19 November 2020
The City of Edinburgh Council has been re-evaluating the tram extension project as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. A report on 13 November concluded that the financial impact of cancelling the Edinburgh tram extension to Leith/Newhaven would almost certainly be greater than allowing it to carry on because of the impact on Council reserves, if the project was cancelled, as this would be greater than continuing with construction. In reaching this conclusion the Council judge that it is essential to measure the probable economic and financial impacts of such an important transport infrastructure scheme, providing sustainable, low-carbon travel to one of the most densely populated areas of Edinburgh.
The effect over a large part of this year of the ongoing pandemic has obviously had an exceptional influence on all modes of transport and will continue to do so for some time to come. However, the Council feel that the delivery of this tram project is fundamental for the green recovery and achieving their net zero carbon plan by 2030. The Council are therefore cautiously optimistic having now confirmed that progress with construction will continue.
Edinburgh Council considered the final business case and on Thursday 19 November 2020 voted whether or not to continue the project. Councillors decided to approve the continued construction of the tram line extension to Newhaven after hearing the final business case for the project, which reflected the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the first and most optimistic scenario assumes that demand for the central tram line returns to pre-covid levels by 2022, and demand for journeys to the airport returns by 2023, the fourth and most pessimistic scenario projects a drop in demand of just 20 per cent in the years following the pandemic, which would force the council to use £93m of its reserves and take until 2055 to pay back.
Separately of course, in Edinburgh, part of that green recovery should include the introduction of ELRCL hydrogen powered trains on a number of the suburban lines. Not just one route, but, three inter-connected routes and other spurs serving many other of the most densely populated areas of Edinburgh.
One of the problems thrown up regularly with the re-opening of the suburban line is capacity at Waverley and Haymarket. Of course Waverley Station in recent years has added platforms, extended others, added crossovers and generally increased capacity. Of course that was to accommodate more trains from afar at a station which has been the recipient of expanding routes from across the country for many years. The Edinburgh suburban routes have unfortunately not been afforded the same attention with regards to this expansion. The plan is that these ELRCL suburban trains (powered by hydrogen) would not use Waverley as a terminus, only stopping as they pass through to complete their routes (same with Haymarket).
The re-opening of the three suburban lines suggested by ELRCL will be required at some time soon in the future, they will attract passengers who have to change their green credentials, to a more integrated network that will work along with and integrate with existing transport provision.
29 September 2020
A hydrogen powered train has made its UK maiden journey and travelled on Britain’s rail network for first time. The prototype called the Hydroflex made a 25 mile round trip in Warwickshire, reaching speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. The next phase of this particular project is to move the hydrogen tanks fuel cell and battery out of the current carriage location and to relocate them underneath the train. In terms of timing, the aim is to start carrying paying passengers by the end of 2021.
Hydrogen powered trains are probably the greenest trains in the world – the only emission from the exhaust is pure water. Hydrogen trains are being made and considered for areas where electric trains can’t go e.g. passenger trains on the Edinburgh South Suburban line – if only that were the case! The ultimate plan with hydrogen powered trains is to replace heavily polluting diesel trains, which are at this time scheduled to be discontinued in the UK by 2040.
See also “HYDROGEN TRAINS ARE A REALITY IN 2019” on the home page menu.
Proposal to Redevelop the Former Powderhall Waste Transfer Station Site
The Waste Transfer Station site at Powderhall ceased operations in 2016. In March 2017, the City of Edinburgh Council approved the site for housing, work and community space, potential nursery school and improved green space. Consultations to agree the actual future use of the site are expected to be completed by October 2018. Thereafter, demolition of the existing structures and the clean up of the site is due to be completed by the autumn of 2019. After that period of time, discussions will commence on the formal planning process.
The original railway line from Abbeyhill to Leith and Granton via Easter Road, Leith Walk and Powderhall opened in 1868. The then cleansing department building was built at Boughton Road in 1893, specifically for waste incineration. The line to Leith closed in 1968 and the line to Granton in 1986. All of the original route to Leith and Granton has been dismantled, except that part of the line from Piershill to the waste depot site at Powderhall and slightly beyond to the north, crossing the Water of Leith. Previously it would have gone on to connect with the Trinity and Leith lines at nearby Bonnington.
Powderhall Station was adjacent to the cleansing department site on the Leith and Granton line and separated by a wall although the station only operated for passenger traffic between 1895 and 1917. Interestingly the station had been specifically opened with a view to encouraging house building in the vicinity, but, this did not apparently materialise to the extent hoped for and closure of the station to passenger traffic followed and although the actual platforms remained much of Powderhall Station was knocked down.
In terms of passenger traffic on this line Leith Walk station closed in 1930, Easter Road station in 1947 and Piershill and Abbeyhill stations in 1964. The section of line that remained from Piershill / Abbeyhill to Powderhall is about two miles in length and also served the nearby Leith Walk and Easter Road stations.
Powderhall became a “Waste Transfer Station” in 1985 and the waste was taken away to landfill sites by train. To facilitate the movement of wagons to and from the plant site a passing loop section of line was also built to the south of Broughton Road. The plant compacted refuse, brought in by road, into containers which were then conveyed by rail to landfill sites such as Kaimes Quarry at Kirknewton which was a disused whinstone quarry and then later on to disused limestone workings at East Barns as well as Oxwellmains, near Dunbar. Since 2016 bin lorries from across the city have been taking waste to two privately-operated sites instead.
The new £150 million Millerhill “energy from waste” incinerator should be fully operational by the end of 2018. This is a joint project with Midlothian Council and will be capable of processing nearly 200,000 tonnes of household and commercial waste a year and generate enough electricity each year to satisfy the energy demands of about 30,000 households.
Over the years, the main reason for the retention of this line was the “Powderhall Destructor / Incinerator” directly to the west of the former station. Subsequently, the wall between the two was removed as were the platforms and a loop installed. In 1989, Edinburgh District Council was approached by British Rail in respect of the use of the railway line at Powderhall and advised that they intended to remove the line unless the Council required the line for the continued transportation of waste, which they did.
The route is already reserved as a cycle path in a Local Development Plan approved by the City of Edinburgh Council, although the land is still owned by Network Rail rather than the council. Network Rail have also been considering the re-opening of this route to increase line capacity.
As mentioned earlier the station at Powderhall had been specifically opened in 1895 with a view to encouraging house building in the area. As this did not develop as expected, closure of Powderhall Station to passenger traffic followed in 1917 – there is of course an abundance of housing in the area today.
In terms of passenger traffic on this line Leith Walk station closed in 1930, Easter Road station in 1947 and Piershill and Abbeyhill stations in 1964. You will see on my 1.6 CITY (2018) map on the website that I would propose 5 stations on the existing and reinstated lines on the two miles or so of track between Piershill / Abbeyhill and Powderhall – for the record the stations would be at Meadowbank, Holyrood Queens (for Abbeyhill), Easter Road, Shrubhill (for Leith Walk) and Powderhall. I would suggest that the catchment area for potential rail passengers in this vicinity is significant.
There is no doubt that Edinburgh will require at some point in the future an additional transport system to support existing provision and I think that the ELRCL proposal with initially the “Edinburgh Overground” scheme would bring considerable benefits to ease traffic congestion, reduce car use and help to meet the aspirations of a renowned and expanding capital city.
Rather than all the existing railway infrastructure at Powderhall being dismantled as well and going to waste, I believe that a new station and the reinstatement of the line for passenger trains makes a lot sense today.
Imaginative use of this line as described in the Edinburgh Light Railway Company Limited (ELRCL) proposal to form part of an “Edinburgh Overground” network of routes as the northern suburban part of the overall scheme – see www.elrcl.co.uk for more details.
PLANNING PERMISSION FOR PROPOSED CALA RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT AT OCEAN TERMINAL – PLANNING APPLICATION REF: 16/03684/FUL
On 14 August 2018 the City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) determined that the application by CALA Homes submitted in August 2016 which would contribute 388 residential units (including 97 affordable homes) towards meeting Edinburgh housing needs and provide 29 commercial units suitable for a range of local services and small businesses be granted. The proposal would develop a vacant urban site and bring economic benefits to Ocean Terminal and businesses in the area, in accordance with the particulars given in the application.
CEC felt that the proposal would have no unacceptable impact on the character and appearance of the adjacent Conservation Area and listed buildings. It was acceptable in terms of design, scale, (albeit an increased density of development would be preferred on such a highly accessible site), layout, impact on the tram proposal, open space and amenity of future and neighbouring residents. Subject to appropriate developer contributions to tram, transport, education and healthcare facilities being secured through a legal agreement, impact on infrastructure was acceptable.
If as a result of this decision would the ELRCL proposal if it came to fruition be able to follow an alternative route by using the tram line corridor to Ocean Terminal and then beyond?
At the Committee Hearing, the presentations by the various interested parties (including ELRCL) were listened to and the committee debated the issues raised, although ELRCL did not attend any meetings or indeed was contacted during the 2 year period it took to determine this application, apart from the initial acknowledgement of the presentation submitted in August 2016. CEC resolved that although the site was located within the Leith strategic business centre and formed part of Edinburgh’s strategic office land supply, the proposed benefits of the proposal outweighed the local plan requirement for a commercial led mixed use development.
What the ELRCL was asking to be preserved was a corridor of land across the site which would have provided for both an innovative and important network link in the overall ELRCL plan that would allow for a heavy / light rail link from a proposed station near Bath Street / Ocean Way Roundabout (called “Dock Station”) to a proposed station at Lindsay Road (then using the disused Caledonian Railway route between Newhaven and Russell Road (Haymarket) via Trinity, Ainslie Park, Crewe Toll, Craigleith and Roseburn – this link at Ocean Terminal would have been a first in terms of linking east with west lines in the Leith Docks location which has never been in place before. Of course the route of the tram route from York Place to Ocean Terminal has been safeguarded and all that remains to be finally decided is whether or not the tram route to Ocean Terminal will be built. Of course the 2018 ELRCL “Edinburgh Overground” rail proposal was to terminate at the new station at Dock, where it would meet up with the tram route at Ocean Way if built and as mentioned below, the proposed ELRCL route on the Caledonian Railway route which is not currently part of the “Edinburgh Overground” proposal could terminate at the proposed Lindsay Road station to link with the proposed tram line to Granton etc., and if that was not built the ELRCL line could be extended to meet up with the tram line at Ocean Terminal. While all this remains theoretical, there are obviously ways of accommodating these two separate transport proposals at this location and without a doubt, integrating them.
From Ocean Terminal the tram route was originally planned to go to Newhaven, Granton, West Pilton, Crewe Toll, Craigleith, Roseburn to Wester Coates and Haymarket – not dissimilar to the ELRCL proposal in terms of linkage, but, by a slightly different route which may or may not be sanctioned in the future. As indicated, there is some common ground here but the tram and ELRCL lines are clearly two different routes between the same start and finish points between Ocean Terminal and Haymarket. Much of the disused Caledonian Railway route between Newhaven and Russell Road under the ELRCL proposal would be single running track with passing loops as most of the route cannot accommodate both 2 lines and the existing walking and cycling provision as well – see Map 1.3 (2016) Edinburgh City on the website for details.
In September 2017 ELRCL suggested in “Latest News” that the strategic importance of developing an integrated transport network or creditable business plan should not only cover the city centre, the west and north, but the east, the south and outlying areas as well. That means transport being well thought out and offering the same type of services to different areas of the city. Well, Lothian Buses must have looked at this because as of end July 2018 we now have north, south, east and west bus services to Edinburgh Airport. A list of the 4 routes is shown below:-
Airlink 100 – Edinburgh Airport to City Centre i.e. City Centre (Waverley Bridge) to West End to Haymarket to Murrayfield to Edinburgh Zoo to Drum Brae South to Maybury to Edinburgh Airport and return;
Skylink 200 – Edinburgh Airport to Ocean Terminal via North Edinburgh i.e. Edinburgh Airport to Ingliston P&R to Clermiston to Blackhall to Muirhouse to Newhaven to Ocean Terminal and return;
Skylink 300 – Edinburgh Airport to Cameron Toll via West Edinburgh i.e. Edinburgh Airport to Gyle to Sighthill to Chesser to Fountainbridge to Surgeons’ Hall to Newington to Cameron Toll and return; and
Skylink 400 – Edinburgh Airport to Fort Kinnaird via South Edinburgh i.e. Edinburgh Airport to Ingliston P&R to Gyle to Wester Hailes to Fairmilehead to Moredun to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary to Fort Kinnaird.
The Edinburgh Airport buses can be requested to stop to pick up or drop off passengers at any stops on the route, similar to other Lothian Bus services. Edinburgh Airport buses should be more dedicated to the purpose they were introduced for and should at least operate limited stops only. Many airport buses have no additional stops between start and final destinations thus allowing travellers to transit as quickly as possible.
What has been launched by the ELRCL this month is a sensible step forward. It is a 1st phase of what amounts to 3 new suburban passenger routes in and around Edinburgh. The City of Edinburgh Council it seems is besotted by the thought of expanding the tram network e.g. to Leith. This in itself is not a bad idea although you have to wonder whether the additional borrowing required, on top of the existing loan, is justified in terms of the inability of the Council to fund other every day requirements. There might be some justification in taking forward expansion of the tram network, but, unfortunately, there are many factors which suggest this is not necessarily the only way forward as it only really benefits those on the route although tourists and visitors to the city probably see it in a different light as it links the city centre to the to the airport. While support for the ELRCL proposals has been relatively slow it will just be a matter of time before people realise the potential of such a scheme. Of course, the problem for all transport initiatives, such as this one, is finance and how that can be realised. However, this is an opportunity that should not be missed and it is very important that people realise that an additional transport network is necessary in Edinburgh, in addition to the tram route and other transport provision, so it is important to portray the benefits that it would bring.
The final cost of the existing tram line from Edinburgh Airport to York Place will be over £1 billion.
The statutory inquiry into the problematic tram project heard that on top of the official £776 billion, there had been additional tram related expenditure of £44m by the council and the Scottish Government and there will be interest payments on borrowing over 30 years of £182.5 million, making a grand total of £1.0025 billion.
These figures were based on detailed analysis of the budget and costs of the project and were carried out by a council finance specialist at the request of the inquiry. The specialist was also asked to look at what the extra money for the trams could have been spent on at a time when the council is under severe financial pressure. The specialist reported that the council had made savings totalling £145 million over the last three years. The specialist said loans for the tram project attracted interest payments of £14.3 million per year. Over the last three years that amounted to £42.9 million which is comparable to almost one third of the budget cuts made by the council in areas including children and families.
The council had to borrow £231 million to bridge the gap between the original £545 million budget and the final cost of £776 million. In addition to that, the council had to borrow a further £15.5 million to make up for a shortfall in the contribution expected from developers along the route. While the council had budgeted to receive some £25 million over 20 years, in reality they have only received £9.5 million to date.
Do Edinburgh residents want the tram extension to Leith/Newhaven?
According to a poll carried out for the Edinburgh Evening News, Edinburgh residents are divided on plans to extend the tram line to Leith and Newhaven with 43.5% against the plan to take the current route, which runs from Edinburgh Airport to York Place, down Leith Walk to Leith and Newhaven, while 42.2% were for the extension plan. Some 12.5% neither agreed or disagreed.
Around 2,200 Evening News readers took part in the survey and they were asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the proposed extension. While opponents may be surprised that there was not a larger majority against the proposal, is the small number who participated in the survey really representative of a city with a population around 500,000?
The city council has of course backed the £165 million extension in principle although they will not give their final approval until Autumn 2018.
Land use dispute puts the proposal for Waterside Plaza in new difficulties.
City planners have recommended that proposals for 425 homes and 100 affordable units in Leith Docks, located on disused land opposite Ocean Terminal, are thrown out in a dispute over the land use of the site. Planning chiefs have said that the development which on is vacant Brownfield land, fails to meet the business-related criteria for the area. While the updated plans for 388 homes and 97 affordable units have seen some support and will now go in front of the Council’s planning sub-committee on 8th November, the planners report has recommended refusal on the basis that the proposal is contrary to the Local Development Plan and without the inclusion of a key office development, as part of the mixed use proposal, the plans should not be supported.
Although no correspondence or contact was made with Edinburgh Council regarding the objection ELRCL lodged in August 2016 to a Cala housing proposal in Leith Docks (Application 16/03684/FUL: Ocean Drive, Leith Docks), it has been noted on 29th September that Cala have withdrawn the original plans and will resubmit amended ones for the Council to consider in November. However, reading between the lines, it would seem the corridor required at this location for any future ELRCL light rail proposal has not been taken into consideration. Await amended plans to comment on.
In response to the outline business case decision to take the tram line to Newhaven, the ELRCL posted the following comments on 28 September:-
“It seems to me that the rhetoric from Edinburgh Council has remained consistent over the years in that they want to provide a first-class fully integrated transport system to improve connectivity and reduce congestion, but, time and again cannot seem to deliver the key and enlightened transport infrastructure changes required to do so. The current tram line works well and benefits those living in its designated corridor (as well as tourists) and the bus service is second to none. While both provide a very good service they are not lessening congestion in and around Edinburgh.
Indeed figures released recently for the whole of Scotland show that bus travel numbers continue to fall as the majority of people (67 per cent) preferred to use car journeys, which have actually increased by 2 per cent in recent years, so has congestion in and around Edinburgh increased? If it has, then in future years it may get even worse?
Extending the tram line to Ocean Terminal and Newhaven will not I suspect reduce congestion although it will allow another direct link to town and to Edinburgh Airport. Now, at the moment from Ocean terminal, there are numerous buses that provide a direct link to town and two to Edinburgh Airport, the 200 and the 35 (which will become the new 300). When the trams started operating in 2014, the 100 bus service (Waverley Bridge to Edinburgh Airport) continued to operate, indeed a new bus fleet was provided for the service, despite the tram line being nearby. If the tram line extension to Newhaven comes to fruition, then the assumption would be that this area will have three direct links to the airport.
The strategic importance of developing an integrated transport network or creditable business plan should not only cover the city centre, the west and north, but the east, the south and outlying areas as well. Transport has to be well thought-out, properly linked up so that people in all areas of the city have a choice in terms of the transport available to them. If this means another mode of transport being considered offering different types of services to different areas, then that should surely be seriously looked at!
I represent the Edinburgh Light Railway Company Limited (www.elrcl.co.uk). Their proposal involves an additional light rail train solution to supplement existing transport providers, which would operate virtually off-road on old railway formations as well as on some existing operational heavy lines, including the Edinburgh South Suburban Railway (ESSR). Such a scheme should be included in any long term thinking for reducing congestion in Edinburgh and its environs and a very strong case should be made for it even in these difficult financial times.”
On 21st September 2017 Edinburgh Councillors agreed the outline business case to take the tram line to Newhaven. That decision is regarded as a major step forward for the £165m plan to extend the line to Leith and means the search for a contractor can get underway.
A final decision on taking the tram line to Newhaven will not be made until Autumn 2018.
An email outlining the ELR proposal “A New Light Rail Train Concept to consider for Edinburgh and its Environs“) was circulated to the Transport and Environment Committee at the City of Edinburgh Council along with notification to East Lothian and Midlothian Councils, ten Community Councils in Edinburgh that had contact points, Network Rail, Transport Scotland, Capital Rail Action Group (CRAG), Transform Scotland, The Cockburn Association, Forth Ports, Friends of the Earth Edinburgh, Railfuture Scotland, SESTRANS, SUSTRANS and The Scotsman / Evening News, on 8/9 March 2017 for their information – due to a lack of named contacts or detailed contact points on email (apart from the City of Edinburgh Council), this information might not have reached the intended recipients.
As the heading suggests, the email basically says that I have been looking to promote a new light rail train network for Edinburgh and its environs which would work with and alongside heavy rail as well as integrating with existing services provided by other transport providers. While the ELR proposal is at a very early stage in the planning process, it is important to get the concept of this scheme across to as many organisations and individuals as possible and to obtain views on this proposal.
The proposal and its history to date is contained in the ELRCL website www.elrcl.co.uk and is self-explanatory. Should you wish to contact me the email address is email@example.com.
For the record, the ELRCL objected to a Cala housing proposal in Leith Docks (Application 16/03684/FUL: Ocean Drive, Leith Docks), as a corridor is required to be maintained at this location approximately on the line of the defunct road that runs across the main application site for part of the section of line between the proposed Dock and Lindsay Road Stations. The objection was submitted to the Council at the end of August 2016 along with a number of plans and the case is still awaiting assessment.