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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What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.