Edinburgh Sketcher captures the trams in motion

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HE sits silently and focused. All around, an excited gathering chats loudly, parading up and down the aisle, taking in the best views and soaking up their surroundings.

You almost forget he is there as he sits, eyes facing the front, concentrating hard on the task in hand. The novelty of riding the full tram route for the first time, it seems, does not thrill everyone.

But as we approach our destination, the reason becomes clear – something rather eye-catching has appeared on the notebook page in front of the mysterious passenger.

Something rather remarkable in fact when you consider it has been produced, sitting on a tram, in the space of 30 minutes.

The Edinburgh Sketcher, for it is he, has captured the inside of the tram perfectly in his drawing, complete with the time stamp from when we set off on our journey from York Place.

“I think it’s the first time the tram has been drawn from the inside like this,” he declares, clearly proud to have achieved this obscure, but nonetheless impressive, tram first.

That anyone can paint on a relatively fast-moving vehicle is impressive enough, first time or not.

“It’s very smooth,” he replies. “And what better way to check the smoothness of a journey than to paint a picture? It’s much smoother than a bus – I’ve done quite a few drawings on a bus.”

The sketcher – eager to put the finishing touches to his watercolour – is not the only one keen to get a “first” in the bag on this tram ride.

One of the guests has brought his fold-up bike on board – again, a never-been-done-before moment for our spanking new trams.

Of course it won’t be long – just a matter of weeks now, believe it or not – before the general public will finally get to see what all the fuss is about, and the list of firsts will have been well and truly conquered.

But for now, it feels quite special to be one of the few people enjoying the full route on the tram system that has been years in the planning and the subject of the biggest controversy Edinburgh has quite possibly ever witnessed.

Today transport leader Lesley Hinds is also experiencing a first – it’s the first time she has been on the full route, though she certainly seems to know each part of it inside out.

“I like this stop the best,” she says as we approach Edinburgh Park Station, “because we have rail, tram and bus all in the one place.”

Clearly with her transport hat on, Councillor Hinds would favour this stop – but for most of us on board, we are just happy to enjoy the views, which are particularly stunning on a sunny day like this. A quick glance at the sketcher’s notebook reveals he is now in the process of capturing the view for posterity.

Cllr Hinds pride for the tram is more than evident, as she carefully runs her fingers over the upholstery as though it was a chair in the best room of her own home.

And like a woman on a mission to keep her home tidy, she eyes up the carriage, and with a look of concern whispers to the man in charge of the trams’ media image: “Are there no bins on here?”

It’s clear to see she takes personal pride in the end result, and is determined everything runs as smoothly as possible in these final stages. “Yes, I guess they are my baby,” she admits, rather coyly. “When I get on buses I hate it when there are newspapers lying on the floor or discarded banana skins. That’s what puts people off public transport. It has to be a nice experience for people. I will be telling people to keep their feet off the seats!” she laughs. “I can see Princes Street from my [City Chambers] office,” she adds, “so I keep an eye on the trams and on what’s going on from my window.”

There’s certainly been a lot going on since the first tram trial on that windy, rainy night back in December.

Now practically running to timetable ahead of the official start date – which trams bosses remain extremely tight-lipped about – the trams are so commonplace on the streets of Edinburgh that pedestrians barely bat an eyelid as we pass by them en route from the airport to the city centre.

Gone are the days where no tram could go by without celebrity status, being snapped by residents who never thought they’d see the day. But despite the familiarity of the trams, pedestrians are still causing project bosses a major headache as they try to drum the “careful now” message into residents and tourists.

On our journey, there are at least two occasions where people step out in front of the tram – one of the reasons why each of the 40 drivers have to undergo 60 hours of training before the system goes live to the public.

“Our drivers have to be constantly aware of pedestrians stepping out and they are trained to react to that,” insists trams boss Tom Norris, confidently. “If the driver sees someone who hasn’t made eye contact then they slow down and ring the bell. It’s no different to driving a car.”

As we near the end of our journey, the Edinburgh Sketcher is putting the finishing touches to his second drawing, the breathtaking view captured just after Balgreen, where the tracks rise up to give an impressive vista back towards Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat.

The Edinburgh Sketcher’s prints can be bought from his website and he is available for commissions. Visit www.edinburghsketcher.com or e-mail contact@edinburghsketcher.com