Monday, 2 June 2014


For some unknown reason I felt I should go to Edinburgh as soon as the long awaited tram opens, and as I could fit it into my spring schedule, I did book a flight as soon as the beginning of operation was finally announced a few weeks ago. For several months the official Edinburgh Trams website had stated that operation would start in May, so to keep that promise, I guess, they picked May 31 and not one day earlier. This day happened to be a Saturday, usually a good day for an opening, to fix teething problems before regular commuters would get on the following Monday.

I don't want to list all the problems that had led to the long delayed conclusion of the works (see the respective Wikipedia article), but the general impression reading the news in all sorts of tram magazines over the last years was that this tram might never open as it was often close to being cancelled altogether.

With these delays and the enormous (though actually quite common) cost overruns, I was getting excited to find out whether the result was worth all the wait. So following are my personal impressions gained on the first two days of operation, which means that some initial problems may have been solved and can be filed under normal teething problems. Some, or maybe too many, problems, however, will either need another large amount of money to be fixed, or people will have to bear with them forever.

Generally, the 14 km line that connects the city centre to the airport, is 'o.k.'. The CAF trams are nice, run smoothly and have rather comfortable seating. As the line goes to the airport, luggage racks are provided, too. A positive thing, at first sight, but once you look through the 7-section tram, you'll find out that there are five such racks, each about 2 m wide and with three shelves. An approximate calculation resulted in a capacity of some 60 typical suitcases to be stored, a number I would consider very excessive for a tram that runs every 10 minutes and with the airport buses continuing service on a similar route. My guess is that eventually, if a little money is available, some of these (probably mostly empty) racks will be withdrawn to increase the number of seats. After all, the tram is meant to provide an urban service and not just an airport service. If the airport had been the primary purpose to build the tram, then certainly a railway branch would have been a cheaper and more recommendable solution. In fact, there was a project to build a rail access, which would have been useful for people from other Scottish regions, too, whereas the tram is only good really to go from the airport into Edinburgh itself, although there is also convenient interchange at Edinburgh Park station for local trains west.

Otherwise the CAF trams feature most things one would expect of a new tram, screens announcing the next stop, acoustic announcements, etc. but no air-conditioning, and as it appeared, no proper ventilation either. Unexpectedly, the first day of operation, 31 May 2014, turned out to be a very warm day, and with the trams packed with curious passengers, the air inside the trams got quite unbearable despite some open windows.

The opening as such was quite disappointing, as there was actually no opening ceremony at all. The toughest fans (not me) gathered at 5 in the morning at Gyle Centre, where the first regular tram coming from the nearby depot entered service. An eye-witness told me the first tram was overcrowded and some people couldn't even get on. Unlike other grand tram openings like those in France in recent years, Edinburgh Trams did not organise any kind of popular festival around it, and they did not hand out free try-out tickets to residents along the line. Instead they made everybody pay a full fare from the very beginning. Loudspeakers at stops continuously announced that all passengers must purchase a ticket and that inspectors (well, they call them something milder) will be on board to check tickets, and they did. So all that left a bad taste in my mouth, especially as service was getting very irregular during late morning, when they even switched off the next-tram indicators, and just announced that trams would arrive every 10 minutes. In reality, waiting times became much longer, and often two trams came one shortly after the other. But it seemed they gave up checking tickets in the afternoon. So Edinburgh Trams as the operator somehow missed this unique opportunity to get the public opinion on their side from the first day.

A single ride costs 1.50 GBP, quite reasonable, and a day ticket for 3.50 GBP including all Lothian Buses is actually a very good deal. So, compared to the really bad fare system in Glasgow, Edinburgh at least has good integration of buses and trams, although local trains are left out as of yet.

The initial tram line, which was supposed to continue northeast to Leith but was curtailed due to the cost overruns, actually consists of two rather different sections. The eastern part, between York Place and Haymarket railway station, is a typical tram with a high share of on-street running, just the easternmost 300 m before the York Place terminus is on a central reservation. Other parts are shared by private cars and mostly by hundreds of buses which run along Princes Street, so that could cause mutual obstruction. Otherwise my major objection to this stretch is the lack of a stop near Edinburgh's main railway station Waverley. So, people with suitcases arriving in Edinburgh and not familiar with the surroundings of the station, will have problems finding the nearest stop. For St. Andrew Square stop (which on maps shows 'for Waverley') they will have to walk a couple of hundreds of metres, the Princes Street stop is a bit further away, but might be the better choice if going westwards. Princes Street is one of the city's main shopping streets, but funnily, it is here where you find the longest distance between stops. The next stop west lies some 800 m away, a distance more typical for metros, but even for those not recommendable in the city centre, where generally more stops are necessary to spread people out a bit. The island platform at Princes Street will soon get problems with overcrowding, never a good thing in the middle of a 4-lane road. I assume that even shop owners (who suffered most during construction) realised that the stop called Princes Street is so far east and that passengers might not bother to walk back west to their shops. As a result the next western stop, initially marked as 'Shandwick Place', was renamed 'West End-Princes Street' although Princes Street actually only begins some 250 m further east!! So my advice is, move the present 'Princes Street' stop further east towards the Waverley Bridge, and add another stop, maybe called 'Princes Street West' somewhere in between. The last stop of the tram-like section, at Haymarket, is conveniently located just outside the railway station of that name, busy with commuters, but long-distance trains often just serve Waverley.

The entire section west of Haymarket can be classified as 'light rail', completely on its own right-of-way, with only a few level crossings (the only major one just south of Gyle Centre), and with some sections allowing speeds of up to 70 km/h. Around Bankhead/Saughton the tram took over an existing busway alignment, which already had dedicated bridges to avoid level crossings. To reach this busway alignment, however, two viaducts had to be built to take the tram to the south side of the mainline railway which it parallels between Haymarket and Edinburgh Park station. So, here the big question remains, whether this alignment was really necessary or whether another one or two stations for local trains would have done the job, while the tram could have stayed in a more urban environment. But that's done now. After Edinburgh Park the line runs through nice lawns between office buildings in this business park, and most likely a lot of new buildings will be built in this area soon. Beyond Gyle Centre, once the depot has been passed, the line continues through farmland, just serving a Royal Bank of Scotland business park at Gogarburn and the free Ingliston car park. Between these two stops, two level crossings as well as a ghost stop can be seen amidst a huge meadow, so this area may also change in the future. Another ghost stop is visible just east of the depot which may provide interchange to a still-to-be-built railway station, though likely requiring a long walk if I got the local situation right.

Ingliston P+R is the last stop within the normal fare zone, for the Airport a special fare of 5 GBP is required (9 GBP for a day ticket). The Airport terminus, unlike York Place, which has only one track, features two stub tracks with a scissors crossover before it. I don't know whether this stop is the property of the Airport, but it was surprising that it had no signs at all, no name signs and no next-tram indicators. There are several ticket machines, and there was an assistant on the first day, but there is no information office in the airport. Many passengers will therefore rather take the bus because there is a manned ticket booth and also drivers available for information.

So, it might seem that the fast light-rail section would compensate for the naturally slower urban tram section, but this optimism is soon erased by the fact that too many curves along this section are so badly built that trams have to reduce speed drastically. Funnily, there is a speed restriction of 10 km/h at the depot entrance, but not for trams going into the depot, but for trams staying on the running tracks. Was this a planning mistake?? On other curves, most notably just west of the Ingliston stop, tracks were laid on concrete (honestly, no idea why!), and obviously badly laid, because these curves cause noises I have never heard before in my long tram-watching life! A similar flaw, though not as loud, can be found just west of Gogarburn, where the trams take an S-curve through empty grassland. Like at Ingliston, the immediate question comes up, why did they have to align the platforms parallel to the nearby road, and why didn't they build them some 45 degrees to the northwest to avoid the need of such tight curves? Another not-approvable section can be found around Murrayfield Stadium where trams wind their way around a train yard, requiring speed limits of 25 km/h. I would say that on a new light rail line a continuous speed of 45-50 km/h should always be allowed, otherwise the respective engineers should be sacked, in the case of Ingliston even taken to jail. I wonder if the original planners are responsible for that or whether it was German construction company Bilfinger Berger? In any case, they should have refused to build such bad trackbeds even if the local supervisors had insisted. I have not been on Manchester's latest extensions, but on U.S. light rail systems which have very similar alignments, I have never observed such a series of construction flaws.

The tram stops all have a uniform design, St. Andrew Square, Princes Street, West End-Princes Street and Airport with island platforms, the rest with side platforms. There are small shelters, ticket machines, an information poster, next-tram indicators and proper station name signs. The latter are better than elsewhere, and repeated along the platform, at least twice. I would have preferred an inverted colour scheme, though, a maroon (or whatever the corporate colour is supposed to be), with white, slightly larger characters. The only stop that is slightly different is Murrayfield Stadium next to the Rugby stadium. It is on an elevated section, with a huge flight of stairs to cater for large crowds, and all in typical Edinburgh sandstone, which brings us to another point. Edinburgh is without doubt an elegant city, but with its uniform sandstone style it is also a very colourless city, especially on a rainy day. And the choice of a very decent colour shared by Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams, both now under the Transport for Edinburgh brand, has not added a little colour touch to the city, while it could have been a modern contrast to the otherwise classic urban environment, for example by using a strong but noble red instead. From experience we know, however, that British liveries change at least every five years anyway, so there is hope....

So, if someone asked me, should the system be extended, I would say, I don't know. They should at least build the extension to Leith as initially planned to give the present line more reason to be, as it would serve a busy corridor and could thus replace many of the current buses. But I think it will be hard to convince local residents and politicians to invest further, as the present tram is not even capable of providing a faster journey to the airport. After having been to Leith on a bus instead, I would say, that at least a tram is much more comfortable than the bumpy buses (if it wasn't for the squealing noise in so many curves...). In any case, I'm afraid, we won't see any extensions for a while as the Scottish transport minister said they wouldn't give any more money for the tram. It will also take a while until people realise the advantages of the tram, as the present line actually only serves a very small portion of the population. What would help is a much more frequent hop-on hop-off service in the city centre between York Place and Haymarket (an existing siding between here and Murrayfield Stadium would make this easily possible). Trams would be much more visible and worth to wait for, whereas currently it is mostly faster to walk instead of waiting for the next tram in 'about' 10 minutes. The single-track stub at York Place might limit such aspirations, however. Rolling stock would not be the problem as 27 trams were purchased for the entire line including the Leith extension, while only 17 are now needed for an 8-10 minute service.


Edinburgh Trams (Official Website)

Edinburgh Tram at UrbanRail.Net


  1. From what I have read, it seems that they should have never built this tram, I mean it's worthless because of its route. However using tram is always better than bus but it should have more benefits, which is something we cannot see clearly in Edinburh trams. Btw I would like to take a run there sometime. Are u thinking to make a post for current Nottingham route or for the ones that are extended now ? nice blog though :)

  2. Having lived in the Edinburgh area some years ago I was always looking forward to the tram because I was sure it would be a great improvement over the bus system. Buses in Edinburgh are horribly slow, mostly due to the great dwelling time at stops. Judging from your report this was definitely changed for the trams but the same paranoia that is responsible for the long dwelling times at bus stops also haunts the tram operators: The fear of people using transport without paying. It's a surprise they haven't installed turnstiles at the tram doors ;-). Apart from that it's a real pity that the line was constructed so badly.
    Lastly, commenting on the situation on Princes Street: Unfortunately, the bus stops are too far apart for a city center, either. But a tram stop near the Waverly Steps should have been a must.

    1. Buses used to be quite a bit faster at bus stops, as they used to have separate entry and exit doors.

      Unfortunately there were too many chancers who put in fraudulent claims that the bus driver had closed the exit door on them causing them to trip and injure themselves (and thus please could they have some compensation), result, the buses now only have one door right next to the driver where he can see exactly whether anyone is trying to get on or off at the time...

    2. In my opinion, in any heavily used urban transport system, drivers should be concerned with driving and passenger safety (which includes operating doors) but not with selling tickets and/or inspecting them. I do not see why there should be a distinction between buses and trams in this respect. If you do this paradigm change, a bus driver will be able to safely operate multiple doors on a bus, and stopping time will be vastly reduced.

    3. Euan, the issue with two-door buses is that passenger buy short-hop tickets, and they stay on for a long trip. The idea is that the driver can check up on passengers if they alight at the front door. The joke is course that (a) drivers are far to busy to do that and (b) like many other urban operators in the UK Edinburgh has had a flat fare system for many years now. It really is quite sad / stupid...


  3. After reading your blog, I'm left thinking you've let negative press stories colour your judgement before you visited. Remember that the mainstream UK media hates expensive public transport systems because it is invariably pro-car, so biased junk leaks into international media. Because of that, the now-governing SNP party U-turned their stance on the trams to spuriously oppose them to win over cheap votes and get the media on side. Their meddling to spite the project - including removing Transport Scotland (national) advisers off the tram project - contributed to the project's construction problems. The project itself, however, remains an excellent system which is perfect for Edinburgh's needs.

    To address some of your specific concerns:
    -There was no opening fanfare out of respect to residents for the delays.
    -No free tickets because bus dayticket/smart card and other ticket (train/concession) holders always travel free.
    -Inspectors weren't being strict and were there to guide and help new passengers. 'Bad taste' - why?
    -Luggage space IS being well used and will increase as the line is extended. It makes the trams more comfortable than having to dodge people standing with cases.
    -The parallel heavy rail lines are saturated and so are irrelevant to the surrounding areas. Even if local stations were possible, the low frequency and lack of journey options make them less viable.
    -Waverley isn't served because a future line will do that much better! Putting this line past Waverley Steps would put it into permanent conflict with north-south traffic, and mean that the bus station could never be served.
    -Concrete/ballastless track is normal throughout Europe.
    -'Construction flaws' is your opinion. Sacked? I'm sure they knew what they were doing.
    -Gogar station won't require a walk.
    -Haymarket does serve long distance rail and so opens up Scotland to the trams and airport.
    -There physically isn't room for a West End tram stop without closing lanes to traffic, but it could still happen.
    -Murrayfield is a short constricted section - immediately either side 70kph is possible. Still much quicker than an urban route.
    -The airport extension is being built because of the trams and will house tram staff and information.
    -The colours of the tram reflect the historic 'madder' livery of the old tram system.

    1. Dear Mr. Anonymous,

      I assume you were involved with the project or still are, otherwise I cannot understand why you can so harshly defend this system as it is now.

      >>>The project itself, however, remains an excellent system which is perfect for Edinburgh's needs.<<<

      I'd say, this is certainly not what Edinburgh deserved.

      >>>Concrete/ballastless track is normal throughout Europe.<<<

      Then you have not been to Europe. It makes absolutely no sense to put a track on concrete on a section that goes through a meadow! Please quote only one single section on any European modern tram system that uses concrete track in such an environment!

      >>>-Gogar station won't require a walk.<<<

      Then please explain how passengers will reach a rail station to be built on the existing line? I'm sure you know the location of the tram stop and the location of the future rail station.

      >>>Waverley isn't served because a future line will do that much better!<<<

      You know better than me, that no such future line will happen in the near future.

    2. Speaking as an Edinburgh resident, "The project itself, however, remains an excellent system which is perfect for Edinburgh's needs" - are you having a laugh?

      IF the original waterfront development had gone ahead, and IF the projected tens of thousands of extra people had moved in there, and IF the trams had actually gone near there, then yes - it would be answering an Edinburgh 'need'.

      The half-line that we've ended up with, however, is no real need at all.

      "Luggage space IS being well used and will increase as the line is extended" - you're having a laugh. The SNP administration at Holyrood have already indicated they won't fund any further extensions, and Edinburgh Council sure as hell doesn't have the money to do so.

      "Waverley isn't served because a future line will do that much better" - I assume you refer to the projected Line 3 which was scrapped back in 2005 when the Edinburgh congestion charge suffered a crushing defeat in a local referendum. Even if that line were built (and assuming Line 1 was completed and Line 2 built as well), north Edinburgh still wouldn't be well served by the trams for Waverley - it'd either be get off at St Andrew Square, or go on to Princes Street, change trams, and go back one stop to Waverley.

      Edinburgh's original trams went right along Princes Street before bearing left and heading down Leith Street - taking that route would've allowed a stop to serve Waverley directly, as well as saving the two sharp bends on and off St Andrew Square.

      Haymarket may serve some long distance rail, but I can't help noticing that if I go to and ask for trains running from Edinburgh Haymarket to London King's Cross (ie down the East Coast main line) the vast majority of the times offered involve taking a train from Haymarket to Waverley... indeed picking Tuesday as an example, there are five times in the day I can get a direct service between those two stations. There are twenty-one times you depart Waverley to get to King's Cross with no changes...

    3. In reply to Euan:

      No, I'm not having a laugh, and yes I'm a resident too.

      Sorry, does nobody live, work, study or shop along the tram corridor then? Why is it only new housing that 'needs' trams?

      Yes, Line 3, which is why I said future. Congestion charge is irrelevant. The SNP will naturally do anything that gets them votes - like any project, if the climate becomes right for funding, there's no reason why it won't happen.

      The M74 went ridiculously over budget and was significantly delayed - hasn't stopped the government building motorways, has it?

      Edinburgh's original trams didn't have 21st century traffic conditions to contend with. Leith Street serves 1700 car parking spaces and so must remain open to traffic - given the narrow south end, this would not be feasible. St Andrew Sq route allows complete priority.

      People are capable of filtering out of Waverley into the streets to find their bus routes - why can't they do that for the tram?

      My point was that Haymarket is not some kind backwater suburb station - it's the fourth/fifth (depending on what you read) busiest station in Scotland. It opens up the whole of Scotland to the trams - that's no small thing. Fine, ECML, Dunbar and the forthcoming Borders rail passengers have a walk, but that's one set of passengers from a huge picture. It's not the be all and end all.

    4. In reply to the author (my anonymity not intended):

      I have nothing to do with the project. I only 'harshly' defend the project because you've published such a long list of negative issues with the project which either aren't fair, don't take into account background issues or are incorrect.

      What did Edinburgh deserve then? Surely you don't advocate a city of half a million relying solely on bus transport, do you?

      Maybe we're at cross purposes with the concrete track. Anywhere that track runs on street or is covered in grass has concrete foundations (Bordeaux for one, but generally anywhere). I don't understand what point you're making.

      Again with Gogar, I'm not sure your issue. The tram tracks and heavy rail station will be joined by a station building - they both emerge north of the A8 at the same location.

      Regarding future lines and Waverley, I've referred to those above. Manchester's network has been built up over time, as is Nottingham's. I don't why you feel justified in being so sceptical about future lines.

    5. Dear Stuart, I have published such a long list of negative issues 1) to get such a discussion going; 2) because they generally strike you more than positive things; 3) we actually take all the positive things for granted on a new system of this kind, which is expected to be state-of-the-art, anything below that is negative!

      I think you have to distinguish concrete foundations from track embedded in concrete. The tricky thing with track embedded in concrete is that it needs an exact calculation and proper superelevation or canting. If it is done badly it is extremely hard to fix, because basically you need to start from zero. If, however, you put the tracks on a concrete foundation and then ballast and conventional sleepers, then it is very easy to adjust the track later if required. I have been observing this issue more with underground metro systems, where there seems to be a trend back to conventional ballast track for various reasons, whereas previously some thought that maintenance would be cheaper with concrete track. The only plausible reason that came to my mind why they might have used this type just west of Ingliston is that the soil was to swampy and therefore they built a sort of bridge with deep foundations, but then again, the wide curve would need some canting like any railway would have to take it at a reasonable speed and without noise.

      Along the urban on-street sections, of course, you can't add much canting in curves, but the two major curves, from Princes Street up to St Andrew Square and then the next towards York Place are quite fine, here it is more the caution the drivers take that reduces speed, and the traffic lights, of course. As said above, I didn't point these out as "well done" because that's what you expect them to be anyway. What I wanted to point out positively, but forgot, is that traffic light preemption on the outer section seems to work quite fine.

      Gogar interchange: my point is that from the future tram stop (clearly visible on the 10 km/h section next to the depot access) you really need to choose the expensive solution to make this an attractive interchange, i.e. will they build a bridge over the tram tracks so that passengers can reach the future rail station? Something as substantial as at Edinburgh Park?

  4. I remember the excellent Lothian buses system when I visited Edinburgh almost a decade ago.

    I can't see any reason why they needed to spend all of this money on this tram system. Chip on the shoulder got the better of them? Maybe those too many trams might come in handy if you're right about the construction flaws as a source of cannibalised spare parts...

    1. You're right - Lothian Buses are excellent, and yet the city is still congested. Putting on more buses congests it even more. How does the city improve its transport then? Chip on the shoulder?.. What are you referring to?

    2. Princes Street is extremely congested with buses, but many are relatively empty on this part of the route with people either getting on or off at princes street but not travelling across it. A shuttle system along Princes Street might have been useful with buses terminating in Picardy Place and Charlottes Square and kept from traversing the central area. I am an Edinburgh resident and have used the tram twice now. I agree with just about everything Robert has mentioned.

  5. I second the opinion above that there is no space on the railway lines to the west of Waverley to introduce new stations. With EGIP (electrification of rail lines via Falkirk and via Shotts plus increase of frequency of fast trains between Glasgow and Edinburgh from 4 to 6 per hour) being completed in the next few years, there will not be any space whatsoever. The routeing of the tram line along the railway is therefore not as stupid as it might seem.

    I would also question the issue of curves in fields. You have no idea who owns the land or what is being planned to be built on it in the future. Incidentally, neither do I, but calling for the sacking of the designers of the route without such knowledge is both arrogant and ignorant. There are plenty of tram extensions to the middle of nowhere in Germany or Austria, and these also feature plenty of curves for a good reason.

    I do, however, agree with the observations regarding the service frequency and location of stops in the city centre. They are both a joke...

    1. Mr Anonymous,

      >>>calling for the sacking of the designers of the route without such knowledge is both arrogant and ignorant. There are plenty of tram extensions to the middle of nowhere in Germany or Austria, and these also feature plenty of curves for a good reason.<<<

      That's an interesting argument. You realise I'm from abroad so you (ab)use German or Austrian trams as an object to defend what is obviously wrong. But you don't know me, I would be the first to criticise such lines or sections here, too. I would even be as arrogant as to say it is extremely stupid to defend major flaws by saying, they exist elsewhere too.

      If you refer to the strange curves just west of Gogarburn, they may indeed have a reason to be, but what I would demand is that these curves are built to a standard that you can go through them at a reasonable speed. If you refer to the (actually wide) curve just west of Ingliston, I promise you, you will not find any such noise on any newly built or old tram system around the entire world. If you do find one, let me know.

    2. Having travelled the length of the route yesterday, I'm sure that Robert Schwandl is absolutely correct in his strong criticism of the extraordinarily tight radius bends at places out toward the airport.
      By far the worst of the lot is at the east junction into the Gogar depot, where the tram 'main line' turns very sharply off the route into the depot. Admittedly space is tight here, but the layout is ridiculous - it's as if the designer has been seduced by the ability of a tram to negotiate tight radii to demonstrate just how clever this is.
      I suspect that, just like the tight delta junction at the approach to Canary Wharf on the Docklands Light Railway in London, this layout will be improved.
      My only other comment is to note that the airport terminus appears to be soon replaced by a much improved stop under cover closer to the terminal - maybe funded by the airport? - and to suggest that, if and when the Leith extension is built a stub extension is also built on the route of the proposed 'line 3' as far as Waverley Station (but preferably with a delta junction where it joins the completed 'line 1').

  6. If you all care to do your research properly, there are major development plans for the area of fields in Gogarburn area, and the tram system has been future-proofed into this! Also if you research the Edinburgh Airport and Gogar Exchange plans better you will find the answers to these 'negative' points better explained. All of this is in the public domain, and has been for some time! Do your homework!

  7. As someone who has to travel on the tram daily (they discontinued the express bus from the Park and Ride when the trams started), I have been frustrated by a lot of problems - delays caused by broken down trams and signalling problems; excessive heat due to lack of air conditioning; having to stand, which was never an issue on the bus (and I am 59 with an arthritic knee); poor information on the monitors; problems with the swipe machine for my Ridacard etc. etc. I also REALLY miss being able to read the Metro on the tram in the mornings. The management have refused my request to carry Metros. I have set up an online petition - please sign it and tell your friends about it. We want our Metros via @ipetitions Many thanks. A tram regular.

  8. At last tram returned in Edinburgh, after a long 58 years!!!!! Better late than never. Althogh this new system is not even measurable with old system in term of expansion.

    What a fun :) . Once they closed the tram lines on Princess Street because it was creating traffic jam!!!!! And now trams running again on Princess Street. Other traffics are much higher in 2014 than 1956. So it is clear that those reasons of closing the great previous tram network was just a blunder & bluff.


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