Edinburgh trams: Taking part in Exercise Salvador

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TENSION filled the air as a 1000-strong crowd waited to board the first passenger-carrying trams for more than 50 years.

Transport bosses eyed proceedings anxiously as volunteers marched up the steep steps leading to the Murrayfield Stadium tram stop, ready for the £776 million project’s first big test.

The tram rolls into the stop before crowds ascend the steps to board. Picture: Greg Macvean

The tram rolls into the stop before crowds ascend the steps to board. Picture: Greg Macvean

Exercise Salvador, as it was exotically called, was staged to assess how the trams would cope with thousands of screaming One Direction heading to Murrayfield in June. But it was much more than that, it was also the project’s first trial by public.

Tram general manager, Tom Norris, loud hailer in hand to address the crowds, knew nothing could afford to go wrong. And fortunately for him, it didn’t.

Proceedings began shortly after 9.30am as volunteers were welcomed through the stadium’s Roseburn Street entrance by an army of cheery, orange-jacketed stewards who tagged testers with either orange or yellow stickers before directing them to take a seat in the empty North Stand to receive their instructions.

Forget 1D, as the tram arrived it was treated like a popstar, and the stewards were forced to intervene as the excited passengers leaned forward from the platform and jostled to grab a snap of the tram.

Eventually it was loaded and sent on its way, pulling away in almost complete silence except for a light whoosh from the rails.

Camera phones, video cameras and iPads were pointed toward the windows and ceiling and floor, with each passenger documenting their part in the return of trams to the Capital.

Behind each driver’s compartment stood the diehard tram fans, each one armed with a camera and a flurry of tram-related facts and specifications, scanning the control desk over the tram driver’s shoulder with wide-eyed amazement.

As the tram breezed west through Saughton, Stenhouse, Balgreen and Hermiston Gait, passers-by offered a brief wave – each one returned by the tram driver.

Self-confessed “committed” tram fan and former Simple Minds manager Bruce Findlay summed-up the mood among many.

“I loved it,” he said. “We didn’t travel very far, only into Haymarket, but I’m looking forward to getting back on and heading out to the airport.

“I remember them from the last time they ran, they are a slightly different experience but a great way to travel. I think they are fantastic.”

Another tram volunteer, Kenny Omond, 72, who was on board with his daughter and granddaughter, admitted: “They’re good, but not as good as the old ones.

“I’d give them eight out of ten. I live in Livingston and will use them whenever I’m going into town.”

At Hermiston Gait, it all went a bit “1950s” when the driver got out and raced off to the points to switch the tracks – a time-consuming practice only required on the day to allow the tram to return to Murrayfield.

Once back at the stadium, volunteers all emerged grinning apart from one gentleman who, when asked by a steward whether he enjoyed the trip, was overheard to reply gruffly: “Not really no, it was too hot.” The consensus, however, was one of quiet enjoyment – “smooth”, “efficient” and “comfy seats”. Volunteers were then left to mill about, grab a coffee and swap tram tales.

After the years of construction, delays, and controversy, it will take some time to sway the city’s residents to the side of the trams, but perhaps Operation Salvador marked the first step yesterday.

Certainly city transport leader Councillor Lesley Hinds was pleased. “It’s been a while in getting to this point but there is definitely a more positive vibe now ,” she said. “This was my fourth time riding the tram and I enjoyed it very much. We’re immensely grateful to everyone who volunteered to help us with Exercise Salvador.””