We’d only gone 100 yards when I did that ‘British tourist on the continent’ trick of looking the wrong way as I crossed the street. All hell broke loose, and I thought my time had come as I was almost devoured by a huge metal monster, its warning bell clanging and the driver gesticulating wildly at me to get out of the way. If it hadn’t been for the quick actions of my colleague, grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, I could have been writing this blog from beyond the grave. A concerned local chap explained to me that I’d very nearly been squished by a ‘spårvagn’. Being a typical Swede, my new friend spoke better English than most Englishmen and explained that the big scary thing was known as a ’tram’. Now, as a long-time resident of Edinburgh, trams are strange quasi-mythical beasts that most of us don’t believe really exist, except as a bizarre form of street art (having had a stationary tram standing on Princes Street as an exhibit of ‘things to come’ for 18 months before the powers-that-be had it removed before we all became attached to it).
I made a few enquiries of my new Swedish friend and apparently the Gothenburg tram system is great: its 200 trams carry about 100 million passengers a year over the 125 mile network, it’s reasonably priced, very reliable and you can even pay for ‘ticketless tickets’ using your mobile ‘phone. So where’s the catch? Well, apparently there isn’t one.
‘We should get trams in Edinburgh’ I commented to my colleague, as we strode off in search of beer and prawns, before he reminded me that the reason we’ve endured years of having our beautiful Edinburgh, World Heritage Site, dug up, dug up again, and dug up yet again, is because they keep telling us we’re going to have trams too, just like in Gothenburg (except, I would imagine, ours will be more expensive and are unlikely ever to have a 125 mile network). The problem is, it’s so long since the work began in Edinburgh that those of us who live here have almost forgotten (i) what Edinburgh used to look like when we had roads without trenches down the middle; (ii) what the mess is all supposed to be leading to; and (iii) whether we even care any more.
When I got home I did a bit of research on the Gothenburg trams and apparently the company that built the first line in 1879 was an English company. It made me think: if we here in Scotland got an English company to build our trams and then employed a bunch of Swedes to run them, the Swedes would no doubt take sides with the Scots in supporting Sweden against England this evening, so I’d probably be even more out-numbered than I am already as an Englishman living in Scotland when it comes to football. Perhaps not such a bright idea after all, but it may be a small price to pay for having my adoptive home city restored to its previous ‘pre tram-works’ beauty with efficiently Scandinavian spårvagn running smoothly and quietly between the airport and Jenners.