THE public will get their first chance to ride Edinburgh’s trams from next month, following an inaugural passenger run yesterday on the first completed section of the line.
Community and business groups who have requested a trip will be able to travel on a two-mile stretch of the £776 million scheme between Gogar and Edinburgh airport.
City council transport convener Lesley Hinds said the local authority would consider giving the wider public the same opportunity. It would also look at whether it could open that part of the line before the planned summer 2014 launch of the entire eight-mile route.
The news came as Ms Hinds joined transport minister Keith Brown for a four-minute journey over this western end of the route to mark its handover to the council from contractors Bilfinger Berger and Siemens.
The trip was also the first for passengers outside the depot at Gogar, where a series of tram rides for guests have been laid on for more than a year.
Ms Hinds said she hoped the full line to York Place in the city centre could be opened early, but it was too soon to say how far this could be brought forward.
She said construction work on the long-delayed project was running up to four months ahead of its current schedule, and was due to finish by the end of the year.
This will be followed by up to six months of tram testing over street sections of the route east of Haymarket, which Ms Hinds said she hoped to shorten.
Yesterday’s handover came almost exactly ten years after then Labour transport minister Iain Gray gave the council £375m to fund at least one of the original two planned lines, which were expected to open in 2009.
Ms Hinds said she hoped that enabling people to try the trams would win them over, after years of disruption and delays caused by the project.
She said: “They are smooth, quick and roomy, and will be more attractive to people who would not go on buses.”
Among those who have requested a trip is Corstorphine Community Council. Its secretary is Ken Swinney, 81, the
father of finance secretary John Swinney, who made an unsuccessful attempt to scrap the scheme when the SNP came to power at Holyrood in 2007.
Mr Swinney snr, whose own father worked on the city’s old trams, which closed in 1956, said he would like to see the rest of the line to Newhaven completed, and ultimately more of the original network restored.
He told The Scotsman: “I’m disappointed the tram line is not going to be extended down Leith Walk.
“That’s a big knock out of it and I feel sorry for the shopkeepers, some of whom have lost their businesses.
“In the old days, trams served the whole city. I would like to see that again, but it would cost a lot of money.”
Mr Brown, who opposed the tram scheme, said he was keen to see it speedily completed after the delays but remained resolutely against any further lines.
“I do not think there is an appetite to have an expanded tram network,” he said. “I’m not hearing anyone saying to me, ‘Can we have more trams in Edinburgh?’.”
He said the city council would have to go it alone if it wanted to build extensions, despite sections such as between Roseburn, Granton and Newhaven also being approved by MSPs.
Mr Brown said: “The council would have to finance that. We would not be part of it. I voted against this project. Now it is here, the most important thing is getting the trams running.”
At the western end of the tram line, Edinburgh airport chief executive Gordon Dewar said a covered walkway from the airport terminal would be extended to the tram stop, which has been moved further away from the building than initially planned to accommodate future expansion.
He said there would always be a tram at the stop for passengers to walk on to, so they would never get wet waiting on the platform, which has only a very narrow canopy.
Mr Dewar said trams would take 25 minutes to reach the city centre, compared with the current 45-minute bus journey at peak times.
He expected the line to further increase the number of passengers travelling to the airport by public transport from the current 30 per cent.
The tram project has suffered years of delays and massive cost increases, principally because of a bitter dispute between the now-scrapped council tram development firm, Tie, and the tram-line builders. The council ultimately lost that battle.
In addition, far more underground pipes and cables had to be moved from below the route than had been expected.