A party for a city as the tram service starts

It felt like a coming-of-age party for a city, a celebration of a capital growing into a new stage of maturity.

There were balloons and bands and people on stilts and politicians and jugglers - but the real stars were the thousands of citizens of Canberra who came out and tried their trams for the very first time.

As the first gleaming scarlet trains pulled out at 8am from Gungahlin Place southward and from Alinga Street northwards, a few passengers applauded but most just sat and looked in wonder.

It wasn't just another opening of a new facility for Canberra. Rather, it felt like a moment in the history of the city.

Canberra's light rail service starts

That's how Ryan Hemsley saw it. "I'm a born and bred Canberran. I've waited my entire life for this moment. This is a culmination of many years of childhood imagination and dreams. It's almost hard to believe that we are here.

"As a child, I remember going up Adelaide Avenue to the city and thinking wouldn't it be fantastic if we had some sort of rail up there. So it's really exciting to be on the first public trip from Gungahlin which was very small when I was born in 1992

Kisangie Dinsanayake from Gungahlin echoed the sentiment. "I wanted to be part of this historical moment. For the past ten years, I've been witnessing how it's developed and this is a significant moment," said the lecturer at the Canberra Institute of Technology.

For others, it was the simple pleasure of the ride. "I'm really loving it," said Cindy Chia. "It's a smooth ride and it's a really good alternative to buses," she said as the vehicle shuddered a little. "If I was on a bus and standing up right now, I would have fallen over - so this is great."

Christian Grive was less eloquent but just as effusive. "Bus," he said as a bus passed. At 20 months, he was wowed by the whole experience, no less than his dad, Lewis, who is an engineer and so appreciative of the technical wonder.

Throughout there was a sense of pride in the city and a feeling that a new era had begun.

The first journeys weren't crowded but as the morning progressed, more and more people came. By mid day, the queue to take the tram at Gungahlin was 200 metres long and three or four people deep.

New passengers were boarding along the route. On the 9.20am departure from Gungahlin Place, there was standing room only at the start. By Mapleton Avenue, the carriage was getting crowded. By Alinga Street it was packed.

But the atmosphere was terrific. Often it was quiet as curious people simply looked around and outwards, watching the shiny red machine pick up speed and overtake cars.

Sometimes the air was pierced by children squealing or the youngest shouting "choo-choo" as another tram passed in the opposite direction.

People were polite. Strangers talked to each other in the crush. Passengers did the right thing and stood and left a seat for a girl on crutches. They moved inside to let others on. Already a tram etiquette was developing: backpacks off; let people off before getting on; move down the carriage.

One person said that the trains suddenly made Gunghalin seem closer to the city centre. Veronica Murtagh thought it made restaurants in Gungahlin much more accessible from her home in Downer.For her, the mental configuration of the city had already changed - what was near where.

One of the early passengers was Hejha Pisan who, as a student at Gungahlin College, was won of the winners of a competition to record the announcements. He heard his own voice as the train arrived at stops.

"It's pretty exciting to be honest," he said of the whole experience. "The idea of a tram in Canberra - it's great.

We got from Gungahlin to the city in 20 minutes. It's much more effective."

On his voice, he said hearing it made him feel "honoured to be part of the city". He still remembered the announcement by heart: "The next stop if Phillip Avenue. Upon arrival, please exit through the right hand doors."

His pride was nothing compared to his mother's. "It was very, very exciting - a feeling of being honoured and proud." said Bayan Abdipuya.

"I told him I was about to faint."