Published: 1st June 2014
Three years late, millions over budget and on a shortened route – trams have finally returned to streets through the heart of Scotland’s capital.
Six years of traffic diversions during tram works, together with cost over-runs and long delays had made the project hugely unpopular among the citizens of Edinburgh.
But that appeared to be forgotten when the sleek new trams started carrying their first fare-paying passengers on 31 May. Trams last carried people in Edinburgh 58 years ago.
The new service proved hugely popular, with tens of thousands of people queuing up during the inaugural weekend to join trams over the 8.5 miles of route between Edinburgh Airport and York Place, round the corner from St Andrew Square.
The original plan was for trams to begin running on a longer route in the summer of 2011. But delays, disputes and rising costs meant that the trams are not operating along the previously planned section from York Place to Leith and Newhaven on the shores of the Firth of Forth.
Councillor Lesley Hinds, transport convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, believes there is scope for the first route to expand into a network serving more of the city. But Keith Brown MSP, the Scottish Government’s transport Minister, has said that there will be no more national taxpayers’ cash for expansion.
National cash for the £545 million project was capped at £500 million. But in spite of the service having been curtailed to a single, shortened, route, the final cost is reckoned at £776 million – more than the cost of the comprehensive full network for Nottingham.
Councillor Hinds believes that in a few months, Edinburgh people will feel more positive about expansion for the trams after experience with the first line along Princes Street. Certainly there were remarkable shows of popularity, with cheerful crowds filling tram after tram on 31 May and 1 June.
Meantime, the route from the airport terminates with buffers in York Place where the dead end for the tracks points towards Leith Walk and the route to Leith where residents and businesses suffered disruption during preparations for trams that never arrived.
Calls for a public inquiry into how Edinburgh’s tram project originally went wrong have been stepped up. Enough trams have been delivered to reach Leith and Newhaven and the tracks involved have actually been bought but not laid.
The section which has gone right, if rather expensively, runs from the airport to the city centre through the Gyle shopping centre, running alongside railway tracks between Edinburgh Park and Haymarket where street-running starts.
The trams have convenient interchanges with main line trains at Edinburgh Park and Haymarket stations. A new tram and train stop is to be built on the north-west side of town beside the railway from Fife for train passengers to connect with trams to and from the airport.
Waverley station is a few minutes’ walk from the St Andrew Square tram stop, which is convenient for the city’s bus station.
Tram fares to and from the airport are £4 single and £8 return. But a single ticket within the city is £1.50 and a day ticket costing £3.50 is also valid on Lothian Buses, which along with trams are part of the new council company Transport for Edinburgh.
An end-to-end journey takes about 34 minutes. Trams operate every eight to ten minutes on six days a week, and every 12 to 15 minutes on Sundays.