Edinburgh tram: Three years late and £231m over-budget, Scottish capital sees first tram network in over 50 years roll out

The Independent joins the thronging crowd at the Gyle Centre station to the west of the city to witness this small piece of transport history

Senior Reporter

They are three years late, £231 million over-budget and their very name has become a byword for council ineptitude. For the past seven years, merely uttering the words “the trams” to an Edinburgh resident has been almost as hazardous as attempting to navigate the seemingly unending roadworks the much-mocked project has inflicted upon the city.

But today the waiting was over at last, as the fleet of 27 vehicles finally rolled into the Scottish capital to start serving the public for the first time since the previous network was closed more than half a century ago.

At 4.30am, The Independent joined the thronging crowd at the Gyle Centre station to the west of the city to witness this small piece of transport history – which to many residents has often seemed a distant fantasy.

Waiting on the platform are three generations of the Milne family: Douglas, whose father drove the Edinburgh trams of old, his son Gordon and young grandson Andy.

“Andy’s very excited about the trams starting in the city and obviously there’s a family link there, so it’s a chance to be part of something that’s going to be part of Edinburgh for many years,” said Gordon.

But do they think it’ll be worth the wait? “I think probably not,” Andy chips in. “I've been waiting here for about 38 minutes now and it’s really getting on my nerves.”

 

It has been a long time coming. When construction work first began in 2007, the City of Edinburgh Council gave the project a budget of £545m and predicted that the first trams would be up and running in 2011.

But after years of delays and financial disputes, the final cost has been set at £776m, despite the tram “network” being cut in half and now consisting of just one line stretching 8.5 miles from the airport to the city centre. The inclusion of £200m in interest on a 30-year loan taken out by the council means the total cost could reach £1bn.

Council chief executive Sue Bruce admitted today that the project had been a “shambles”, adding: “It’s not a day for jubilation.” But the mood among the public was one of optimism.

“It remains to be seen how the service works out, but I think people will embrace it – it’s good to have the trams back, it makes the city seem a bit more cosmopolitan, you feel a bit more European,” said Alan Divers, who came with his eight-year-old son Ruaridh.

As well as curious locals, several of Britain’s hardcore rail enthusiasts were also unable to resist the lure of the opening of a new tramway. First in the queue for the £1.50 ticket into the centre was Aidan Croft, who had travelled up from Sheffield the previous night and headed straight to the platform, arriving at 1.15am.

“It’s the opening not just of a new tramline, it’s the first day of a new system – and it’s historic, as Edinburgh’s not had trams since 1956, so it’s an important day,” he said. “You can debate what went wrong as much as you want but now it’s open, I think it’s going to gain in popularity and turn people around.”

When the first tram finally arrives for its maiden journey, a huge cheer goes up and the platform momentarily resembles the rush hour crush of a London Tube train as the crowd hurries to get on board. At 5.02am, it pulls away, only two minutes behind schedule. “Has everybody paid their fare?” someone asks. “We’ll be paying for the next 30 years,” comes the sarcastic response.

But the journey into town is smooth and efficient. On board is John Carbray, who says he is “just” old enough to remember the trams of the 1950s and decided to make the 10 mile journey from Prestonpans to see the new stock in action.

“When I first heard about it I thought: hooray, this is what we need. Then it all started to fall apart,” he says, before adding philosophically: “OK, it went over budget, it ran late, but the story’s not finished yet. All we can do now is get out and use them.”

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