SNP councillor says tram line must be extended

School children on the official launch service on Friday. Picture: Jane Barlow
School children on the official launch service on Friday. Picture: Jane Barlow
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The tram “must be extended” to the south of the Capital, Newhaven and Granton, according to the city’s SNP deputy transport leader – despite the government ruling out more cash.

Councillor Adam McVey said extending the tram was the “right thing to do” as he spoke at the official launch of the £776 million line attended by a host of dignitaries.

Just yards along the same carriage, his party colleague, Transport Minister Keith Brown, was once again telling all within earshot that there would be no more Scottish Government funding for the project.

Cllr McVey said that despite the government’s repeated “not a penny more” insistence, the council had to look at ­expansion plans.

“The tram has to be extended,” he said. “There is no point in designing and delivering a transport network like this and just leaving it as is.

“There will be no fairy ­godmother to deliver it though so the business case will have to be scrutinised.

“I’m not saying we should get started tomorrow but when it is right to do it then we should commit.”

Mr Brown, meanwhile, said it was in everyone’s interests to make the tram a success but again insisted any extension was purely a matter for the city council.

He said: “We have no plans to put forward any more ­taxpayers’ money and we are not looking to budget for any tram extension.”

Extension or not, the tram is here to stay and up and running and accepting fare-paying passengers as of 5am today.

The city’s last tram operated on November 16, 1956, leaving The Mound at 6pm and terminating at the Shrubhill Depot on Leith Walk around 8pm – the carriage was decorated and painted white and crowds of people lined the route.

Its return was somewhat less pantomime as official launch day yesterday saw no ribbons being cut or bottles of champagne popped. Instead a mix of politicians, media, Evening News competition winners and future passengers clambered on board and rode the new service from York Place to Edinburgh Airport before returning to St Andrew Square.

Edinburgh Rugby player Sam Hidalgo-Clyne was joined by rugby fan Tracey Bennet at the newly named BT Murrayfield Stadium tram stop, while three airline staff boarded the tram at the airport.

Competition winner Margaret Siegel was there with three generations of her family and two passengers who had travelled on the last-ever tram in November 1956 – Norman Steven and Alastair Byres. Mrs Siegal, 59, of Greenbank, entered the News competition last week after hearing her 85-year-old mum Jean Elder’s memories of the last time trams ran in the Capital.

She was also joined by her daughter, Angela Charman, 33, and three-year-old granddaughter, Emily Charman.

“It’s a great family memory for us, “she said.

“I’m very impressed with how spacious and smooth the tram is – you also get some wonderful views.

“I’ll make use of the tram to get to the Gyle and airport, after first getting a bus into town.”

Fellow pioneering tram ­passenger Alastair Byres, 66, from Newhaven, was equally impressed with the new ­service – Alastair rode the last city tram with his father at the age of eight.

He said: “I still have the ticket from that last tram ride. At the time no-one thought they’d ever return as the car and buses were supposedly the way forward.

“Now it’s the opposite, I’m delighted that they are back even if they are bit bigger and bolder.”

Overall, Edinburgh Trams has 120 staff, made up of 40 drivers, seven depot drivers, 52 ticketing services assistants and management support.

There are also 15 tram stops along the 8.7-mile route.

Overseeing it all is Edinburgh Trams director and general manager, Tom ­Norris, who has told how preparing the service for launch was “more nervy than the ­Olympics” – previously he ran London Waterloo Station’s rail hub created to deliver crowds to the London 2012 Olympics.

He said: “With the Olympics if it went wrong then no-one would come looking for me.

“With this everyone knows who I am so there is a bit of added pressure to get it right.

“So far I think we’ve done that and I’m sure there will be some problems but it’s about how we dealt with and react to them. I’ve got a great team around me.”

Ian Craig, chief executive of Transport for Edinburgh, said he believed the trams were “primed” to play a ­central role in the future success of ­Edinburgh.

He said: “I’m proud of what has been achieved but there’s much more to be done.

“This is a brand new system and, as we start to welcome passengers on board, we’ll be keeping a very close eye on the service to make sure our ­customers get the best possible experience.”

Trams will run between 5am and midnight, every eight to ten minutes. Fares cost £1.50 for a single and £3.50 for a day ticket, which can be used on both trams and buses.

City transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “Two years ago, I pledged to do everything in my power to ensure we brought this project in on the revised budget and revised schedule.

“It was never going to be straightforward, but with an incredible team effort and a focus on results, it now feels fantastic to be where we are today.

“I hope that everyone who uses a tram in these first few days and weeks enjoys the ­experience.”

On the issue of any future extensions, she added: “As we’ve said, there are no current plans to look at extending the line and it would be inappropriate to do anything until we’ve had a chance to review the service’s performance over the first six months or so.

“I’ve called for a report to be presented to council before the end of 2014 so that future options can be debated.”

david.oleary@edinburghnews.com