Why a light rail network now?
Until late in 2007 there had been no guarantee that sufficient funding would be in place for the tram scheme or the Edinburgh Airport Railway Link (EARL) to go ahead. Although that position changed and tram construction started, the proposed Edinburgh Airport Railway Link (EARL) was scrapped by the Government. By April 2009 the original plans for the trams had been scaled back significantly. In essence, the provision of an integrated transport system network to relieve congestion and reduce car use in and around Edinburgh still required to be addressed. It has become apparent, in initially preparing and updating the ELR proposal over what has amounted to nearly 10 years, that a comprehensive and very much stand alone light rail train system is still the best way forward in terms of creating a network of links with other transport providers. So, the trams have not and probably will never fulfil what was seen as the long term solution to transport problems in Edinburgh, simply because, even if all the planned routes were constructed, it would have remained flawed. The ELR proposal is put forward as a wide-ranging solution to integrate with other transport provision in the city and to meet the needs of transport users, business, and the environment.
Why light rail?
In considering ways to provide a more comprehensive passenger transport network for the city, rather than the on-road tram route(s), it was evident from the start that incorporating the ESSR in the overall plan made a lot of sense. However, reopening this line to passenger traffic had been looked at before and despite having a lot of public support, no progress has been made to date. From the outset it was obvious that with capacity problems at Haymarket and Waverley stations, proposing to add further heavy rail capacity to those lines would not be feasible.
Conceivably, the answer lay in a more radical and innovative solution. Having looked at operational, redundant and disused lines throughout Edinburgh it became abundantly clear that there was a very valuable off-road urban resource available if it could it be made to work.
Heavy rail is an asset where high passenger and distance capacity on strategic routes is required and light rail trains with all their flexible attributes would be best placed to deliver local services. On that basis, research indicated that a practically separate light rail train network could be set up to compliment the existing heavy rail operation. Some operational track would need to be utilised and the decision to consider extending the heavy Cross Rail trains, as part of the proposal, could open the door for access to Waverley and Haymarket Stations.
Why light rail trains, rather than trams?
The most important factor is that Edinburgh and its environs offers the resources to construct a workable and integrated light rail train network. The tram operates on a very well served and successful existing bus route, apart from the Gyle to Edinburgh Airport leg, so passenger numbers on the trams certainly should not be any less than at the moment although it will be interesting how it works out in the future – where do the car journeys get saved? The introduction of an all-inclusive light rail train network would certainly not compete with the tram route from York Place to Edinburgh Airport, although it would offer a much quicker journey time, by different routes, to other destinations.
Comparison analogy to tram supporters, the on-road tram combines the convenience of the bus with the elegance of the train. To its detractors, it could be viewed as yet another on-road obstruction to the free flow of traffic in an already congested city that will add more traffic jams than it can possibly relieve.
An effective and efficient off-road light rail train network on the other hand would enhance Edinburgh’s existing public transport network and be a very attractive and functional option to existing car users. A light rail train network would be dependable, rapid and will provide strategic transport routes and interchanges as well as being integrated with the existing operational heavy railways and extensive bus routes across the city.
Edinburgh has a very good core bus system. However, even with the current bus system, further public transport improvements, other than the tram route, are essential to meet basic transport requirements, lessen congestion and see a decrease in car and bus usage and in doing so, reducing vehicle emissions. To be honest, the operation, types of vehicle and in many cases the routes of the city’s existing bus network do successfully provide a very wide-ranging and effective service and could achieve a very meaningful integration with the proposed ELR light rail train network.
The light rail train network has been designed around existing heavy rail operations and many of the redundant and disused railway corridors in and around Edinburgh as well as the provision of some new links. This means that off-road construction will not involve any costly utility diversions, or indeed, disruption to traffic or businesses.
It is clear that the light rail train network would offer a very comprehensive and integrated 7 route network that will straddle the city, that the single tram route does not achieve given its very limited corridor and its influence on the much wider congestion problems that the people of Edinburgh and the surrounding area currently tolerate.
How were the light rail train routes selected?
Once it had been established that the many redundant and disused railway corridors could provide the backbone of the proposed network, it was a case of putting yourself in traveller’s shoes. It was a case of deciding what could be made of what had gone before and what fine tuning could be done. The network has to function properly in that a regular service has to be provided so each transport corridor selected was assessed for its suitability.
Trying to integrate light rail with heavy rail is not as difficult as you might think. The light rail train proposal started on the premise that the selected routes were assessed on a number of principles, in line with accepted guidance. These included environmental impact; economic and employment benefits; integration with other transport modes; improved safety and security; and ease of access to the residential and business community.
What would happen to the trams?
The tram has a route from York Place to Edinburgh Airport and although limited in scope, there would be an opportunity to integrate it with the ELR proposal. This could probably be best achieved by running additional trams between York Place and at least to the bottom of Leith Walk or as far as Ocean Way via Constitution Street, with a spur to Meadowbank from the London Road roundabout and a further spur from Balgreen to Pinkhill (for the Edinburgh Zoological Park and surrounding area), Ocean Drive would be utilised by the light rail network between the ELR stations at Dock and Lindsay Road.
What are the benefits of a light rail train network to Edinburgh?
The introduction of the proposed light rail train network, along side the heavy rail operation will have a positive impact on the image and standing of the city. It is acknowledged that effective transport is important in promoting the sustainable growth of the wider community and in connecting communities with economic and other opportunities. These two principal objectives should underpin any major infrastructure projects and the proposed light rail train network will deliver those connections and bring substantial benefits to those living, working or visiting the city.
A fully integrated light rail train network will provide an efficient, smart and dependable way to traverse the city and its environs. Light rail trains will have level access so they will be easily accessible and have designated areas for people with mobility issues, people with pushchairs, people with bikes and luggage space.
The light rail train network will reduce congestion and given its wide geographical spread, should especially attract car users.
How much will it cost to travel on the light rail trains and what ticket arrangements will be in place?
Surely fares will be compatible for equivalent journeys with what you would pay on the existing bus services and other modes of transport simply because integrated and shared ticketing is on the way and you would expect this aspect to be well-matched with life today.
How much disruption will communities and businesses face?
Practically all off-road, the construction phase(s) of the project should ensure minimal disruption to residents, businesses and traffic. In general, without any extensive repositioning of utility pipes and cables anticipated during the construction period(s) of the proposed network, minimal disturbance should be experienced.