The first tram to travel along Princes street in 57 years reached the famous Edinburgh thoroughfare early this morning. Gina Davidson was there to capture the momentous occasion.
AT two years and ten months, it was perhaps the longest wait ever recorded for a date to show up under the House of Fraser clock.
Indeed, the people of Edinburgh have long felt stood up and humiliated by a tram which was promised in February 2011, but which never arrived.
Yet at almost the stroke of midnight last night it finally appeared in all its shiny glory; 43 metres of white, sleek modernity smoothly gliding from Haymarket to Shandwick Place and finally into Princes Street – a tram in Edinburgh’s famous thoroughfare for the first time in 57 years.
Its bright lights, and the luminosity of the orange coats worn by the accompanying engineers fought for attention with Edinburgh’s Christmas illuminations, but there was never a doubt about the main attraction.
Certainly not in the minds of those who turned out despite the rain, wind and freezing temperatures, to cast an eye over its size and shape, to take photos, to make sure it was real, to be able to say “I was there.”
“We came out specially to see it,” said 66-year-old Wilma Ramsay. “I now live in Madrid, but I’m home with my husband Engel Pasquel to visit my sister. When we heard this was happening tonight we really wanted to see it. I remember the last of the trams and I felt I couldn’t pass up the chance to see this happening again for the first time since the 1950s. I thought there might be more out to see it, but it does look very good. It’s a shame we won’t be able to go on it – perhaps next time.”
Colleagues, out for a Christmas drink, stopped in their tracks to wait for the tram to pass. “It’s amazing it’s finally happened,” said Sylvia Kerr. “I do feel it’s a historical moment. The city’s waited a long time for this.”
Her friend, Marie MacAusland, agreed. “It’s been wonderful to come into the city centre without all the disruption and the cones and roadworks. I think the trams will be great.”
While the engineers, tram staff, contractors – and media – outnumbered the onlookers, the arrival of the tram on Princes Street, even for just a test run, had brought out the tramspotters. Be-anoraked and with cameras clicking every second, they ran alongside the vehicle desperate to catch every angle and to record the clang of its bell when it sets off – a sound that will soon be all-too familiar.
While it made its passenger-less advance slowly, travelling at around 1mph or “walking pace”, engineers watched its every move, taking measurements, checking posts, wires and track every few yards while buses and taxis whizzed past as if deliberately ignoring the interloper.
Leaves began to whirl overhead as though Mother Nature was throwing a ticker tape parade in delight at the tram’s final arrival, and though they fell onto the tramlines they did nothing to affect its smooth running. Apparently the tram actually releases sand onto the lines if a driver feels extra grip might be required.
Not that last night’s driver, Billy Adams – whom, it was said, made sure his tie was in a Windsor knot for the occasion – needed any help. For a trial run it appeared that it couldn’t have gone any better.
The city’s transport convener, Councillor Lesley Hinds, was also there to see this “significant step” for herself. “Of course we have to continue to recognise that this has been a troubled project and we will never be able to convince some people of its worth, but we’ve pulled together in the last 18 months and this is a really momentous step towards having the line up and running,” she said.
“Councillors, ministers, Transport Scotland, officials and contractors, we’re all working in the same direction and it is a significant step seeing a tram back on Princes Street. Now people will just want to get it up and running and I think people will feel very confident in the fact that it’s Lothian Buses who will be running the service.”
She added: “It really is lovely to see it running along Princes Street, and to see so many people wanting to come and see it. A lot are people are just interested in trams, real buffs, but I’m sure there are others who just wanted to see it for themselves.”
As the tram turned the corner past Top Shop into St Andrew Street, people followed and as it came to a halt opposite Harvey Nichols, more photographs were taken.
“It’s nice to see what a billion pounds looks like,” said tram watcher Alan Hogg. “I was never convinced by the business case for the tram and I’m still not, but I wanted to see what it was the council had spent all the money on, though obviously most has gone into the laying of the track. It was certainly passed by a lot of buses on the way, but it’s nice to see it running.”
Software engineer colleagues Chris Paton and Jonathan Hogg said it was “surreal” to see a tram in St Andrew Square. “It is massive,” said Chris. “I live in Dalry colonies so when I heard it would be coming through Haymarket I thought I should come out to see it, and I followed it along. It is like witnessing a bit of history.”
“It does feel odd to finally see it here,” agreed Jonathan. “I’m impressed they’ve actually been able to do it and as a piece of technology it’s impressive too. Who wouldn’t want to see the new, cool shiny thing in Princes Street?”
Another onlooker added: “I was on the very last tram in 1956, the final one which ended its run in the Pilrig depot. I was only ten at the time, but we used the trams all the time then. Seeing a tram back on Princes Street is just terrific, and it looks excellent. We were one of the few major capitals in Europe without a tram but now we’ve got one.
“All the anti feeling about them has been nuts. Once it’s going properly people will wonder what all the fuss was about. I think it’s fantastic.”
So did Tom Norris, director and general manager of Edinburgh Trams. “The first stage of testing was promising. There’s still a long way to go, but it went well and we’re looking forward to more testing in the coming months.”
It had taken around an hour for the tram to run along the 1.7 mile stretch of track, and things had gone so well, it was decided to test the tight right-hand downhill turn into York Place.
And there it terminated, a gleaming beast of technology surrounded by 18th century architecture. It felt like it wanted to be off its leash, to show us what it could really do.
It felt as though it was desperate to explore Edinburgh, for more track to lead it down to Leith and onto Granton as had once been promised.
But at the moment that’s a date which no-one has yet been courageous enough to ask for.
THE STORY SO FAR . . AND WHAT’S LEFT TO DO?
October 2013: Roads through the West End reopen, including at Haymarket and Shandwick Place. Tram testing starts from Gogar depot to Edinburgh Park.
November 2013: Entire tram route from Edinburgh Airport to York Place is electrified.
December 2013: First tram arrives at Haymarket. Tram tested along Princes Street two days later. Engineers test that tram interacts properly with rails, overhead power lines and signals through city centre. Tram branding launched. Non-executive directors appointed to umbrella company Transport for Edinburgh.
January 2014: Speed and frequency of tram testing on Princes Street and Shandwick Place expected to increase. City council steps up public safety campaign. Contractors tick off T1 test, proving tram can meet planned journey times of 33 minutes. T2 test also scheduled, showing the system can be safely operated to the planned timetable.
February-April 2014: Shadow running carried out using empty trams. T3 test to be completed, proving the system is reliable enough to start passenger service. Trams tested with different passenger loads.
May 2014: Full route is launched with passengers.
@JamesBlairSco: The pigs are setting off from Turnhouse now!
@slimbo_13: Is that what the noise was last night? Sounded like a tank running through the street.
@craigie_watson: Sadly delayed, but hotly anticipated. I look forward to the trams. Well done to the team for recent progress.
@DavidHogg14: Sadly the most expensive train set in the world & at a cost in excess of £776m. Edinburgh’s new Disgrace!!
@ShoreBaily: It runs right past our door- I’ll believe it when I see it!
@Edinlass: I remember going to see the last tram albeit I was very young!
@BatfishLD: I don’t believe it.
@thegilf: The tram arriving on platform one is delayed three years 260 days. Edinburgh Transport apologise for the delay
@iainpope73: First tram to go past my hoose tonight. Think might keep the kids up for it. Project started before they were born.
@TheAdamForde: A tram on Princes Street in Edinburgh? Blimey - there will be many comics crying into their pints tonight. #newmaterialneeded