As a spectator sport, tram spotting is right up there with Morris dancing. The adrenaline rush you get, well, you don’t. It’s dogging for people who don’t like showing skin. It’s a pastime for those who find curling too edgy.
Still, that hasn’t stopped the city of Edinburgh from getting caught up in tram fever. Over the last few weeks, we’ve all been at it. Snapshots. Tweets. Status updates. The excitement is palpable.
First Edinburgh had Trainspotting. Now it has tramspotting.
At 9:30 this morning, I assembled in Murrayfield stadium with 1,000 others. Alongside me was EU’s #2, Patrick. Together, we were the elite, the chosen many who’d been selected to ride the trams as part of Exercise Salvador.
Up until now, the testing had been conducted quietly, with only tram staff invited to ride the city’s shiny new toys. Today, it was thrown open to the masses as the final test before The Real Thing begins. This is how it went down.
9:55. We’re running late. Not as late as the tram project admittedly, but still pretty far behind schedule. The assembled crowd appears to be made up of curious bloggers and the old, who have nothing better to do this morning, or indeed on any morning. There is also an abundance of paramedics. Is this due to the dangers of the tram network, or is this standard practice for a large group of septuagenarians on a day out?
10:00. A man with a megaphone introduces himself as Tom Norris. He’s the boss of Edinburgh Trams and yet he’s only 27. When work began on the tram network, he was still in nappies – a Bob the Builder t-shirt at best. Tom finishes his short speech and everyone claps.
10:05. Next man behind the megaphone is Michael Powell, the Safety Standards Manager. He outlines the day’s action, which will commence with a 30-minute break so that everyone can go to the toilet. Then we’ll have a tram ride, followed by another 30 minute break so that everyone can go to the toilet again. With the day’s second toilet stop out of the way, there’ll be a second tram ride, by which point I’ll be back home filing my report, leaving everyone else to take a well-earned toilet break.
10:10. With the health and safety briefing delivered, it’s time for another round of applause before heading off to the bathroom.
Stars upon thars
10:30. We have gathered outside Murrayfield tram station, in readiness to commence Exercise Salvador. Three weeks earlier, I’d forwarded Patrick the email informing me that my application had been successful. He replied: “Exercise Salvador is a sexy-ass name for a tram ride. I didn’t get an invite, perhaps I couldn’t meet their rigorous criteria.”
To my Aussie companion, I tersely responded:
A few days later, however, Patrick’s approval came through. Hurrah, we were going to ride the trams together! At least we would had I not been handed a different shade of sticker to my compadre. Yellows are to ride the tram into town. Oranges are heading towards the airport. Just as it seems we are destined to become star-crossed bloggers, consigned to tell our tale from opposing sides of the track, an official rides to the rescue.
Friends and family who have been separated may exchange their stickers. A queue quickly forms as travellers rush to resolve their colour issues. Oranges are swapped for yellows. Yellows are traded for oranges. Which colour is best? No one can say for sure. We have officially become the Starbelly Sneetches.
10:35. With a blast of the megaphone, we are summoned up the steps of Murrayfield station. 11 years after the trams were budgeted at £375m and it’s finally here. The £750m tram project is here. (£1b if you include interest payments.)
10:37. Press and punters pause to snap pics as we cross the tracks and embark. Unlike regular public transport, the seats don’t smell of piss. They feel expensive and leathery, like the seats that football managers have in posh stadiums. So this is where the budget went.
As the tram doors close, they beep like a microwave – too loud and too long. There’s a slight jolt and then we’re off. Someone claps.
“We’re creating history. This is history,” says a passenger in the next seat, somewhat dramatically.
The trams are smooth and silent, with only the air conditioning making a sound. This is fun. Men with pot bellies and proper cameras. Women with sensible shoes and bunnets. Bloggers with smartphones and sarcasm. People taking pictures of people taking pictures of people. This is what it’s all about.
11:05. We glide all the way to Edinburgh Park before stopping. Then the driver walks through the tram, climbs into the cab at the opposite end and prepares to head back whence we came. As we near Murrayfield, the tram slows to a halt. Then we wait. After a few minutes, I glance over at Patrick. He is dozing in his seat, his head flopping like a sunflower in a storm. In fairness to the boy, he’s had a long day, having risen far earlier and walked much further than he had intended:
After what feels like an eternity, we pull in to Murrayfield and alight amidst the flash of cameras and the glare of lenses. Everyone wants a piece of the trams.
With the test ride complete, all that’s left to do is deliver a verdict and go home. According to Patrick, the tram ride was “exciting but soporific”.
Me? I’d rate it as follows:
Wow factor: Very wow.
Worth the last ten years of gridlock and butthurt?