Edinburgh tram arrives at Port of Leith stop in bright sunshine

Edinburgh Tram project launches much anticipated extension

An Edinburgh tram on a test run arrives at Port of Leith stop on the Newhaven extensionImage: Simon Walton

This week, Edinburgh’s eagerly anticipated new tram route, connecting the city centre with the northern suburb and former fishing community of Newhaven, finally opened. The first revenue-earning service commenced on 7 June at noon. The construction of this route, which began in November 2019, has been completed within the allocated budget of 207.3 million pounds (240.5 million euro).

The extension is just about on schedule, beating the original system opening, which was many years late and hugely over-budget. The Port of Leith, which forms most of the the northern part of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, is about to see a public tram service for the first time in almost seven decades. This week’s opening of the extension to single line of the Edinburgh Trams service has been a drawn out affair, but commuters are hoping for a trouble free start to the long-awaited service.

Artefacts revealed

Casual visitors to the city may be forgiven for thinking that the new tram service has already been commissioned. Extensive testing has been conducted in recent months to ensure the seamless and safe operation of the newly constructed line, including rigorous trials of trams running at various speeds, adherence to timetables, integration of signalling systems, and driver familiarisation. Standard timetable testing continued this week, in the days leading up to the official launch of services on 7 June.

An Edinburgh tram on a daylight test of street running on Leith Walk, the boulevard that connects central Edinburgh with the Port of Leith
An Edinburgh tram on a daylight test of street running on Leith Walk, the boulevard that connects central Edinburgh with the Port of Leith. Image: Edinburgh Trams

Construction of the line, which is almost entirely dependent on street running, has meant extensive disruption for the main thoroughfare, Leith Walk, the wide boulevard connecting the city centre with the port of Leith. Those works have revealed some artefacts of the original tram systems that served Edinburgh and Leith – which were independent civic centres until the 1920s.

Lessons learned from original project

Among the finds during construction were examples of the antiquated cable drawn system that powered the Edinburgh tramways (Leith had a more modern electric service). Most prominent has been the recovery of winding wheels, discovered at a point close to the original winding station, actually on Leith Walk. The modern day Council Leader, Cammy Day visited the site at Iona Street, where two historic cable wheels dating back to Victorian Edinburgh’s original tram system have been symbolically installed. These wheels, 2.6 meters in diameter, were unearthed during excavations in August 2021. They will now be permanently showcased as part of the public realm improvements on Iona Street.

Edinburgh Trams lined up at Gogar Depot on an overcast day
Shortage of tram lines but no shortage of trams. The Edinburgh system ordered enough vehicles to serve a three line system, before budget constraints reduced the network to just one line. Image: Kim Traynor / WikiCommons

“The completion of this line, delivering high capacity, clean transport to the densely populated north of the Capital, signifies our aspirations to become a sustainable, net zero city”, said Cammy Day. “We’re now counting down the days to passenger services, and I’m pleased to say this project will be delivered within budget and on time. This is thanks to lessons learned from the previous project along with a great deal of hard work and dedication from the project team and contractors involved in the construction process.”

dismantled suburban rail routes

The Trams to Newhaven Project is part of a larger vision for the expansion of the Edinburgh Tram network. Originally, plans were in place for a more extensive tram network, based on three main lines with some branch services. The first line, with opened in 2014, runs 8.7 miles (14km) from the airport in the west to the city centre. It is now being extended a further three miles (5.4km) to Newhaven. The proposed second and third lines would have served the south of the city and completed a loop around the west of the city, using part of the city’s long-dismantled suburban rail routes. However, huge budget overruns and delays were among the reasons for ostensibly abandoning those ambitions, at least for the near-term.

“The setting of a launch date for the new line is fantastic news for city residents and visitors, but particularly communities between the city centre and Newhaven”, said Lea Harrison, the Managing Director of Edinburgh Trams. He added that the tramway has become one of the most popular transport systems of its type. “As we approach this milestone, we can’t wait to welcome the vibrant communities along the route, helping to unlock their full potential and providing a real boost for local businesses.”

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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