Exactly 23 years ago today, Sheffield's Supertram rolled into service for the very first time.
At 6am on March 21, 1994, the first service ran between Meadowhall and Fitzalan Square - and you can take a trip back in time with our gallery of pictures and video from those momentous early days.
“A 21st century chariot,” is how this newspaper excitedly described the new £240 million system that day. “Its grey and sleek outer shell complemented the early morning sky as this transport of the future whooshed into reality.”
Not everyone, it should be said, always wanted the tram.
When the idea was first proposed in the late Eighties – initially, to be open in time for the 1991 World Student Games – it met with much opposition.
Some balked at the proposed £60 million cost – and would presumably have balked even more as that price tag quadrupled. Some were angered by the four years’ disruption which would be caused by building the network. And some were worried the vehicles would lead to increased noise in the city centre. When advocates promised the vehicles would be near-silent, it only raised new concerns that such soundless carriages could lead to more road accidents.
Yet overwhelmingly Sheffielders supported the idea. Many fondly remembered the old tram that had criss crossed the city until 1960. Others felt it would ease ever-increasing congestion. The fact central government agreed to foot much of the costs probably helped too.
Workmen, thus, started laying the new network – which connects the city centre to Middlewood, Malin Bridge, Meadowhall, Halfway and Herdings Park – in 1991. It was the first stage – Meadowhall and Fitzalan Square – which opened 23 years ago, with the eighth and final phase connecting Shalesmoor to Middlewood completed in October 1995.
“It was more than just a new mode of transport opening,” says ex-Star journalist David Dunn, who rode the first ever journey. “It may have caused four years of traffic snarl-ups but it felt like the city was finally going places – literally.”
That first journey in 1994 was for VIPs only. But after 400 enthusiasts got up early to watch the tram arrive in the city centre, the network was packed for the rest of the day.
“It is a truly great day for South Yorkshire,” said Passenger Transport Authority chairman, Councillor Jack Meredith. “It is the best tram in the world.”
Changes have happened in the 23 years since, of course.
South Yorkshire Supertram Ltd, which initially ran the network, sold it to Stagecoach for £1.15 million in 1997 after initially disappointing passenger numbers. The livery of the 25-vehicle fleet has been updated too from that initial grey to the blue-based carriages we know today.
Today, the service regularly attacts 40,000 passengers per day.
And the future is bright, as the network prepares next year for its first expansion since opening.
A tram-train extension to Rotherham is currently under construction and is scheduled to open in 2018, with a fleet of seven Vossloh Citylink Class 399 tram-trains in a UK first.
This will involve trams operating on Network Rail's Dearne Valley Line from Meadowhall Interchange to Rotherham station with a short extension to Rotherham Parkgate Shopping Centre.