Edinburgh Trams: ‘You’ll love them,’ says Dublin

The Luas service in Dublin. Pic: Reuters
The Luas service in Dublin. Pic: Reuters
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IT might seem like a uniquely troubled project, but ­Edinburgh is not alone in ­suffering years of tram works, blown budgets and deadlines – and while several other UK and European cities have gnashed their teeth over the creation of a tram service most now insist “You’ll love it”.

Dublin’s Luas, or Daniel Day as it is affectionately nicknamed, is often held up as one the key examples of victory being snatched from the jaws of defeat when talk turns to tram systems and their pros and cons.

The cost of delivering the tram system to the city was around £750 million as opposed to an original quote of around £250m, it arrived three years behind schedule and a host of city traders went out of business during construction works. Sound familiar? Luas opened to a hostile public in 2004. There are two main lines – a green line, running north-south, which began operation in early 2004, while the red Line – running east to west – opened later that year.

Although scornful at first ,now ten years down the track it seems Dubliners can’t get enough of the Luas.

It carries almost 30 million passengers a year and there have been several extensions, with new lines in the planning stage. Irish Times correspondent Tim O’Brien said: “We love it now. We really did beat it around the place for a number of years but we now hold it dear. It was late and over budget and a whole swathe of underground Georgian cellars had to be filled in at great cost and expense but that has all now faded into the background. It really has become a part of the city and is used by everyone, people take great pride in it.

“What people love about it is that it’s almost everything that heavy rail isn’t. The Luas is clean and smooth, well run and well maintained, people can get on it and not have to worry about traffic, you can plan exactly when you will get to and where you wish to go.”

This is echoed by Michael Sheedy, director of light rail for the Railways Procurement Agency, which manages and operate the Luas. He said: “The Luas really has been taken to the bosom by Dubliners. You could almost feel it on the day that we launched, a sense of public spirit and public 
ownership.

“We never envisaged that people would take to it as quickly as they did and we never thought we’d end up doing as many extensions as we have in such a short period of time. It’s success is down to its higher frequency, it’s not affected by traffic and it runs later and longer than buses.

“The one advantage that Edinburgh has is that both tram and bus are under the one roof so you can tailor the services to compliment one another.”

One of the UK’s longest- ­running tram services is Sheffield’s Supertram, which began operating in 1994.

There are three routes radiating from Sheffield city centre and it carries a total of 15 million passengers a year. However for the first few years the scheme was roundly seen as a failure, that buses were still the best way to get around the city and there was widespread concern that the £240m it took to build the system was poor value for money.

Added to this, business owners still felt raw following years of “disastrous” tram works.

Karen Sherwood, of Cupola art gallery near Sheffield Wednesday’s football ­stadium in Hillsborough formed a group of fellow small traders to declare it was “business as usual” among the tram works, printing T-shirts and organising PR events. She said: “People couldn’t get into my shop for months which for a destination-led business is a disaster.

“I had customers bringing me food parcels and came close to closing many times.

“The problem wasn’t so much the works but the management of it being put in, like not telling you they were digging a giant hole outside your premises. Once the teething ­problems were out of the way it began working really well.”

She added: “I use it loads now – so much so that when they announced they have to re-lay the tracks I found myself thinking ‘Oh, what a pain, I won’t be able to use the tram’.” In another UK city, Nottingham, the tram is a similar success story, having gained the affection of city residents.

Nottingham Express Transit (NET) opened to the public on March 9, 2004, having cost £200m to construct.

The scheme took 16 years from conception to implementation and there are now three lines with plans for more, while the service handles more than nine million passengers a year.

Councillor Jane Urquhart, portfolio holder for Planning and Transport at Nottingham City Council, said: “Nottingham, like Edinburgh, knows that to grow, we must invest in public transport.

“Nottingham is celebrating ten years of tram services, with Nottingham Express Transit (NET) providing around 90 million passenger journeys over the last decade, enabling customers to travel across the city with ease on a fast, frequent and reliable service. Today we are still feeling the widespread economic benefits that NET has supported, with more to come.

“We are currently building on our success with a network expansion which is one of the largest urban construction projects in the UK. I’m sure that trams will prove just as popular in Edinburgh now that services have started – I wish you every success.”

david.oleary@edinburghnews.com