Edinburgh Tram Service Begins

30 May 2014, 18:23

Two of the last passengers of the original Edinburgh trams have recreated their journey to mark the launch of the new service.

The controversial network is opening after six years of building work and problems including a long-running dispute between the council and its contractor.

The project has seen the construction of a line from Edinburgh Airport to York Place, costing about £776 million.

Transport leaders and invited guests boarded a tram at York Place ahead of the first batch of paying customers.

It was the first time on a tram in the Scottish capital for many of the group, but Alastair Byres and Norman Steven used to take the old service to school every day.

The pair, who were on board the final journey of the original trams in November 1956, did not expect to be seeing them again.

Mr Byres, 66, said: "I kept my ticket but I didn't ever think I'd be getting back on, I was eight years old when they finished, it's great to see them back.

"I'm concerned about the cost, as everybody is, but I think they're great and I hope they extend it in due course down Leith Walk and I can reach my flat in Newhaven.

"The old trams were rickety, they were uncomfortable and noisy and cold - I used to prefer the bus sometimes to be honest - but there's no comparison with the new ones, it's chalk and cheese."

The two men did not know each other in the 1950s and got a ticket for the final tram from their fathers.

Mr Steven, 71, felt a hint of nostalgia on his latest journey. He also still has his original ticket and a photograph from the final trip, which he took aged 14.

"I couldn't tell you my first journey on the trams, it was that far back," he said.

"The final trip was quite different, they had painted a tram white rather than the usual maroon so it stood out and went a lap of most of the route, I remember lots of people being there.

"When it came to an end I don't think many people were upset, I think it had to change because a lot of new suburbs were being built that the tram service didn't reach.

"Nostalgia comes into it. It's good to be back on board but also good to know that there are all different means of transport so we don't need to rely on just the trams.''

One of the biggest difference between the new and original service is the price of a ticket; today it costs £5 for a single trip from the airport and £8 for a return, while in 1958 it cost only one old penny, Mr Steven said.

When the tram reached St Andrew Square, a "flash mob" performed on the platform with a song about the trams.

While some people are looking forward to using the system others remain angry at the over-budget cost of the project.

There have been calls for a public inquiry, but Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown said there are no immediate plans for one.

"We've said let's wait until the system is up and running and then look at lessons to be learned," Mr Brown said.

"I've spoken to the council already about this and will speak to them in future because the council has a number of legal actions ongoing and we can't have inquiries which cut across that.

"A total of £776 million has now been spent on the system so let's make as much money as we can and get people on as many trams as we can to help repay that cost.''

Original plans to take the tram line to Leith were scrapped but could still be implemented in the future.

Edinburgh City Council transport convener Lesley Hinds said: "You can't underestimate the amount of money over-budget and the time it's been over as well. Obviously that has been extremely frustrating and I think it's been damaging to the city of Edinburgh.

"Our purpose over the last two years has been to get passengers on the tram from the airport to York Place.

"We do have enough trams to go down Leith and we have the rails because that was all bought before. There will be a report at the end of the year to see how people are taking to the system and it will suggest how we might want to further invest in public transport and the trams come under that."