Trammin'

RabTDog's picture

Yesterday, Edinburgh’s trams finally started running with paying passengers on board. The first tram set off at 5am and was packed with people who wanted to say, ‘I was on the first tram.’ By all accounts, it was quite a party atmosphere.
The background to the trams is all over the internet for those wishing to look – Wikipedia has a decent summary at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edinburgh_Trams – but I’m not going to rehearse all the arguments here except to say that as far as major infrastructure projects go it has been an unmitigated cock-up on the procurement, project management and implementation fronts since work started in 2008. Possibly before.
The question remains however, what’s it like to ride a tram? This morning, I went to find out. Happily for me, the city centre tram terminus at York Place is all of 1.5km from my flat so it takes very little time to walk there, get your head round the ticket machine and jump on.
Apologies if the next bit sounds like a readme file but it might be relevant for Edinburgh Afterworders or city visitors. Our one tram line runs the 14km from York Place all the way to the airport but lately I read that the airport stop wouldn’t be ready by the general start-date of 31 May. This was okay with me since the airport fare is £8 return or £5 single but go anywhere else on the tram and the fare is a flat £1.50 just like Lothian Buses. From the touchscreen machine therefore I selected a £1.50 single fare, planning to do something as wildly exciting as trundle out to a shopping centre on the western edge of the city, get a coffee, reflect on my tram experience, then trundle back again.
Having gone through most of the ticketing process the machine wouldn’t take coins – even though it should – but it did take cards so I paid my £1.50 via debit card. For those who have Lothian Buses Ridacards – like Oyster cards in London, sort of – you just validate the journey by touching the Ridacard to another machine at the tram stop.
Since I boarded before 9am on a Sunday, there were only one or two other passengers on the tram and the ticket inspector was happy to chat. Yes, the airport stop is open. Yes, I could have gone there today. Yes, if you’ve paid £1.50 you can get off anywhere except the airport. Yes, they’re being quite lenient for the first couple of weeks over ticket misunderstandings but pretty soon if you board ticketless, or haven’t validated your Ridacard – because you ran to the stop and got on just before the doors closed for instance – you will be stung for a £10 penalty fare. Then, off we went.
For the first part of the route, from York Place round into St Andrew Square, down to Princes Street, along to Shandwick Place then to Haymarket Station, it feels like you’re on a funky, smooth, spacious bus. Head for the front of the tram and the driver compartment is glass walled so if you stand there you can see the back of the driver’s head, the control panel and directly ahead through the windscreen – at night I think this would make Star Trek fans very happy.
Once the tram gets to Haymarket however, it jigs off the road and goes down beside the railway line at which point it starts to feel a lot more like a train; it gets faster too.
First stop after Haymarket is Murrayfield and there will be a definite wow factor in tramming out to the national rugby stadium on the day of a game. You can imagine the pubs around the east end of Princes Street and along Rose Street emptying of rugby fans, the stops at York Place, St Andrew Square and Princes Street being packed out and busy trams depositing nearly 250 people a time at the stadium stop.
After Murrayfield come the western suburbs, Balgreen and Saughton, then travellers get a lesson in Edinburgh economics. On the western edge of the city, service industry firms and other ventures have occupied extensive business and industrial park accommodation over the last couple of decades and more. For people who don’t actually work there – effete Leith bloggers for example – that side of Edinburgh remains a mystery but its importance jumps out at you as the tram goes past the stop at Bankhead, near the Sighthill Industrial Estate, then through stops like Edinburgh Park, Edinburgh Park Central and the Gyle, the latter with its enormous shopping centre. In that sense the tram line will be good for people commuting from the city centre to workplaces near those stops.
Whatever the administrative boundaries of the city, there are practical boundaries that mark the difference between out and in. If you’re going to the airport by bus, car or taxi for example then negotiating the Gogarburn roundabout, where the bypass meets the A8 Glasgow Road, traditionally feels like leaving Edinburgh behind. This is also the site of the fairly extensive tram depot and the line goes straight through it, allowing some sense of the project’s infrastructural spend – much more so than a train-thing moving slowly through the city centre in isolation.
Once through the depot, the head office complex of RBS has its very own stop, Gogarburn, although it is on the wrong side of the road. Handily, there’s a bridge - built near the height of Sir Fred Goodwin's hubris in 2005 – so bank staff can cross safely.
After all those contrasts – city centre, rugby stadium, suburbs, great deserts of uninspired commercial and retail architecture – you get one more. Instead of following the Glasgow Road, then cutting down the airport access road, the tram line saves distance by going directly across farmland. As it turns north from Gogarburn, crossing the actual Gogar Burn, you’re suddenly in the Hobbit: grass growing between the tracks, no tarmac and surrounded by fields. It’s surreal. Then it heads more directly west again, speeds up and gets to the stop at Ingliston Park and Ride – the last before the airport – which is as far as my ticket would take me today. This is around a 1.5km walk across the big car park, down the access road and across the airport car parking to the terminal building: door to door, my flat to airport mostly on a tram but with an aggregate 3km walk, for £1.50.
The one thing Edinburgh Airport needs right now is a groundside coffee shop with a view of the runways. I had to content myself with a branch of tax-dodgers Caffè Nero that had all the ambience of a galley on a submarine. I didn’t linger. It’s also good to report that given tram-sceptic chatter about the airport tram stop being a taxi ride from the terminal building, it’s not. Even the most hard-hearted anti-trammer wouid have to concede that the stop is indeed at the airport. The ticket machines at this stop accepted coins, I paid £5 for a single back to York Place – the machines don’t accept notes – and just over half an hour later I was back where I started.
As we passed through the stops on the way into the city it was noticeable that kids on the platform, out for the morning with parents or grandparents, were waving at the driver, smiling; shoppers got on at the Gyle; tourists actually got on at the airport and used the tram instead of the airport bus. If I was to stick my neck out, I’d say there was an aura of municipal pride about the whole enterprise, despite all the problems.
One middle-aged couple from the USA who hopped on at the airport were deciding whether to sit facing forward, or not, by a window, or not, and I felt like gabbling at them, wild-eyed, ‘Don’t you know this tram only started running yesterday? Do you know how much grief it has caused in this city in the last six years? No, no you don’t. You just arrive, think it’s really cool and take it for granted!
‘Did you ever experience the airport bus, cramped, slow and stuck in a traffic jam at Corstorphine? Especially after your flight north from Gatwick had been delayed by three hours? No you did not! You. Just. Get. To. Enjoy. It. But I know how much better this is. Oh yes. Mwaah ha ha, I know…’
I resisted the urge to gabble and left them in peace to stare out the window, facing forwards.
Rugby fans will go to Murrayfield, shoppers will go to the Gyle, commuters will go to Edinburgh Park and Gogarburn, travellers will go to the airport. After all the hassle, first impressions – notoriously unreliable – suggest a transport link that might actually work. Now all that has to happen is extend it into an actual city-wide tram system rather than a line than goes from A to B to A again.

Comments

of £100 million per mile to install?

now they're a fait accompli, I quite like them

Are the cabin girls & boys welcoming and erudite? How are the vol-au-vents? What's the in-tram entertainment like? Do they shine your shoes before you get off?

Saw the trams go past on Princes St. Very sleek. All were jam-packed for the first official day too.

The Gogarburn stop is handy for me. Kind of excited about the prospect - a £3.50 one-day ticket covers you for buses and trams, apparently (as long as you're not going to the airport).

may become an Edinburgh catchphrase

In the making.

I'll get off at Gyle - I promise.

the family and I just had to try it out. Didn't exactly zip along Princes Street - unlike the number 26 on our nearside. However we did get first day platimum ticket (printed on silver paper). I sincerely hope you, you johnny-come-lately, never got one of these.

york place > ingliston
airport > york place

Is it true that the Edinburgh Tram idea was granted funding over the proposal to convert the Perth - Inverness road to a full dual carriageway?

Every time I board one of those trains, I feel like I'm a giant. At 5'9", let's face it, it's the only time!

Double the cost, twice the time to build, half the distance; now Edinburgh has a tram that basically mirrors a very successful bus route, but at massive cost.
Now it has to meet its patronage forecasts, which I'm not ever so optimistic about...
Someone should be brought to account for all the over-runs, surely?
A nightmare project, phenomenally expensive, and all for very little in the end.

And I've heard it said that all the trams are out of warranty before they've carried a paying customer?

Whatever happened up until 31 May, people seem to like them

People like them now because they're "new and shiny". Time will tell if they remain popular in a year, when most people will have worked out whether the very limited tram route is of any practical use to them at all.
There's no great park and ride sites (I'm not sure how Ingliston will attract masses of former car users to the tram?) and I'm not sure how the tram will cope with the luggage generated by airport traffic.
The penalty fare of a tenner is neither use nor ornament either, I'd say. Lots of free rides being had, I bet.
Good luck to it, don't get me wrong (and I'll make a point of going on it when I'm next in Edinburgh) but public transport is what I do for a living, and I've had recent and ongoing experience with building new tramways, and they're a pain even when they're largely on time, not much over budget and full length.

Patronage is expected to be about 5.4m in year 1, I believe, and I'll bet a fiver that it ends up below that. Spending £800m to carry that amount of people (taking the silly patronage rise forecasts into account) works out at, based on a 30 year life, at £3 cost per journey. That sounds like a lot to me.... And only gets higher if the patronage isn't there.

Also, it seems that the initial 5.4m will double to 10m in 9 years. That's pie in the sky I'm afraid, unless service is significantly enhanced, and even if so, I seriously doubt that you can near double patronage on a tram in 9 years over its first year, certainly if all other things remain equal. Nottingham's tram carries around 3m LESS passengers now than it did when it opened 10 years ago, not a near doubling. And that's thought of as a successful one!

The one thing they have got right is given the operation of the trams to Lothian Buses, such that ticketing is integrated.
Ian Craig's not daft, but he's been handed a poison chalice, I fear.

But here's where we're starting from. I suppose the trams interest me because they're an even more visible, large project (in urban Scottish terms) than Holyrood, maybe even moreso than the Commonwealth Games stuff in Glasgow, Union Sq in Aberdeen and so on. For the likes of me, living in my Leith bubble with metaphors of desuetude (the docks), the trams also provide an easy commuting link to Edinburgh Park & Gogarburn which have been economically more important than Leith Docks for years…
The figures/projections might not add up but we are looking at an important commuter route, a default means of getting from the airport to city centre and an efficient means of cutting the crap between Haymarket and the east end of Princes St.
Maybe the price was unjustifiable a priori (the SNP govt tried to bin the scheme I believe) but we're a long way past a priori. They exist and a whole generation of young people who didn't pay attention to the faff (2008-14) will just validate their Ridacards and jump on…

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