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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City of Ruin: On Resident Evil’s Raccoon City

Photo: Wikipedia via Creative Commons

With the release of Capcom’s remake of Resident Evil 2 on Friday 25 January, gamers will return to the terrifying streets of one of the most iconic cities in video games: the zombie-infested Raccoon City.

Despite first being mentioned in 1997’s original Resident Evil, that game took place entirely in a mansion outside the city and it wasn’t until the 1998 sequel that we actually got to explore Raccoon City itself.

Since then, it’s become a recurring location in the games series and various spin-off media, even though – and this is an unavoidable spoiler, so abandon this article now if you’re planning to go into the remake completely cold – Resident Evil 2 ends with the city being comprehensively nuked by the US government.

In fact, the series returned to Raccoon City a year later in 1999’s Resident Evil 3, an asset-reusing fill-in instalment that cleverly loops around the events and locations of Resident Evil 2 and gives the player another, more detailed look at the city’s final destruction.

Raccoon City RIP, from Resident Evil 3. The author of this piece was not allowed to have the piano theme from the credits as music at his wedding.

Since then, the 1998 fall of Raccoon City has been revisited in the two Resident Evil Outbreak titles, in the Umbrella Chronicles and Darkside Chronicles light gun Wii games, and in the shockingly mediocre online shooter Operation Raccoon City, as well as the Milla Jovovich-starring live action film series.

Although the plot line of the main game series has moved on to new locales and time periods from 2005’s Resident Evil 4 onwards, the franchise clearly left a part of itself on the streets of Raccoon City in 1998, and can’t help but repeatedly return. But why?

To answer that we need to look at what kind of games the Resident Evil series are, their genre roots and the continuity that’s built up within the games themselves – and how these elements have created an eccentric idea of an average American city.

The original Resident Evil had horror game precedents in titles like Alone in the Dark and the film adaptation, Sweet Home – even sharing a developer, Capcom, and a director, Shinji Mikami, with the latter – but it twisted these influences and precedents to create a new sub-genre: survival horror.

The survival horror genre is distinguished by the cautious, steady exploration of a contained environment, facing off against horrific creatures that constantly threaten to overpower the player, who must conserve scarce resources like ammo and health top-ups. As opposed to game genres where environments are dashed through while shooting wildly, survival horror games, and their steady pace, demand locations that reward attention.

The live action introduction to the characters in the original Resident Evil. Mysteriously this technique hasn’t been used in the series since.

The first game, called Biohazard in its native Japanese but renamed Resident Evil in English, opened with a ridiculous live-action video in which an elite team of cops – as seen in the video above – wind up in the creepy Spencer Mansion located in the Arklay Mountains near Raccoon City. There, our heroes, part of the elite and very coolly acronymic STARS team, face off against zombies and other genetically engineered monsters created as weapons by the evil Umbrella Corporation.

Player characters, Chris or Jill, move from room to room in the mansion, fighting off monsters and making progress by solving baroque puzzles where rooms are locked by mysterious keys and booby trap devices. As the plot unfolds Chris and Jill realise that they’ve been set up, acting as experimental subjects to provide data about the combat efficiency of Umbrella’s Bio-Organic Weapons, or BOWs for short.

Gameplay from the original Resident Evil. NSFW due to gore and terrible voice acting.

Although we don’t go near Raccoon City in the first game, it sets several precedents that shape the urban space encountered in the sequel. The game relies on confined spaces and environments in which the player struggles to escape a looming zombie, with doorways to pass through to move from one small area to another. As well as building tension this is a technical issue – the dramatic fixed camera angles allow the backdrops to each screen to essentially be pre-rendered still images on which animated characters and interactive items move, allowing in turn for a much higher resolution in the backgrounds than was possible for moving 3D environments at the time – which lends the world of the game a distinct, atmospheric feel, the sense of a real, detailed place.


The fiction of the game justifies the Spencer Mansion’s weird layout and complex locks partially through its use by the Umbrella Corporation as a secret laboratory and testing facility, and partially through the story of the Mansion’s eccentric architect, George Trevor, who installed all these traps and puzzles on the orders of Umbrella’s founder, Ozwell Spencer. These narratives are told through documents found around the Mansion and its grounds.

The final element here is one of genre. If you’re a Resident Evil newcomer, you may well have read the past few paragraphs and thought “this makes absolutely no sodding sense whatsoever”, and you wouldn’t be wrong. The most obvious genre precedents for the series are the zombie films of filmmaker George A Romero, but the series also takes influence from the considerably less coherent European knock offs Romero inspired, all through a lens of Japanese horror, which is far more prone to abstraction and nightmare logic as well as post-Hiroshima concerns about mutation.

These overlapping influences shaped Raccoon City itself – a city in the mid-western United States, created by Japanese game developers in the mid to late 1990s taking influence from zombie films of the 1970s and 1980s, some of which were shot in Europe. Factor in the technical and gameplay requirements, and you end up with a uniquely skewed vision of an American cityscape.

The original Resident Evil 2 opens with the zombie outbreak well underway, and protagonists Leon and Claire stranded in a Downtown area overrrun with the undead. The narrow streets are rendered narrower by crashed cars and barricades, evidence of the carnage that has occurred and failed defensive efforts. The opening scenes of the game are a hectic dash through cluttered streets and a crashed bus to get to a gun shop and the game’s first major environment, the Raccoon Police Department. Resident Evil 3 revisits Downtown and the RPD, filling in restaraunts, shopping streets, an area under construction, an electricty substation, the City Hall, a gas station and a tram station.

The unusually narrow streets of Raccoon City as seen in Resident Evil 3.

Resident Evil 3 also adds the adjacent Uptown area with warehouses, sales offices, bars and residential streets that border on tenements in their density and narrow alleys. Between the two games the ruined city is a beautiful example of stage-managed desolation, with distant screams and evidence of horrors past strewn across the cluttered chaos. It’s also ridiculous, a toytown version of a city where industrial, residential and commercial activities are piled upon each other. The George Trevor school of architectural madness is also in full effect, with the RPD building being a converted art gallery complete with doors that are opened by manipulating statues, and gates to City Hall that unlock when a clock outside is completed.

An eccentric approach to architecture and city planning is one hand wave explanation for why Raccoon City doesn’t make much sense, another within the fiction is that it’s an Umbrella Corporation company town, with their labs and facilities scattered across the city. Every business and facility can hide a lab or storage area for Umbrella. In Resident Evil 2, the sewers and a cable car trip lead to a dead factory hiding a lab facility in the Raccoon City outskirts, an underground lab revisited (or pre-visited?) in Resident Evil Zero and the Outbreak games.

In Resident Evil 3 a disastrous jaunt in a tram leads to the city hospital which hides a lab full of reptilian monstrosities, then on through the park, across a dam and into another dead factory hiding another laboratory. 

As much as anything makes sense in Raccoon City, there’s a sort of logic to seeing the city as a giant laboratory in which the local population are bred as guinea pigs, who can be snatched up and experimented upon in the individual facilities across the city. It’s a groteseque but not entirely inaccurate caricature of urban space where the masses live and die at the whim of the corporate forces who shape the city for their own purposes. The cramped urban spaces of Raccoon City, where industrial, residential, and commercial areas pile up on each other in a mass of twisty, narrow streets that are barely more than corridors, add a level of dream logic to this scenario, making for an evocative urban nightmare.

The boring, sensibly proportioned streets of Operation: Raccoon City

While the Outbreak games added new areas to Raccoon City – a zoo, a university by the sea – their adherence to the oppressively warped architecture and geography of the series made these additions of a piece with their predecessors. Other adaptations have been less successful: the Chronicles and Operation Raccoon City games turned the streets into open boxes for less contained, run-and-gun-type play, completely losing the rich detail and claustrophobia that made Raccoon City such a unique place and turning it into... well, something resembling a real city, with streets wide enough for cars and buildings with sensibly broad corridors. That nightmarish quality was entirely lost.

Hopefully the Resident Evil 2 remake released this week will, amongst all its high definition upgraded gore, retain Raccoon City’s convoluted, unrealistic geography. The story of an apocalyptic event reducing an American city, the supposed apex of Western civilisation, to carnage and despair will always have a certain perverse appeal, and the fall of Raccoon City, in all its nightmarish eccentricity, is one of the greatest iterations of that story. Long may we keep being allowed to revisit it.

Resident Evil 2 is released for PS4, XBox One and Microsoft Windows on 25 January 2019.