Here’s a whole fantasy metro network for, er, Aberdeen

South and St. Nicholas Kirk Spires viewed from Union St. Image: Ragazzi100/Wikimedia Commons.

Here we go again: another letter from a reader with some crayons and a map.

You want overly ambitious transit plans? Allow me to oblige…

Today we’re taking a look at Aberdeen. Just shy of a quarter of a million people live in Scotland’s energy capital, and its transport system is clearly creaking at the seams.

The Beeching axe fell heavily on the city, and with horrendous timing. The oil boom began a mere three years after all the suburban and local lines were closed, so all subsequent growth has piled further pressure on a congested road network. In addition, the Don and Dee rivers to the north and south of the city create bottlenecks as all the resulting traffic is forced across too few bridges.

The new Western Peripheral Route bypass, which took over 30 years to plan and build, is about to give the city the usual lesson in induced demand. So I instead present my alternative six-stage plan of increasing ambitiousness to relieve the Granite City’s gridlock.

1. Using the existing railway infrastructure, institute a dedicated service between Stonehaven and Inverurie.

Scotrail has already started extending Aberdeen-bound trains to Inverurie to give the beginnings of this service – but dedicated trains on this route would be able to serve Stonehaven, Portlethen, Aberdeen, Dyce and Inverurie at a reasonable frequency. Adding stops to the current long-distance services is an improvement, sure enough, but doesn’t give anything like the level of service that a true metro rail system needs to be reliable enough to get people out of their cars.

2. Add additional stations on the existing line at (from south to north), Newtonhill, Cove, Tullos, Kittybrewster (for Aberdeen University),Woodside, Bucksburn, and Kintore.

The next stage is to resurrect most of the axed suburban stations between Stonehaven and Inverurie. This lets us connect the swathe of commuter suburbs that have grown up in the south of the city, the industrial areas at Dyce, Tullos and Altens, and several neighbourhoods and suburbs in the north of the city, all of which need better connections.

3. Built a rail spur from Bucksburn to the airport

Look at this. Just look at it:

Image: Open Street Map.

Aberdeen has a rail line running right beside its airport, but it’s almost impossible to use the railway to get there, because the terminal is on the wrong side of the site from the station. This means that the 3.1m passengers a year who use the airport – which is also the UK’s largest heliport – almost all end up in the same traffic jams on their way back into the city. Who did this? Who looked at these plans and thought that this would make sense?

Oh. Apparently it was the same people who designed almost all of Scotland’s airports, as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Dundee airports all have railway lines adjacent to their airports, but no direct rail link to the terminal. The only airport in Scotland to have a rail link with a dedicated station serving it is Prestwick, which makes up for this oversight by having hardly any flights from it instead.

Seriously, a short spur line to connect the airport, and the new Exhibition Centre, with the main line could slash journey times into the city, and make this layout a whole lot less infuriating for everyone who has watched in despair as the taxi meter ticks ever upwards while sitting in a queue at the Haudagain roundabout.


4. Re-opening of the Royal Deeside line

To the south-west of the city, there’s another problem area. The route into the city from the towns and suburbs along the north bank of the Dee is the crowded, single lane, not-very-great, Great Western Road.

The solution? Resurrect the old Deeside line as light or heavy rail. The alignment of the track bed is still mostly intact, it’s just been converted into a scenic footpath. With a bit of work to restore bridges and stations, this route could provide much needed relief all the way out to Banchory with stations at Aberdeen Joint Station, Ferryhill, Holburn Street, Garthdee, Cults, Milltimber (where we could site a new park & ride facility by the new Western Peripheral Route), Peterculter, Drumoak and Banchory.

Extending the line to Aboyne and Ballater would be a little trickier, and harder to justify. The population density is lower out here, and a new track bed would need to be constructed, as the original route takes you miles out of the way, in a Victorian-era fudge that avoided the property of a local landowner who didn’t want the line crossing his land.

However, extending the line would complete the historic route to Ballater, the traditional gateway to Balmoral, allowing tourists and locals alike to access some of the most picturesque parts of the country.

5. Dyce-Newmachar-Ellon branch re-opened with option to extend to Peterhead/ Fraserburgh.

The north-east of Scotland is home to one of the country’s rail deserts – with the closure of branch lines north of the city leaving a chunk of the country cut off.  

Re-opeining the Buchan branch line to serve Ellon, Peterhead and Fraserburgh (with a straighter and more direct route than the meandering Victorian-era line) would bring over 40,000 people back within reach of the rail network.

With new technology, the resurrected line can be straighter and faster than the pre-Beeching line, which took a route far inland. Happily, the route of the old lines is more or less intact once you get to these three towns, which means that reconstructing tracks and stations won’t be too difficult.

6. Bridge of Don light rail connection

The northern suburbs of the city are a real transport planner’s headache. With only three bridges over the Don, journey times can double during rush hour, as the sheer weight of traffic holds everything up. Unfortunately, geography is not on our side here, as a steep climb on either side of the course of the river, plus extensive, car centred development makes it very difficult to find a route to relieve the hold-ups.

Therefore, my final, and most ambitious suggestion is to build a tram-train service which uses the main rail line as far as Dyce, then branches off to bridge the river, and describes a wide loop north of the Don, utilising the wide avenues of the Parkway, and threading new routes between existing developments to provide an alternative public transport connection for the north of the city.

So here’s the final completed route diagram, in all its glory:

Image: created with Metro Map Creator.

If you have an over-ambitious rail proposal for your city, why not get in touch?

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“You don’t look like a train buff”: on sexism in the trainspotting community

A female guard on London’s former Metropolitan Railway. Image: Getty.

I am a railway enthusiast. I like looking at trains, I like travelling by train and I like the quirks of the vast number of different train units, transit maps and train operating companies.

I get goosebumps standing on a platform watching my train approach, eyeballing the names of the destinations on the dot matrix display over and over again, straining to hear the tinny departure announcements on the tannoy.  I’m fortunate enough to work on the site of a former railway station that not only houses beautiful old goods sheds, but still has an active railway line running alongside it. You can imagine my colleagues’ elation as I exclaim: “Wow! Look at that one!” for the sixth time that day, as another brilliantly gaudy freight train trundles past.

I am also a woman in my twenties. A few weeks my request to join a railway-related Facebook group was declined because I – and I quote here – “don’t look like a train buff”.

After posting about this exchange on Twitter, my outrage was widely shared. “They should be thrilled to have you!” said one. “What does a train buff look like?!” many others asked.

The answer, of course, is a middle-aged white man with an anorak and notebook. Supposedly, anyway. That’s the ancient stereotype of a “trainspotter”, which sadly shows no sign of waning.

I’m not alone in feeling marginalised in the railway community. Sarah, a railway enthusiast from Bournemouth, says she is used to funny looks when she tells people that she is not only into trains, but an engineer.

She speaks of her annoyance at seeing a poster bearing the phrase: “Beware Rail Enthusiasts Disease: Highly Infectious To Males Of All Ages”. “That did bug me,” she says, “because women can enjoy trains just as much as men.”


Vicki Pipe is best known as being one half of the YouTube sensation All The Stations, which saw her and her partner Geoff Marshall spend 2017 visiting every railway station in Great Britain.

“During our 2017 adventure I was often asked ‘How did your boyfriend persuade you to come along?’” she says. “I think some found it unusual that a woman might be independently interested or excited enough about the railways to spend sixteen weeks travelling to every station on the network.”

Pipe, who earlier this year travelled to all the stations in Ireland and Northern Ireland, is passionate about changing the way in which people think of the railways, including the perception of women in the industry.

“For me it’s the people that make the railways such an exciting place to explore – and many of these are women,” she explains. “Women have historically and continue to play an important part in the railway industry – throughout our journey we met female train drivers, conductors, station staff, signallers and engineers. I feel it is important that more female voices are heard so that women of the future recognise the railways as a place they too can be part of.”

Despite the progress being made, it’s clear there is still a long way to go in challenging stereotypes and proving that girls can like trains, too.

I’m appalled that in 2019 our life choices are still subjected to critique. This is why I want to encourage women to embrace their interests and aspirations – however “nerdy”, or unusual, or untraditionally “female” they may be – and to speak up for things that I was worried to speak about for so long.

We might not change the world by doing so but, one by one, we’ll let others know that we’ll do what we want – because we can.