Introduction and Background 2007

To achieve those ambitious Edinburgh Light Railway (ELR) objectives i.e. “to create a network of integrated light railway train links across Edinburgh”, this proposed solution advocates in effect seven designated off-road train routes and the proposed Edinburgh Cross Rail Extension where stations, apart from end of line stations, could share between two and all eight of those routes, thus providing frequency and choice of destination.  The concept of a light rail train solution is not particularly complex or challenging.  This light rail train solution is virtually all off-road, uses existing resources, and has the foresight and vision to create some imaginative and effective links which are not part of the current thinking on mass transit in Edinburgh.  This light rail train proposal is certainly radically different and more comprehensive in terms of the area that would be covered and the network that could be provided.  Perhaps it is something that visitors to the Capital of Scotland would expect as well, an integrated transport network that not only caters for the daily requirements and expectations of the indigenous population but will also drive tourism in a thriving and popular capital city.

The idea of a metro system for Edinburgh was put forward as far back as 1999 and while it appears to have attracted significant interest at the time, the City of Edinburgh Council were working to develop a rapid transit system based on guided bus technology.  It appears that the metro proposal was to include a number of off-road as well as on-road routes, although information as to the extent of the scheme or how far it was progressed is not readily available.

The concept of a light rail train system in and around the city seems a logical and particularly ideal solution that could relatively quickly become a reality and benefit Edinburgh in its entirety by making transport services more accessible by giving people real choice about travel options.

It has been said on many occasions, that the congestion problems in Edinburgh cannot be solved in isolation, so the often talked about reopening of the Edinburgh South Suburban Railway (ESSR) to passenger traffic, as one heavy rail option on its own and the reintroduction of tram lines as another, is clearly not going to be a final long term solution.  This is because the current gridlock experienced in the Edinburgh area on a daily basis, is a much bigger and wider problem to overcome, both now and in the future, which would indicate that an extensive light rail train option operating practically all off-road, could help to resolve.  

Although light rail tram and train solutions remain an under-developed initiative in this country, a light rail train project in the Edinburgh area could simulate a collective approach, which would not only create a successful transport network but also shaping urban design and acting as a tool for regeneration.  To enable Edinburgh to move forward with confidence in these challenging times and to avoid ever increasing gridlock it has to look at a more comprehensive transport solution to address the current inadequacies.

The starting point for this report in 2007 was to find a positive way to reopen the ESSR to passenger traffic after some 45 years.  There appeared to be no justification for considering the ESSR unless it could form part of a wider solution as well as it being commercially viable.  Using the significant number of other existing railway formations that are available and incorporating them in an overall solution suggests a very coherent and plausible concept to contemplate in terms of the integrated network that it could provide to the wider Edinburgh market.

A light rail train system would offer the best opportunity for the transport links needed to improve our environment, realise projected growth and most important of all, provide a sustainable alternative to the greatest single challenge facing all inner suburban operators today, ever increasing car use.    Greater modal integration in transport and the opportunities that it will bring to existing users will of course define the form of any new developments and aid the regeneration of neglected areas in the future.

Cities all over the world are looking for sustainable public transport systems that perfectly integrate into their urban landscapes and the implementation of the various light rapid transit systems in the rest of Europe suggests there is much to learn in terms of planning and delivery mechanisms.  Outturn capital costs for any system type varies across schemes and costs can be much more dependent on things such as construction, disruption, utility diversions, special structures or earthworks.  Indeed, the attractiveness of the routes earmarked for this light rail train system is that the vast majority of the construction work would be off-road so disturbance and disruption to road traffic would be fairly minimal.  Importantly, it is not intended that this solution would cause major disturbance to the existing rail infrastructure or significantly increasing platform capacity at Edinburgh’s two main and busy terminals.

As major cities expand, so too does the demand for high capacity public transport vehicles, offering convenient, comfortable and effective mobility.  Investing money wisely in a wide-ranging network is surely the argument to be put forward so that you are able to deliver the right infrastructure in a more sustainable way as well as attracting sufficient passenger numbers to generate an adequate income.  This light rail train solution would have the ability to deliver a high-quality integrated transport system and with those seven interconnecting routes planned over a wide geographical spread it would provide the means for alleviating that congestion, delivering business success and those fundamental travel aspirations for generations to come.

If you really want to get people to stop using their cars and get them to use a heavy rail / light rail or tram-train system, then you have to provide a very comprehensive network of integrated routes to do so.  The first part of this predominantly off-road light rail train alternative provides such a precondition, with the proposals in second part of the report being the missing links for an integrated transport system across Edinburgh.

This light rail train proposal would dovetail well with economic regeneration and social inclusion, making use of existing or disused railway lines, which may otherwise remain underused or redundant as many have done for decades, thus freeing up space on congested roads. This proposal would bring greater integration with other modes of transport, increase capacity, frequency, reliability and attractiveness to its passengers, reducing travel time and providing rapid and regular direct links between many important destinations across the city.

The whole report examines the issues in a simplistic, logical and straightforward manner, without any complicated terminology.  The report does not contain any detailed analysis and is simply designed at this stage to deliver a concept that the pubic will find attractive.  It is not led by nor does it conform to any specific guidance and looks at things from a geographical resources perspective, with no preconceived expectations, apart from those existing resources and the concept of an integrated heavy / light rail train system itself to deliver the required network of routes.  Taking a common sense approach, together with a bit of imagination and vision could create a heavy / light rail train network with the potential to work really efficiently and effectively in and around Edinburgh and meet the aspirations of many disillusioned travellers.

Light rail tram or tram-train vehicles on existing main road thoroughfares in close proximity to houses and shops, can generate both congestion and noise disturbance and overhead wires and fixings can be inelegant.  The light rail train proposal, although over a much wider area, would obviously not have that same impact with the vast majority of track being off-road.

While the light rail train solution proposes to utilise many disused railway lines, it is not the intention that it will be to the complete detriment of existing cycling and walking routes or the local communities they pass through.  These transport corridors, where appropriate and feasible, would remain multi-modal over some of the lengths which would be adopted for new track.  The concept of single line running with passing places would also feature in this proposal.  This came about for three main reasons (a) pinch points on existing disused off-road corridors earmarked for use where two lines and an adjacent cycle path / walkway would not be practical e.g. parts of the Roseburn to Newhaven route, (b) the fact that in many areas redundant land adjoins cycle paths and walkways and existing operational lines, that could be utilised and (c) the cost of building new stations would be significantly lower – this would seem to be eminently workable.

Given the importance of this proposed solution, it also recognises the continued need for providing and maintaining cycle and walking routes throughout Edinburgh and its environs. Nevertheless, there is no reason why a cycle and walking route cannot be relocated if that is deemed necessary as part of any project in recognition of its importance to cyclists and the local community it serves, providing that route remains intact.