The Edinburgh Light Railway Company Limited (ELR) which was incorporated as a Company in June 2007 has been investigating the possibility of a sustainable, integrated and competent transport system for Edinburgh and its environs. It became clear in the early stages of the investigation that utilising the old railway formations, defunct lines, existing operational lines along with some new links was, in terms of providing an extensive light rail network, the best way forward.
For ease of reference, the important old link that is being reinstated is the former Haymarket / Caledonian long girder bridge viaduct over the Edinburgh and Glasgow line to the Roseburn corridor from Sauchiebank. The first new link would join Lindsay Road (Leith North) to Dock (Leith East Goods) and Seafield, via Ocean Terminal – this would be the only on-road (but very important) section in the whole ELR proposal. The second and possibly the most important new link of all would run from Peffermill on the South Suburban line to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and then on to Danderhall and Todhills. This link would also facilitate an extension to Edinburgh Cross Rail from Newcraighall to Todhills, via Millerhill to Danderhall, ERI and the ESSR (at Peffermill), joining the main line again at Balgreen. The third new link would be to and from Edinburgh Airport, giving access from both Fife and Edinburgh. Two of the final three new links would mean both Heriot Watt University (Hermiston) and Queen Margaret University (QMU) having access to the proposed new ELR network. The final new link is a short section from the East Coast Mainline Railway opposite the Craigentinny Depot to join the line from Leith Docks.
In the 18 month period prior to June 2007 a lot of relevant information was gathered, more out of interest rather than anything else at the time, as decisions were awaited on a number of transport projects proposed for the Edinburgh area.
The case for an additional transport solution for Edinburgh needs to be made very strongly, even in these difficult times, to show the strategic importance of developing a transport network in the city to include not only commuter and business areas in the west of the city, but to the north, the east, the south and outlying areas as well. Edinburgh surely needs an ambitious and wide ranging transport solution which is more focused on the needs of the overall population, that is innovative, effective, fit for purpose and one that a large percentage of local people can use and be proud of. The ELR is all about “Transport for Edinburgh – A Blueprint for the Future.”
A realistic, innovative and practical look at a long-term solution to ease traffic congestion, reduce car use and to meet the aspirations of a renowned and expanding capital city. A fully integrated light rail network which would be combined with much of the existing heavy rail network in and around Edinburgh would seem to offer the best answers.
The thinking behind the ELR
The information and proposed solution contained in this 2007 report was timed to be completed before any final decisions or formal announcements on the tram route(s), the Edinburgh South Suburban Railway (ESSR), the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link (EARL), the Waverley Line, the Caltongate development and the Leith Docks redevelopment had been made.
On a wider perspective, as regards the progress and planning with the tram project up to June 2007, early thoughts seemed to suggest that re-introducing those tram route(s) from Leith to Haymarket, with an off-road section to Edinburgh Airport and one from Roseburn to Granton, would have little added value to the congestion problems facing the wider population, although they would obviously bring tangible benefits to the selected corridors. It would seem to make sense if the above mentioned routes were approved that the section between Leith (Newhaven) to Granton, which formed part of tram phase 2 was completed, given the proposed large scale housing and other waterfront developments planned for the area.
EARL is intended as a strategic national link and as such, a valuable and direct route for a much wider market. EARL could of course undermine the number of passengers using that part of the tram route extending from the city centre to the west of the Capital as both projects would serve in part the same corridor area, although it would have be to differing extents, in terms of stops.
Of course, without the approval of Network Rail, who owns and operates Britain’s rail infrastructure, as well as other interested parties, it would not be practical to take forward any proposals for such a light rail network on operational heavy rail lines. It augers well that Network Rail are planning to carry out various light rail tram-train trials in the north of England, so it is very much on their agenda, although this currently advocates frequent transition between a heavy rail network and street running. In this context, the ELR proposal looked specifically at off-road running and the interface of those light rail vehicles using in part, the conventional heavy rail infrastructure, with virtually no street running.
It is emerging that the current preference in this and many other countries is for urban light metro services linking into existing or new tram lines, with light rural branch lines and inter working with conventional trains. While you can understand that scenario you have to fully appreciate if these issues arose in Edinburgh, whereby consideration was given to operating from a mainline and light rail network onto on-road tram lines, it would only appear operable on off-road sections because for various very practical and realistic reasons the light rail vehicles being proposed would not be low level, as with trams. Of course, heavy rail could operate on short on-road sections if required at, for example, on the proposed Dock to Lindsay Road Section of the ELR proposal. This does not mean to say that the tram and light rail systems could not work alongside and integrate with each other at such a location.
Aims of the ELR
As mentioned earlier, one of the main aims of the ELR light rail proposal is to offer a somewhat different approach, enabling the creation of a network of routes and interchanges deliberately located to persuade passengers that their intended journey and destination could easily be achieved by a multifaceted light rail network. As the ELR proposal is very much stand alone, there would be access to conventional trains, trams (if approved) and strategic bus routes, thus resulting in reduced road use. This would then take the light rail network to where travellers want it, in terms of connectivity and origin and destination.
While the primary aim is to provide the vision to create a network of integrated transport links that would actually tackle the existing and ever worsening congestion problems in and around Edinburgh, along with some joined up thinking, the outcome, a virtual off-road light rail system which would appear to meet many of the long term and yet unfulfilled transport aspirations of the city and the surrounding area.
The way forward for the ELR
Realistically, the long term aim is to find an acceptable way forward to deliver a light rail network as part of the overall concept of Transport for Edinburgh. Many aspects of the ELR transport solution for Edinburgh, although achievable, may not be deliverable for a variety of reasons, but, to attain certain objectives involves thinking differently, unconventionally or from a new perspective.
In the 18th century Edinburgh was one of the major centres of the Age of Enlightenment and is a city, which was shaped by the Enlightenment, physically, culturally, and rationally. Similarly, in shaping the transport provision for our city today we should be looking at understanding the problems, sharing knowledge and in general taking a wider and more supportive approach to institute some progressive practices in transport planning and delivery, which could be the driving force behind the meaningful development of a comprehensive public transport network in the city that would be innovative as well as effective and affordable for the 21st century.
Historically Edinburgh, with its impressive Victorian architecture, its imposing docks at Leith and a significant and widespread railway network, was admired by many. While Edinburgh remains today a beautiful, vibrant, diverse and popular city, it has, like many other cities and its surroundings, unwanted and increasing traffic congestion, despite having an excellent bus service with very functional routes and good national train links. This clearly suggests that a first class bus service, fairly limited local train and potential tram links on their own cannot ease the current traffic congestion problems and to get travellers out of their cars requires a much more expansive integration with all major transport services in the area.
The different bodies responsible for delivery, especially on transport decisions, demonstrates the convoluted way in which these matters are often taken forward. In terms of all transport modes it needs to be reiterated that a more collaborative and integrated approach, with a common goal or mutually agreed plan, would be to the benefit of all.
The ELR solution is a positive way forward and can only be delivered if the wider industry work in partnership to make it happen.