A workable and fully functional light rail train system would complement the current operational heavy rail network in the Edinburgh area. Edinburgh Cross Rail has been deemed a success so the introduction of a wide-ranging light rail train system, which includes an extension to Edinburgh Cross Rail, would further enhance that achievement. What the ELR proposal is attempting to achieve is to take the light rail train solution into the railway hub of the capital from three directions. This would not only improve journey times across the city but would, in terms of future needs, provide the necessary backbone by creating many important connections and as a result of this, a transport infrastructure fit for purpose for decades to come.
It was never the intention in this proposal to use either Haymarket or Waverley station as termini for these light rail train vehicle journeys although it would be necessary to have a stop in each direction as they pass through. At Waverley, one eastward stop at platform 20 and the westward stop could be at the old suburban platform 8. At Haymarket, one eastward stop at platform 1, with the westward stop at platform 4. Of course the east end of platform 20 at Waverley station also marks the tie in point with the disused Scotland Street tunnel which led to Canal Street station and it does seem that this would be a first-class opportunity for another direct link into Waverley, although existing access to the station concourse is not currently fit for purpose.
In this proposal the main city centre terminus for the light rail train vehicles was originally to be a new station at New Street. This would have been a ground-breaking proposal for Edinburgh as the plan here would have been to build under / incorporate a station within any development agreed for the vacant ‘Caltongate’ site adjacent to the relatively new Council Headquarters and as this would be separate from Waverley station it would not create any additional terminus capacity problems. This would have allowed both east and west operation and would have provided a much needed transport link closer to the Royal Mile / High Street and Holyrood areas. Once through the Calton tunnel the light rail trains would use a previously used line on the north side of the existing operational lines as they head for the Abbeyhill Chord and the proposed Holyrood Queens station.
While the light rail train solution utilises new, disused, operational and non-operational rail lines, the strategic interchanges identified would link the various lines so that people can move freely and quickly between important destinations across the city centre and the suburban areas. The light rail train vehicles in the amended 2016 proposal would need to be accommodated at 7 existing stations i.e. Newcraighall, Brunstane, Slateford, Waverley, Haymarket, Kingsknowe and Wester Hailes, while providing pedestrian access to Musselburgh from the proposed ELR Queen Margaret University (QMU) station. That means that the 47 other stations being recommended in the amended 2016 proposal across the network, being rebuilt or built from new.
At the moment, the City of Edinburgh Council area has 11 heavy rail stations (the above listed 7 plus Dalmeny, Edinburgh Gateway, South Gyle and Edinburgh Park) and a tram line from the city centre to Edinburgh Airport with 15 stops, with bus operators being the other main transport providers. In comparison with other cities in the UK it seems to me that a city the size of Edinburgh based on the ELR proposal needs to have a much bigger network of routes and stations, both heavy rail and light rail. Of the 47 new stations proposed, some 55% of them were previously operational. The remainder take into consideration the needs of travellers today, providing important interchanges and most of all creating a network of vital links.
As a rough guide, there are about 18 miles of unused or disused railway corridors within Edinburgh, of which about a half is included in this solution. Operational track being utilised within the same area accounts for about 30 miles, 14 of which relates to the Edinburgh South Suburban Railway (ESSR). In addition to that in the revised ELR proposal there could be about 7 miles of new track, including the only mainly on-road section at Leith Docks – see the appropriate map for more detailed information. In total, practically the same as the 47 miles of on-road Edinburgh trams routes when they closed in 1956.
This solution encompasses a pretty comprehensive and well balanced network for Edinburgh and its environs and while initially it did not all seem feasible because of its interaction with the existing heavy rail network and existing heavy rail capacity between Haymarket and Waverley, a bit of vision goes a long way to achieving some very attractive and extremely functional links, especially the proposed Edinburgh Cross Rail extension which would much enhance a new link to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary site.
Significantly, park and ride/choose patrons in and around Edinburgh would benefit greatly from this expansive network of routes, as both the proposed light rail train and the heavy rail routes that are being adopted will be close or adjacent to the majority of the current sites as well as generating the opportunity for more such facilities.
The intricacies and costs of setting up such combined light and heavy rail systems will of course have to be fully examined for the proposed routes. Only around 45% of rail lines in the UK are electrified, so for the foreseeable future, especially in Scotland, there will a reliance on low emission diesel electric engines. Rail is in fact the most environmentally friendly form of surface transport and needs to be used as effectively as it can be. It does appear however that significant time and savings can be achieved with heavy and light rail trains sharing lines, which is supported in the ELR proposal. It is worth observing that in comparison with what we know about on-road build costs for light rail and the cost of electrification, especially for heavy rail routes, this proposal is an ideal opportunity to hit the ground running in terms of a comprehensive appraisal to evaluate its commercial viability and potential.
This ELR proposal advocates that the various new or reinstated sections of track would be developed mainly for single track operation thus allowing, where applicable, cyclists and walkers to continue using existing facilities. Single track operation could prove not just to be more financially practical, but also very feasible and sensible. In reality, it is debatable whether sections of some of the former railway formations currently accommodating a footpath / cycleway e.g. the Roseburn Corridor section, could accommodate two light rail tracks as well.
There is no reason why the majority of the light rail stations, where there are no existing heavy operational twin tracks, should not be single track so that you can enter and exit the light rail train vehicles from either side, irrespective of the direction the light rail train vehicle is travelling. The development of single track routes could also produce significant savings in station costs by obviating the need for passenger movements from one side of the station platform to the other. Passing manoeuvres would be carried out either at those twin track stations or on short sections of double track between stations, at convenient locations, in terms of the frequency of the service being provided. Without naming actual locations at this time, there are many suitable areas of land across the proposed network, to facilitate these passing opportunities.
Compared with conventional trains, light rail vehicles have more frequent stops. With mainly segregated tracks, the service is safe and reliable and because it would be virtually off road, the transport corridors can be much more aesthetically pleasing.
An integrated, competitive and through ticketing system would allow smooth and quick passage between the proposed light rail train routes, any tram route and other heavy train / bus services that do currently or will in the future serve the Edinburgh area. In keeping with other major capital cities operating truly integrated transport networks, it is important to introduce a branded ticket, an identity and for the purposes of this proposal, calling it say for Edinburgh the “Orca Capital Card”, an intelligent one ticket card to make your travel faster, smarter, easier and cheaper around Edinburgh and beyond. Progress on the delivery of this vision of smart ticketing and payment for all journeys on Scotland’s bus, rail, ferry, subway and tram networks is currently being progressed by the Scottish Government.
This does seem to be an ideal opportunity to allow the light and heavy rail technologies to physically mix and share track to provide a surprising extensive and integrated network of routes across Edinburgh.