As Edinburgh’s long-awaited tram service rolled through town with its first ever ticket-buying passengers crammed on board, it seemed absolutely everyone was either on a tram, trying to get on a tram, or planning to get on a tram as soon as they figured out how to buy their tram ticket.
Almost 40,000 people rode on the trams over the weekend - 24,176 on Saturday and 15,460 yesterday.
Lured outside by the glorious sunshine and a capital city looking her exquisite best, now the squads of men in fluorescent jackets, hard hats and drills, have finally packed up and gone, came mums with excited toddlers, couples keen to share a historic moment, young shoppers who’d avoided the chaos of Princes Street for so long they’d forgotten which shops were where and legions of folk carrying long lens cameras or with smart phones raised to snap a quick ‘tramfie’.
Stay on a tram too long and you began to appreciate how Kim Kardashian must feel in the face of relentless paparazzi pressure: every minute of every tram ride and everyone on board was at some point captured by someone’s else’s lens.
But who could really blame fellow passengers for wanting to be part of history in the making?
For suddenly after six long, turbulent years of misery, with £776m having changed hands, a city ripped up then pieced back together again to create an 8.7-mile line that arrived late and doesn’t reach the places it originally intended to, it was starting to feel like everyone was a tram fan.
Even when the warmth of the early afternoon brought so many flocking to tram stops that the service become horribly overloaded – inside the trams filled to bursting point and boiling hot, outside potential passengers disappointed as cramming another body on board would surely cause the tram wheels to fall off (and no-one wanted another penny spent on trams right now) – most shrugged and waited for the next one.
Traveller numbers had built up gradually since the first tram set off at 5.30am with a carnival atmosphere among excited competition winners and early risers keen to kick off what would become a rising crescendo of Twitter and Facebook updates throughout the day.
City transport leader Lesley Hinds was among the first on board. However, there were no grand speeches or Champagne corks popping – council and tram operators had been keen to stress at the outset that the historic moment would be subdued and without triumphant fanfare. Council chief executive Sue Bruce had clearly taken that point to heart, as she appeared on BBC Breakfast to tell the UK that Edinburgh’s trams were “go”. Dressed in funereal black, she spoke in such gloomy tones that she could well have been announcing the sudden death of the nation’s favourite pet, not the exciting arrival of the long-awaited project.
Never mind. For out on the streets – or at least, those streets along the airport to York Place route, Leith Walk probably less so – the mood was lighter, with occasional bursts of applause as those waiting patiently at stops caught their first glimpse of the tram they were about to board.
For many, stepping on board meant a chance to see parts of Edinburgh from angles they’d never considered before: the stunning view of the Castle and Arthur’s Seat in the distance as the tram trundled over the railway line near the Balgreen stop, up close golfers teeing off on the course at Carrick Knowe and the whites of the nearby allotment holders’ eyes as they attempted to tend to their veg in front of a new audience of onlookers.
Householders with back gardens lining the residential stretch of the route refused to allow the sudden gaze of thousands of eyes put them off enjoying the sunshine.
Some set up tables, chairs and picnic food in their gardens while they watched the passing spectacle, rows of underwear was pegged to once hidden from view washing lines and the really oblivious – like one chap in eye-popping skimpy Speedos – stretched out on reclining sun beds, soaking up the rays and ignoring the ding ding bell of the tram and its ogling passengers.
One woman. Linda Owens, 64, stood on to the balcony of her daughter’s Balgreen flat, cuppa in hand, to wave vigorously at a random passing tram which, by sheer chance, happened to contain her bemused daughter-in-law.
Later Linda hopped on a tram to head into town, delighted to be on board – even if her Dalkeith address meant that unlike Edinburgh bus pass holders she couldn’t travel for free – and was quite surprised that she was actually enjoying it.
“I didn’t think the trams were a positive thing at all,” she admitted. “Now I’m disappointed that I don’t live in Edinburgh and I’ll have to catch a bus here to get a tram. I think they are going to be a huge advantage to the city.”
Her attitude did a U-turn after she volunteered to be one of the thousand passengers enlisted to ride the trams during their vital test period.
Suddenly the speed and smoothness of the journey meant she was hooked, even if the walk to the tram stop from her daughter’s home took 15 minutes and hopping on a bus would probably have been faster.
“I’m not sure that it was worth £776m, there’s an awful lot more that could have been done with the money. But lot of big cities have trams and they’re very successful.”
Getting on board was a poignant reminder of when trams last rolled through the city’s streets in 1956. “I used to live beside the train line at Carrick Knowe and would wave at the passing trains, that’s why I went out to wave at the trams,” she added.
“I saw the last tram running in Edinburgh. I threw a coin on the line and got it back bent. So this is nice for me.”
Unlike many on a mission to possess a first day tram ticket, mum and daughter Elaine and Cheryl Baptie from East Craigs were so surprised to find themselves on an inaugural day tram, that they immediately recorded their moment of history with a “tramfie” picture.
“We only got on because my son dropped us near the stop,” said Elaine, 52. “We were going to go shopping in Glasgow but it’s nice so we are going up town instead. We didn’t plan to be on a tram at all.
“Was it worth the money? Look at the state of the roads and I’m sure the money could have been better spent.”
Daughter Cheryl, 22, nodded. “The roadworks put us off going to town and we’d go to Livingston instead. I like that you’re not stuck in traffic, but I can’t see myself using it, easier to get a bus.”
The crowds grew, the temperature rose and patience was stretched.
Trams became so packed that passengers were pressed against the doors and each other, airport travellers with chunky luggage had to squeeze into tiny spaces while almost empty buses heading to the terminal drove past. Children herded on board for the promise of a fun ride on trams that took longer to build than they’d even been alive, ended up squashed onto luggage racks or squeezed between adults, their view restricted to the back of strangers’ legs.
Eventually reinforcement trams rolled from the depot at Gogarburn, leaving some questioning why the operators hadn’t anticipated such a huge demand in the first place.
“I’m not going back on the tram, I’ll take the bus,” sighed one man who’d jumped on board at the Bankhead stop and by Murrayfield had turned fifty shades of purple.
Had he opted to do what many day ticket holders on board did - stayed on to York Place and then travelled all the way back to Ingliston – he’d have been treated to relaxing views of wildflowers, the pretty humpback bridge over the Gogar Burn, the former Gogar Old Church nestling among lush woodland and rolling fields. Out at Ingliston he’d have found Dave Spencer, 62, something of a transport authority. He’s captured hundreds of trains, trams and trucks on camera for his business, PMP Transport Films. Friday was Romania, Saturday, Edinburgh.
“There are people come here to see this today from across Europe,” he nodded, lining up his shot. “I’m still not sure why Edinburgh needed the trams when there’s a perfectly good bus system.”
Yet even he could be converted: “It might not be perfect,” he shrugged, “but it is certainly one of the most scenic tramways in Europe. It’s beautiful.”
IT’S not just Edinburgh residents who have been talking about the trams.
News that the long-awaited system is finally up and running has hit the headlines the world over, making it in to news reports in the United States, Singapore, Malta and Ireland.
Head of Corporate Communications at Transport for Edinburgh, Gareth Jones, said: “A huge TfE/council effort was put in and we’re really pleased it’s gone down so well, with local, national and even global coverage.”
‘Now they’re here I will embrace them’
Elaine Hume, 38, Leith: “I really love the trams. I’m glad they’re here, and I’ll be using them to get to work at Edinburgh Park. I used to use them when I lived in Croydon, and I just find as a public transport user, they’re much nicer to travel in, and easier than buses, especially if you’ve got luggage. They’re also smoother, with the state of the Edinburgh roads.”
Valerie Kelsey, 50, Balgreen: “I think they’re totally impractical and way too expensive and an outdated mode of transport, but now that they’re here I’m determined to embrace them. Because they’re here and they’re here to stay, I think they should be extended as far as they can go, but as for building them in the first place, I’m not so sure.”
Eugene Grobbelaar, 38, Leith: “I think they should extend it. What’s the point in just going up and down Princes Street?”
Steve Hardie, 52, Leith: “It’s fantastic. I’ve seen them travelling around the city for the past couple of months, so it’s good to get on one. I’m just here today to try it, but it’s a little inconvenient because I have to get the bus to the top of Leith Walk. I might use it for the first few weeks while the novelty is still there.”
Alex McMahon, 50, Inverleith: “It’s quite exciting actually. This is just a test ride, but I might use it more regularly. It would be great if it was extended all the way to Leith, and beyond.”
Thomas Dolan, 53, Leith: “It was rather comfortable, a bit crowded and hot, but it was the first day. It’s just a shame it doesn’t really go anywhere other than the airport. They’ve trashed Leith Walk, it’s an absolutely disgraceful mess they’ve left it in.”
David Cunningham, 43, Inverleith: “It seems smooth and efficient so far. It’s great that you can use your smart card on the bus and the tram.”