Welcome to the Edinburgh Light Railway Company Limited website. In this site, I thought it would be interesting to explore the concept of creating a realistic, innovative yet practical light rail train transport solution that would operate virtually off-road as well as on some existing heavy rail lines, especially the Edinburgh South Suburban Railway (ESSR), to ease traffic congestion in and around Edinburgh. It has been a thought provoking challenge to take the light rail train proposal to where individuals would best want it in terms of origin and destination and has involved thinking things through from a different and hopefully refreshing perspective. I hope you enjoy this particular trip.
The ESSR, originally known as the “The Edinburgh Suburban and South Side Junction Railway (ESSSJR) opened in 1884. Although the route was extremely rural at the time of construction, development of the surrounding suburban landscape quickly caught up and passenger traffic on the line was reasonably encouraging, with the passenger service operating on a circular basis through Edinburgh Waverley. The ESSSJR was the Victorian equivalent of the Edinburgh City Bypass and was designed to relieve congestion on what was a developing southern urban transport network, with too many things to carry. The primary purpose of the ESSSJR was to provide a through rail route for rail freight as the potential for passenger traffic, which had initially been considered to be low, gradually increased in the right direction and a passenger service was introduced not long after being opened to freight, with stations located as appropriate along the route.
However, bus and tram competition hit the passenger service quite badly as the twentieth century progressed and eventually in 1962 the line closed to local passenger trains. Of course the line continues today and is used for freight traffic, network rail traffic, diverted passenger traffic and excursion passenger trains only, although there must still be plenty of unused capacity, given the numbers of trains running on the line. As volume increases at Waverley and Haymarket Stations, so does congestion. These often spoken about congestion issues are always first to be brought to the fore, but, these stations do not need to be a terminus for any of the proposed suburban lines, there are other options.
With regard to a number of station sites on the ESSR, some space remains to reinstate the existing platforms if it was decided to restore a passenger service. The catchment areas nowadays are without doubt much greater than when the suburban lines closed to passengers in 1962. For the most part former suburban stations had no car parking sites nearby and that should remain a prerequisite today if the line reopened to passenger traffic, otherwise it would send out the wrong signal. To make it all work again, the local population would have to be persuaded to stop using cars, in most circumstances, if travelling into the city centre.
Any additional train passenger service would have to be well integrated not only with a number of other defunct suburban lines, but, with all other modes of transport currently being provided across the city so that journeys to various destinations can be expedited quickly. There have frequently been proposals to reintroduce the local passenger service on the line, but, as of 2020 there is no real force or active commitment to do so and while the ELRCL has continued over the years to provide practical ways of utilising these particularly underused resources, public policy needs to be influenced in the interests of this particular cause.
It is now 16 years since the last full study was carried out on the ESSR – it was the March 2004 Report (Review and Options Analysis of Edinburgh Suburban Railway) published by the City of Edinburgh Council (CEC). None of the conclusions or recommendations reached in that report were taken forward and as stated above, that remains the case today in 2020.
On the other hand, a range of studies from 1989 onwards (by CEC), considered the reintroduction of trams to Edinburgh and in 2001, a proposal for a new Edinburgh Trams network envisaged three routes across the city, Lines 1, 2 and 3. In the interim period in 1999 a separate metro system proposal had materialised which was to include a number of off-road rail as well as on-road routes and it appears that it was well received at the time, although it seems that no aspect of that concept was taken further forward.
In December 2004 the West Edinburgh Busways (WEBS) or Edinburgh Fastlink was launched by the CEC and was Scotland’s first Guided Busway project (Fastlink was a dedicated 1.5 km, two-lane guided busway between Stenhouse and Broomhouse, alongside other on-street bus priority measures), delivering an 8 km bus corridor stretching from the city centre to Edinburgh Park. Fastlink had been designed to be utilised for Line 2 (now as built Line 1a) of the Edinburgh Tram Network. Two bills (one for lines 1 and 2 and one for line 3) to reintroduce a tram network in Edinburgh were passed by the Scottish Parliament in March 2006. In January 2009 the Fastlink was closed to enable conversion for tram use, with the existing bus services being re-routed.
Construction of Tram Line 1a initially began in June 2008 and after encountering delays and major cost overruns it finally opened to passengers on 31 May 2014. The next phase of Line 1a from York Place to Newhaven has commenced – enabling works got underway on Constitution Street in November 2019, with the main construction commencing in 2020. The £207.3m 4.7km line which will extend the tram line to the north of the city is programmed for completion in early 2023. As things stand at the moment (in early 2020), CEC have their minds focussed on further tram route development in the future.
Meanwhile, the ESSR remains as a perfectly good double track railway line to the south of the city which, as mentioned earlier, is currently mainly used daily by diesel freight transport, regular movement of empty stock carriages, moving empty passenger trains and locomotives to depots, the occasional diverted passenger train, excursion trains and Network Rail engineering trains, but, the ESSR does not have stations and is therefore not open to passenger service trains.
There are of course many other suburban lines that are still functional around the City of Edinburgh which could easily integrate with the ESSR. Many local people are probably completely unaware of the existence of the ESSR and those other lines and in terms of passenger traffic, many of these assets lie virtually unused and forgotten. Most cities would surely jump at the chance to utilise such a network of suburban routes, but, that sadly is not the case in Edinburgh.
A very small portion of the ESSR has been used for the Borders Railway in the east of the city. After that the line runs through Brunstane station and then the various suburbs in the south ofEdinburgh, where the remnants of stations at Duddingston Craigmillar, Newington, Morningside and Craiglockhart still exist,then it passes through Gorgie before joining Haymarket station in the west of the city. Across Edinburgh, all the other suburban lines were also closed to passenger traffic in 1962 and while they could be readily reinstated, it certainly appears that initially there would be fewer impediments to re-opening the south suburban part of the line. Yes, there are capacity issues at Haymarket and Waverley stations but the suburban line if not passing through could turnaround at both stations with a new and separate Slateford station becoming both a turnaround station and a terminus.
Interestingly, in July 2016 Network Rail in their Scotland Route Study recommended the re-doubling of the Calton North Tunnel and remodelling of Waverley East approaches (as far as Portobello). This would appear to involve the reinstatement of the Abbeyhill Junction and Chord, joining with the Powderhall to Portobello line. It also hints at a double lead junction at Portobello, doubling the Portobello to Newcraighall line, including Brunstane station. Encouragingly, these are areas on the old suburban routes where these line improvements could also facilitate the return of passenger traffic to the ESSR.
How does the idea of running hydrogen trains on the suburban lines say in 2021 sound! Well they would not make much sound at all as it happens! For more information on this see the two new entries on the main menu i.e. “Hydrogen Trains are a Reality in 2019” and “Reopening the Edinburgh South Suburban Railway (ESSR) in 2019”.
The above two entries are worthy of note because the Scotrail Alliance have said that they have no immediate plans to electrify the ESSR but are in favour of reopening the ESSR to passenger traffic albeit using tram trains only so as to avoid Waverley Station. This would of course mean electrifying the ESSR. The Scottish Government / Transport Scotland have no current plans to open the ESSR to passenger traffic either and no current plans to electrify the line.
In July 2017, the Department for Transport confirmed that it is scaling back rail electrification plans by scrapping the planned electrification of railway lines in Wales, the Midlands and the North, which means that there will be a greater demand for non-electric trains. New trains would instead be bi-modal, meaning they could run on electrified sections of track and then transfer to non-electrified sections.
This new technology means that lengthy and disruptive electrification works will no longer have to take place. In December 2019, the new Azuma dual power trains were introduced on the East Coast Main Line and means that the trains can be powered from an overhead electricity supply from London to Edinburgh, then by switching can use the onboard diesel engine to travel onwards to Aberdeen or Inverness. This new technology means that lengthy and disruptive electrification works will no longer be needed.
Ineos announced in early 2019 £1bn worth of investments in the UK oil and chemical industries and included in that is the building of a £350m energy plant at Scotland’s Grangemouth oil refinery site to modernise steam and power generation . I suppose with some foresight they could also have included a hydrogen production plant as it appears that this chemical element will be much sought after for future transport use. Then in February 2020, it was announced that the first low-carbon hydrogen energy production plants in the UK have been granted government funding – facilities at Stanlow Oil Refinery in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire and St Fergus Terminal in Aberdeenshire will produce hydrogen for manufacturing industries.
Plans for a new train factory on the site of Scotland’s last coal-fired power station at Longannet were approved in November 2019 by Fife Council. That means that new lightweight high-tech hydrogen powered trains could be built at this new train building facility in the near future. This could also include the conversion of certain used diesel electric units to run on hydrogen and as mentioned in the paragraph above it could be supplied locally from Grangemouth. An opportunity to be at the vanguard as this new technology is now being developed here in the UK.
The conundrum for the ESSR is that for the first time in a long time it would seem perfectly placed for the introduction of hydrogen trains as they operate best on short stretches of the network that have not been converted to electric. Due to ongoing capacity issues those trains could avoid passing through Waverley and Haymarket stations by using turnaround platforms e. g. platforms 3,4, 5 or 6 at Waverley and platform 5 at Haymarket. The other suburban lines with passenger traffic reintroduced to them on the initial “Edinburgh Overground” routes would generally be away from the mainlines as well.
A trial involving hydrogen powered trains was to happen in the Liverpool area in late 2019 or early 2020 so the technology is coming. This particular trial is likely to be carried out on a restored section of track near Frodsham in Cheshire, making possible a new hourly service between Liverpool and Chester.
While the ESSR remains, as mentioned earlier, very much in use today for freight traffic and as a diversionary route, avoiding Waverley and Haymarket stations, the number of trains is relatively low e.g. a typical week could see 15 trains on a Monday, 14 trains on a Tuesday, 16 trains on a Wednesday, 23 on a Thursday, perhaps 6 trains on a Friday and say 3 or 4 trains on a Saturday or Sunday. The regular movement of empty stock carriages probably being the most frequent although there has been a noticeable increase in containerisation in 2019/2020 on the ESSR – this is a system of intermodal freight transport using intermodal containers (also called shipping containers and ISO containers). The containers have standardised dimensions and can be loaded and unloaded, stacked, transported efficiently over long distances, and transferred from one mode of transport to another i.e. from container ships to rail transport flatcars and to lorries. The increase in containerisation on the ESSR suggests that these additional services may have been moved from lines, for whatever reason from other parts of the country.
Edinburgh has the capacity and potential in terms of operative, redundant and defunct railway lines to develop another transport network that would not only be effective , integrate well with other transport providers but be eco friendly as well. People from all avenues of transport really need to sit down together and see what can be done collectively to help tackle pollution and congestion in the city.
Thoughts since 2018 included a 1st phase proposal to utilise existing single and double operational lines to form 3 “Edinburgh Overground” routes around Edinburgh using some existing suburban and other operational lines, along with 18 station stops and at least one depot. Of the 20 stations 4 are currently operational, 8 are previous station sites and 8 would be new sites.
For the record, the 4 operational sites are Brunstane, Haymarket, Slateford and Waverley, 8 previous stations are Blackford, Craiglockhart, Duddingston Craigmillar, Easter Road, Morningside, Newington, Powderhall and Shrubill (Leith Walk) and the 8 new stations would be at Dock, Gorgie, Holyrood Queens, Meadowbank, Portobello, Seafield, Seafield East and Slateford. Depots could be located at Seafield, Slateford or Portobello. This exercise is all about making use of what you have got and what you can realistically do with it, at reasonable cost, given the financial constraints around us today. The potential first phase of the proposed Edinburgh Overground network will not only encompass existing sections of operational single and double track it could initially use existing diesel electric trains, the challenge being to make the diesels run cleaner, possibly by extra filtration when operating in these urban areas, until another cleaner power source is identified and introduced. These new routes will include some of the existing operational rail network infrastructure, resurrect some defunct lines and previous station sites and create new ones as well.
For more information on the above paragraph see also “Potential 1st Phase of Proposed Network (2018)”, “Details of 1st Phase Edinburgh Overground Station Sites (May 2018)” and “Management of Edinburgh Overground and Quick Facts (2018)”.
A note of caution – while this seems an eminently rational and considered way to take matters forward there must be concerns over the viability and continued operation and indeed retention of two of the existing operational lines. The line to Powderhall which leaves the East Coast Mainline Railway at Restalrig, takes in Meadowbank, Easter Road, Shrubhill (Leith Walk) and Powderhall (see latest news article September 2018).
The line to Leith Docks which leaves the East Coast Mainline Railway at Portobello (near Sir Harry Lauder Road), takes in all of Seafield and then Leith Docks.
See also secondary menu in left sidebar for more pictures i.e. pictures of old railway formations / ESSR and other operational heavy rail lines.
These lines have tremendous potential for passenger traffic if they became part of a new and additional network of routes and stations along with a revived South Suburban Railway and all its strategic station sites to complement existing transport provision in Edinburgh.
Unfortunately it appears that these two lines could become defunct, like many others have done in the past, due to lack of business-related activity. Regrettably the Powderhall Waste Transfer Station has already ceased operations and the site is now closed (May 2018). Edinburgh needs these lines and another new transport network in place to ensure that the very few active lines left in and around Edinburgh are preserved and earmarked for this proposed network of functional train links.
Historically Edinburgh had a significant and widespread railway network, which was admired by many and it made a major contribution to fulfilling a lot of local transport needs. On a world scale, Edinburgh is very much up there in terms of architecture and has a captivating urban landscape. It has been a top festival city for many decades and visitor numbers are rising considerably year on year. The population is growing as well (both in the city and urban), so the city does need another more wide-ranging solution to complement existing transport provision.
The Edinburgh Light Railway Company Limited (referred to as ELR in this website) was incorporated as a Company in June 2007 to investigate the possibility of a sustainable, integrated and competent light rail transport system for Edinburgh and its environs.
The Author’s Background
As mentioned in the opening section “A New Concept to Consider” one of the reasons for not publishing the ELR proposals online in 2007 was that decisions on other proposed transport schemes were imminent and there was no point in complicating matters further. At the end of the day the now revised ELR scheme remains robust and people should have the opportunity to comment. The other pertinent reason was that at the time in 2007 I was working in the Transport Policy and Strategy Division at the Scottish Government, having worked for a good number of years previously in the Roads and Transport Division. This was perhaps a bit close to home and I sensibly waited until I took early retirement in 2010 before picking up the pieces again. It can be quite time consuming continually having to check on planning applications and often necessary to change your plans. However, I was always going to wait and see if the Waverley line re-opened and if so see what effect that would have on the defunct formations in the south east area of Edinburgh.
In this website there is information on specific topics for both 2007, an updated version for 2016 (in some cases that only amounts to minor changes) and 2017 and 2018, with other pieces of information that are more general and cover the whole period :-
On the main menu:-
Home Page & Navigation ;
A New Concept to Consider;
The Thinking behind the ELR in 2007 ;
The ELR at the Beginning in 2007 ;
The ELR Today in 2018;
Introduction and Background 2007 ;
Map 1.3 (2007) Edinburgh City;
Map 1.5 (2007) Combined Infographic;
Inverkeithing to Airport and Edinburgh Including the ESSR (2007);
Introduction and Background 2016 ;
Map 1.3 (2016) Edinburgh City;
Map 1.5 (2016) Combined Infographic;
Interaction Between Heavy and light Rail;
The World is Our Oyster? ;
Trams on Wrong Tracks? ;
Trails and Rails;
Edinburgh City combined Route Map 1.3C (2017);
Map 1.6 CITY (2017) Edinburgh Existing Operational Lines;
Potential 1st Phase of Proposed Edinburgh Overground Network (May 2018);
Details of 1st Phase Edinburgh Overground Station Sites (May 2018);
Management of “Edinburgh Overground” and Quick Facts (2018); and
Just One Sonetto.
On the right hand menu:-
COUNT PER DAY
NETWORK AND OTHER INFORMATION
Stations Checklist 2007
Stations Checklist 2016
List of Stations, Lines and Destinations (2007)
List of Stations, Lines and Destinations (2016)
Further Information on Stations 2007
Further Information on Stations 2016
Land and Operational Lines that would be Utilised (2007)
Land and Operational Lines that would be Utilised (2016)
Routes of Proposed Lines 2007
Routes of Proposed Lines 2016
Thoughts about the need for good Urban transport
Inverkeithing to Airport, Edinburgh and ESSR
Other potential Light Rail Routes around Edinburgh
Interaction between Heavy and Light Rail
HAVE YOUR SAY ON THE ELR PROPOSAL
JUST ONE SONETTO! “THE RIGHT TRAIN”
While a few selected maps are shown for ease of reference on the Home Page and Navigation menu, the full series of maps and diagrams are contained on the left side menu. These show the various routes, interchanges and lines that were proposed both in 2007, 2016 and the diagrams associated with the three suburban lines being promoted in 2018:-
Map 1.1 (2007) Fife to West Edinburgh; Map 1.1 (2016) Fife to West Edinburgh; Map 1.2 (2007) West and South West Edinburgh; Map 1.2 (2016) West and South West Edinburgh; Map 1.3 (2007) Edinburgh City; Map 1.3 (2016) Edinburgh City; Map 1.3 C (2017) Edinburgh City Combined Route Map; Map 1.4 (2007) Edinburgh East to South East; Map 1.4 (2016) Edinburgh East to South East; Map 1.5 (2007) Combined Route Infographic; Map 1.5 (2016) Combined Route Infographic;
10 Meadowbank Station Diagram;
19 Seafield Depot Diagram;
20 Slateford Depot Diagram; and
24 Portobello Depot Diagram.
Name, Address and Registered Office: Douglas Forson, 6 Relugas Gardens, Grange, Edinburgh EH9 2PU.