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.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders