Here they are, up and running! On 31st May Edinburgh's new tram network opened to the public after years and years of chaotic construction and months of tests. I finally got the opportunity to hop on one of the CAF trams, albeit at the worst time possible (see tweet below). I could surely focus this review on the tram experience itself: how comfortable the trams are, how traffic light priority on Princes Street could be improved, or how to understand the ticketing system. However I will focus on what this new blog will be all about: the development of networks, or how to make sure that people and places are connected in the best way. If the current route map is overall satisfactory, we should nonetheless hope for further extensions in order to prevent Edinburgh's tram from becoming just a glorified Airlink.
The route which opened at the end of May 2014 features undeniable perks: it runs at the heart of the city and all the way to the airport, calls at Murrayfield Stadium and through a variety of neighbourhoods. Equally it offers connections to most of Edinburgh's train stations: Waverley (well, nearly), Haymarket, and Edinburgh Park. This allows new types of connections: for instance, if you are coming from Stirling or Falkirk and heading to Edinburgh Airport, Edinburgh Park will be the connecting station for you, instead of Haymarket.
This process of relieving congestion on major hubs and cutting connection time must continue. Although Haymarket is now huge and shiny, it will keep growing as a major connecting station for Scotland (between for example services from the West and the North-East) and for Edinburgh's West End at a local level. In order to avoid saturation, other types of airport and city connections for passengers coming from the North have to be created. The building of Edinburgh Gateway station will certainly help, although moving South Gyle station a few hundred yards closer to Gyle Centre could have worked better (the journey between Waverley and Forth Rail Bridge will seem even longer when the new Gogar rail-air-tram link opens in 2016). I was being a bit sarcastic about my first tram ride, unexpectedly filled with One Direction groupies heading to Murrayfield Station. However, that probably was the first real test for the network, and most of the things I saw can be written down and applied to daily airport and commute flows. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see that many got off the train at Edinburgh Park to catch a slightly less crowded inbound tram instead of facing Haymarket's mess.
More importantly, the extension of the tram beyond York Place will have to be questioned as soon as possible. Waiting for good feedback about the current tram route will not help (and I'm afraid the waste of money already occurred across the numerous times of uncertainty which the building phase of the tram witnessed). As everyone knows, a tram line is always more popular, reassures those who are never too sure about buses' itineraries, and sends a strong message on how a city should be planned and interconnected. For all these reasons, the North-East of the city must be able to enjoy Edinburgh's new tram. Elm Row, Leith Walk, Leith Shore, the new Scottish Government building, and Ocean Terminal are more than suited to host the tram. This will support the economic development of a promising part of the city as well as re-galvanise the shopping centre, currently not at its peak.
Above all, there is a real need to drag the tram away from the mere airport question. Yes, we now have more choice in order to go catch our flights, and the current extension of the airport is very exciting. However, the tram has already done so much more for Edinburgh: it has started changing the face of the city, and it should keep doing so by pushing its east terminus away from the cosy centre, to go get some extra sunshine on Leith.
Simplified presentation of tram (red), rail (black) and air connections.