Edinburgh trams: Can they emulate Dublin success?

The trams in Dublin. Picture: Comp
The trams in Dublin. Picture: Comp
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City transport leader Lesley Hinds tells us she’s returned inspired from her holiday in Ireland - but will the Capital also learn to love the trams?

While on holiday in Dublin last week, I took the opportunity to meet up with the operations manager of the city’s tram system. There are many similarities between Dublin and Edinburgh. Dublin is the capital city of the Republic of Ireland, with a population of around half a million and is home to most of the government and national cultural institutions.

Like Edinburgh, Dublin also had problems at the start of tram construction. The cost of delivering the tram system to the city was around ¤750m, as opposed to an original quote of around ¤250m.

Prior to opening the Luas (the name for the tram – it’s Irish for “speed”) roadworks and traffic congestion were major problems in the city centre, but people soon discovered the 
benefits of a speedy tram service. As one Dubliner said to me: “It was depressing at the time, as there were so many people against it all. It was a horrible place to work, day in, day out.”

Sound familiar?

Luas is successor to the Dublin tramways which closed in the 1950s and it carries almost 30 million passengers a year. That’s an average of 80,500 passengers a day.

In addition, there are several extensions, as well as new lines, at the planning stage. There are two main lines. The green line, running north-south, commenced operations in early 2004, while the red Line – running east-west – opened later that year.

Both lines have since been extended and split into different branches. Today there are 54 stations and 36.5 kilometres of track. For readers who know Dublin, the red line serves the area north of the city centre out as far as Tallaght and Saggart. The green line goes south from St Stephen’s Green to Sandyford, which is a business district to the south of the city centre.

The biggest gripe from Dubliners has been the fact that the two lines are not joined up, but work has started to rectify this. A ¤6 day-ticket allowed me to hop on and off at any point along both lines, while a single journey would cost ¤1.60.

Pensioners travel free and children go free at weekends throughout 
the summer. The trams run from as early as 5.30am some days until after midnight, and you only need to wait about five minutes before one comes along. There is level access on to the tram at each stop and there is space inside for buggies and 
wheelchairs.

What struck me was how quickly the tram was able to leave the stop,
as there was no need to wait for traffic.

There are now well-established links to park and ride, new housing developments, business parks and the waterfront regeneration. The key points I took away were the reliability, speed, quietness, cleanliness and the smooth ride. The only drawback, from my point of view, was the lack of a connection to the airport.

Finally, let me quote a conversation I overheard. Two grandparents were taking their granddaughter out. The little girl was very excited at her first tram journey, shouting: “I am on the Luas, I am on the Luas.”

Granny, meanwhile, was in conversation with another passenger, who remarked how he had parked his car at the park and ride and got the tram in to the city centre.

“It was so easy and not getting stuck in traffic jams was great. The Luas is fantastic for our city.”

Will we hear such a conversation in ten years in Edinburgh?

• Lesley Hinds is the convener of the transport and environment committee on the city council