Edinburgh’s trams will start carrying paying passengers on May 31.
The first passenger-carrying tram will leave the Gyle at 5am and head to York Place.
It is understood the opening ceremony will be deliberately low-key given the much-maligned project’s overblown budget and missed deadlines.
There will be no ribbon-cutting or bottles of champagne. Instead, city residents will be invited to join the likes of transport minister Keith Brown, city transport convener Lesley Hinds, Transport for Edinburgh chief executive Ian Craig and Lord Provost Donald Wilson for the inaugural run.
Invited members of the public understood to be taking part in the opening ceremony on May 31 include an air stewardess, an Edinburgh Park businessman, a Gyle shopper and a city centre commuter.
The date was announced at the Gyle Shopping Centre this morning when a specially liveried tram bearing the date and the #readytoroll hashtag pulled to a stop.
Confirmation of the May ‘go live’ date comes as Edinburgh Trams approach the latter stages of a period of essential and rigorous testing, commissioning and driver training in preparation for the return of trams to Scotland’s Capital.
It is understood that a certificate of no objection has now been received from an independent engineer tasked with running the rule over the entire 8.7-mile route.
The line has been assessed and snagging works undertaken while training and testing have reached a satisfactory stage, meaning that the four-week countdown can now begin.
Cllr Hinds said: “The trams have already become a familiar sight in Edinburgh’s city centre as the comprehensive testing and training programme has progressed.
“This period has been invaluable for tram drivers and their fellow road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, as everyone gets used to interacting with the trams.”
Full timetable information and ticketing will be released in the coming weeks with several roadshow events planned to help city residents understand how to use the tram, plus buy and validate a ticket.
Cllr Hinds added: “I’ve been contacted by a great many residents eager to know when they’ll be able to start using the trams and I’m sure that now that the official start date is known, we’ll see that anticipation build further.”
Driver training is still ongoing on the line, with each driver being tasked with practising towing a tram through the city centre in the event of a breakdown.
This coupling training will take place until May 7.
Mr Craig said: “Everyone at Transport for Edinburgh is primed for this hugely important launch for the city.
“We’ve recruited and trained a top team at Edinburgh Trams and I’m delighted with the high levels of performance and enthusiasm from everyone involved in the months leading up to today. With four weeks to go, the systems are in place, our training and testing is nearly complete and the final countdown is on.”
He added: “We’re delighted to be the operator of Edinburgh Trams and, through full integration with Lothian Buses, we’re looking forward to delivering a transport system of the highest quality for Edinburgh.”
The news that trams will eventually begin opening their doors to fare-paying passengers has also been welcomed by transport minister Keith Brown.
Hopes of extending the tram line to Leith were delivered a major blow back in March when Mr Brown ruled out any possibility of the city council getting Scottish Government cash for the plan. He told MSPs the government had no intention of giving another penny to trams in Edinburgh.
Council officials are due to report back by the end of the year on details of how the trams could be taken down to Leith. But Mr Brown’s comments make it clear the city will have to look elsewhere for the funding to extend the route.
He said of the upcoming live launch: “Now that we have a confirmed date for the first passenger service, it’s time to look forward with confidence and for the trams to give something back to Edinburgh.
“There has been much excitement and interest generated by the driver-testing phase and the response on social media alone suggests that residents and local businesses are warming to the trams.
“Visitors to the Capital will soon reap the rewards of a fully operational tram system, revamped Haymarket Station and redeveloped Waverley Station.
“When the revised delivery date was announced back in September the target was to have the infrastructure contract completed and handed over to the operator by March 2014.
“Transport Scotland has helped deliver that and played a pivotal role in supporting City of Edinburgh Council and contractors to get the tram project back on track.”
When it first came to power as a minority government in 2007, the SNP tried to scrap the tram project, but the scheme was defended by other parties.
The SNP accepted it would have to provide the promised £500 million, but in December 2011, the then infrastructure secretary Alex Neil said any extension beyond the city centre would be “for another generation to decide”.
Last week, the Evening News revealed how firefighters and tram drivers have undergone specialist training – to teach them how to remove a dead body from beneath a tram.
The grisly scenario in the event of someone being run over by a tram is one of 12 “worst-case scenarios” that drivers and those involved with the project have undertaken ahead of the project going live on May 31.
Labelled Operation Lima, the exercise took place in March and involved a specialist fire unit using a hydraulic crane to lift a tram off a life-sized dummy. Other exercises that have been undertaken include evacuating a tram above the viaduct at Murrayfield, known as Exercise Quito, and a similar evacuation procedure in the underpass beneath the A8 at Gogar labelled Havana. The exotic titles follow a similar vein as that set by Exercise Salvador in March, which saw more than 1000 volunteers test the tram stop at Murrayfield.It is understood that trams safety manager Michael Powell chose the names from a list of Latin American cities he had compiled, with one used for each tram trial.
Carrying 2000 passengers every hour at peak times
EIGHT trams carrying up to 250 people each will run per hour during peak times. A single adult fare will cost £1.50, whilst a child will cost 70p.
Fare dodgers will be hit with a £10 on-the-spot fine from one of 52 ticketing services assistants.
Each stop will be served every seven-and-a-half minutes from Monday to Friday during peak hours. That frequency will fall to every ten minutes at non-peak times and at weekends. Services will operate from 5am until midnight. Journeys from York Place to the airport are expected to take 33 minutes, with trams waiting at each stop for around 25 seconds.
Annual operating and maintenance costs to run the tram line are expected to hit £13.7m.
Of those costs, 15.9 per cent will be spent on drivers; 13.9 per cent on revenue protection officers; 18 per cent on energy; 26 per cent on management, legal, accounting, human resources and administration, and 26.2 per cent on other costs. The council has forecast a profit of £3.7m over the first 15 years.