: “The Edinburgh trams, I think they are the best I’ve been on, they’re very very wide and very, very smooth. I think they will be very succesful. We just have to hope they extend the service so it goes down to Leith and possibly even Granton, then it would be a proper network.”
He added: “It was great to see the trams have finally arrived, it was good to go along Princes Street on the first tram, looking up at Edinburgh Castle with the sun shining.”
Scottish Government stand firm on tram cash
No money will be provided by the Scottish Government to extend Edinburgh’s tram scheme, transport minister Keith Brown insisted yesterday on the eve of the line’s long-awaited public opening.
Instead of a ribbon-cutting, plaque-unveiling or cake-slicing, guests boarded a tram to the airport and back without fanfare.
City council leader Andrew Burns and transport convener Lesley Hinds were joined by Mr Brown for the inaugural journey. But while they posed for pictures together, the Labour councillors and SNP minister remained poles apart over the return of trams to Edinburgh after 58 years.
Ms Hinds was optimistic the system would expand in due course, but Mr Brown repeated the Scottish Government’s long-standing “not a penny more” mantra.
That was in reference to ministers grudgingly honouring their Labour/Liberal Democrat predecessors’ £500 million tram funding pledges. Ms Hinds said: “There seems to be a growing positivity in the city about the start of a brand new transport service.” She said every other city which had launched trams had then developed a network.
The transport convener said she would get a better feel for popular support for extensions once passengers started using the trams.
However, she added: “We always said we wanted to complete the line to Newhaven, and an extension has been granted to the time within which line 1b [Roseburn to Granton] must be completed under its parliamentary approval. Edinburgh is the capital city and the economic driver of Scotland, and we are going to have to plan for expected population increases.
“Organisations thinking of bringing their headquarters to the city look first to its transport provision. [Scottish Government agency] Transport Scotland must be a partner with the council in planning future transport in the capital city.”
But Mr Brown, sitting feet away from her on the tram while they both did TV interviews, said: “We have no intention of promoting further extensions of the tram network.”
He said it would be “entirely legitimate” for the council to expand the system, but Transport Scotland would not take the lead role because it would not be a national project, covering only a single council area.
However, he conceded: “The tram link will support employment and much-improved local, national and international transport links. We wish Transport for Edinburgh [which runs Lothian Buses and Edinburgh trams] and the council well in making the project a success.”
The curtain-raiser for today’s long-awaited public launch of the system had featured little more ceremony than a group photograph, or celebration than an a cappella vocal group welcoming the tram back to St Andrew Square.
The nine-mile route runs between the airport and York Place, off St Andrew Square in the city centre, but its completion has come three years late and hundreds of millions of pounds over budget.
Trams will run between 5am and around 11:30pm every eight to ten minutes and every 12 to 15 minutes on Sundays.
However, they will operate more frequently – up to every five minutes – during special events, such as for the One Direction concert at Murrayfield on Tuesday.
There may also be later journeys on special occasions, but the overnight shutdown is required for routine maintenance by tram supplier CAF, and tram-line builders Bilfinger Berger and Siemens.
Fares for all journeys except those to the airport are the same as for Lothian Buses – £1.50 single and £3.50 for a day ticket, which can be used on both trams and buses. Tickets must be bought at machines at tram stops and cannot be purchased on board.
At the airport, arriving air passengers heading for the tram will walk past Airlink buses to the city centre, whose fares are £1 cheaper.