Childhood trips on the tram

An article by Matthew Van Dongen published a few weeks ago entitled “Will the train ever arrive? got me thinking about past trips I loved as a kid. One wonders if future generations will feel the same as they can now travel by car, train and public transport at ever faster speeds. My grandparents lived in Edinburgh. As a child I remember the thrill of jumping up and down on a platform in the middle of Princess Street while anxiously waiting for the number 24 tram. It would take us down a very steep hill to Stockbridge where my grandmother McDonald lived. I climbed the steel spiral staircase trying to grab the front seat, wondering with sick childlike excitement if maybe this time the tram would tip over and drift away from its electric moorings. Out of the hundreds of rides I’ve taken, it never did. But memories of tram journeys all over Edinburgh are still vivid almost 75 years later.

When I watch TV shows featuring old steam trains chugging through stations, I can almost smell the smoke and feel the excitement again. Wait for the carriage doors to open and then be able to wander down the hall to find an empty compartment. In the many trips I made when I attended Moray House College in Edinburgh, I still remember all the stops at the station along the way, the different sounds made by the tracks, especially the change of her crossing the Forth Bridge.

Older cars also bring back fond memories. A boyfriend whose father had a racing green Rover with running boards, worn genuine leather seats and a handsome walnut dashboard. Or another that had an old Model T, its pride and joy, often starting with a crank in the front.

No doubt many Hamiltonians will have heard stories of grandparents on all the tram routes linking the Lower Town and of course the magical mountain climb on the Hamilton Street Railway which sadly ceased to operate in 1936.

“For more than 40 glorious years, he ferried people to work and carried all the way up the mountain,” historical records quoted. Even old black and white photos make it exciting.

Will this growing need for speed provide those same long-term memories? The high-speed trains that cross Europe, Japan and other parts of the world seem to arrive at their destination before they have even left. They are efficient, fast, always on time, controlled by electronic magic.

But is there the same feeling in a highly-engineered speed wonder. Isn’t the journey as important as the destination. Having the ability to view the landscape at speeds the eye can absorb. There seemed to be more soul inherent in these older forms of transportation that their more modern counterparts lack despite their efficiency. And maybe they were more fun too.

So maybe cries of “Will the train ever come!” is a melancholic cry from a past that has disappeared.

And a footnote – Tram number 24 last roared along the tracks in 1956. Buses replaced trams until 2008 when construction of the Edinburgh Tram started a line of 14 kilometers between the center of Edinburgh and the airport. It finally opened in 2014, plagued by poor planning, cost underestimations, contract disputes and a lack of leadership from the board.

Sound familiar?

Evelyn Paulssen lives in Burlington.

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