First two passengers take a £776m ride on new Edinburgh tram

THREE years in, barely half way to completion, and it’s still not even the longest working tram line in Scotland.

One of Edinburgh’s new trams finally carried its first passengers yesterday, but the public will have to wait at least two-and-a-half years for the experience.

The long-delayed milestone took place on a 470-metre test track at the Gogar tram depot – which is no longer than the line used by heritage trams at Summerlee, the Museum of Scottish Industrial Life at Coatbridge in Lanarkshire.

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Transport minister Keith Brown, a critic of the trams project, joined Liberal Democrat Edinburgh council leader Jenny Dawe for the inaugural ride – prompting ridicule from other politicians. The jaunt followed a ceremony to mark completion of the depot and tram control centre beside the Gogar roundabout and its handover to the council.

The ceremony came months after the resolution of a two-year dispute between the council and building contractors over changes to the tram project, the cost of which has soared to £776 million.

Five of the 27 Spanish-built trams have reached the depot, with the rest to arrive at the rate of two a month from February.

However, while trams have been using the test track since Monday, the eight-mile line between Edinburgh Airport and York Place, off St Andrew Square, in the city centre, is not now due to be opened until an unspecified date in “summer” 2014.

Standing beside a tram inside the depot, a clearly relieved Ms Dawe said: “There were moments over the last few years I felt this day would never come.”

And she added: “It is a really thrilling day for the council in particular.”

Mr Brown, who is begrudgingly providing £500m of Scottish Government money for the scheme after the SNP failed to scrap it, put on a brave face but showed little enthusiasm for trams, other than finishing the job in hand.

He said: “This is an important milestone in the history of the tram project. We must focus on getting it delivered.”

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Mr Brown then said he was “very much looking forward to getting on the tram with Jenny shortly”.

However, he seemed unconvinced of the merits of trams over buses – such as speed, capacity and accessibility – which the council has been keen to stress. Mr Brown said that he had “real affection” for Edinburgh’s buses, which he had used since childhood and which provided an “excellent service”.

The minister said “incongruous” had been his first impression of the tram that went on show in Princes Street last year.

He told The Scotsman: “People will have to get some experience of it first of all. It remains to be seen whether people take to the trams.”

But after the tram ride, the minister had changed his tune slightly. “It was extremely smooth and accessible for people with disabilities and prams – one thing which will be appreciated,” he said

However, while conceding that “it’s not in Edinburgh’s interests for the trams not to be a success”, Mr Brown remained categoric that “any future development of the tram network is down to the city council, not the Scottish Government”.

Labour said the choice of the tram’s first passengers had been quite wrong.

Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale said: “There is a certain irony in the fact the first two people to travel on the trams are two of the people most to blame for the tram chaos – and their fares have cost us all a pretty penny.

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“We now need a concerted effort to ensure the public are not long behind.”

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: “It’s good to see the SNP and Lib Dems finally travelling in the same direction, but this project has totally scunnered local people and it’s essential the real focus is now on the delivery of a fully functioning tram line.”