Letter: Here’s a complete rapid transit network for Edinburgh

Central Edinburgh in our fantasy landscape. Image: the mystery contributor.

Editor’s note: First we made up our own Birmingham Crossrail. Then a reader emailed in his own proposal for Bristol Crossrail. Then came the tram network for Newport.

In today’s game of fantasy metro network, we’re heading north, with a scribbler who wishes to remain anonymous...

I first had the idea of designing a transport system for Edinburgh following a kickabout at Peffermill, the home of the Edinburgh university sports pitches. In an area that I believed to be miles from any kind of railways or stations, I was surprised to see a lone freight train crawling past, just behind the hedges at the far end of the football fields.

On returning home, I did some research to find that this line is known as the ‘Edinburgh Suburban and Southside Railway’, but has been closed to passenger trains since 1962. In its heyday, this line would have been part of a large loop, passing through Edinburgh’s main terminus Waverley. I also discovered that the line was almost reopened to passenger traffic in 2015, but this never materialised.

So this got me thinking: what would an extensive metro/rail system for Edinburgh look like?

Public transport as things stand in Edinburgh is a mixed bag. The Lothian Buses cover an extensive network and are reliable and good value for money, but with Edinburgh suffering from congestion, they can be a slow way to travel, especially in the city centre. Then there are the trams – but this service only really serves the airport, a few out of town business districts, and some western suburbs.


Suburban rail is also lacking – there are only 12 stations in the entirety of Edinburgh. In Glasgow, albeit a bigger city, there are 61 National Rail stations and 15 subway stations.

On the map I have used three ‘modes’– the trams, suburban rail, and the underground lines. The trams are fairly self-explanatory: I’ve just integrated the line on to the map without changing anything. For the suburban rail, I’ve used a mixture of existing lines (used and disused), slightly extending some in a couple of areas. I’ve taken inspiration from the London Overground and Paris RER system; different routes run on the same route in the style of the Overground, whilst like the RER the lines are given different letters from A to E.  In a nutshell, the suburban rail is designed to use lines which already exist or have existed in the past, including reopening some closed down stations.

The major part of this operation was the creation of the underground lines. I basically just grabbed a pencil and connected up major districts of Edinburgh, making sure that places that would require a lot of passenger demand are well connected – for example, Edinburgh Airport, Holyrood, the main business districts and major suburbs such as Leith.

On the subject of Leith, the area used to be served by a large station known as ‘Leith Central’; this closed to passengers in 1952 but the derelict building remained for many years afterwards. A scene in Irvine Welsh’s cult novel Trainspotting, in which Frank Begbie comes across a homeless man in the station who he then realises is his father, takes place here.

Click to expand. Or select Open In New Tab to look at the full sized version.

I’ve played about with Waverley, Edinburgh’s central hub station, as well. The blueprint would basically be one massive interconnected station with overground railway services running out of Waverley, underground trains running out of St James’ underground station, and trams running from York Place as they do in real life.

I have tried to imagine this all being integrated with the St James’ shopping centre redevelopment to create one huge transportation/shopping complex: think the World Trade Center transportation hub in New York. To aid congestion at Waverley, I’ve added in the pink ‘rapid ring’, a small circular line covering the city centre.

Yes, I realise the stations are too densely together for a city like Edinburgh, but I guess that’s the joy of ‘fantasy transport planning’ with no constraints. On that subject, I’d be intrigued if someone can give me an estimate of the cost of building this. Especially considering the Edinburgh tram line alone cost around a billion pounds…

Anonymous, Edinburgh

 

 
 
 
 

The mountain in North Wales that tried to stop the UK’s blackout

Elidir Fawr, the mountain in question. Image: Jem Collins.

Last Friday, the UK’s National Grid turned to mush. Not the official term perhaps, but an accurate one after nearly one million people were left without power across the country, with hundreds more stranded at train stations – or even on trains (which isn’t nearly as fun as it might immediately sound). 

Traffic lights stopped working, back-up power failed in hospitals, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom launched an investigation into exactly what happened. So far though, the long and short of it is that a gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire failed just before 5 o’clock, followed just two minutes later by Hornsea offshore wind farm. 

However, amid the resulting chaos and inevitable search to find someone to blame for the outage, a set of mountains (yes, mountains) in North Wales were working extremely hard to keep the lights on.

From the outside, Elidir Fawr, doesn’t scream power generation. Sitting across from the slightly better known Mount Snowdon, it actually seems quite passive. After all, it is a mountain, and the last slate quarry in the area closed in 1969.

At a push, you’d probably guess the buildings at the base of the mountain were something to do with the area’s industrial past, mostly thanks to the blasting scars on its side, as I did when I first walked past last Saturday. 

But, buried deep into Elidir Fawr is the ability to generate an astounding 1,728 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million homes, more than the entire population of the Liverpool region. And the plant is capable of running for five hours.

Dubbed by locals at the ‘Electric Mountain’, Dinorwig Power Station, is made up of 16km of underground tunnels (complete with their own traffic light system), in an excavation which could easily house St Paul’s Cathedral.

Instead, it’s home to six reversible pumps/turbines which are capable of reaching full capacity in just 16 seconds. Which is probably best, as Londoners would miss the view.

‘A Back-Up Facility for The National Grid’

And, just as it often is, the Electric Mountain was called into action on Friday. A spokesperson for First Hydro Company, which owns the generators at Dinorwig, and the slightly smaller Ffestiniog, both in Snowdonia, confirmed that last Friday they’d been asked to start generating by the National Grid.

But just how does a mountain help to ease the effects of a blackout? Or as it’s more regularly used, when there’s a surge in demand for electricity – most commonly when we all pop the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup, scientifically known as TV pick-up.

The answer lies in the lakes at both the top and bottom of Elidir Fawr. Marchlyn Mawr, at the top of the mountain, houses an incredible 7 million tonnes of water, which can be fed down through the mountain to the lake at the bottom, Llyn Peris, generating electricity as it goes.


“Pumped storage technology enables dynamic response electricity production – ofering a critical back-up facility during periods of mismatched supply and demand on the national grid system,” First Hydro Company explains.

The tech works essentially the same way as conventional hydro power – or if you want to be retro, a spruced up waterwheel. When the plant releases water from the upper reservoir, as well as having gravity on their side (the lakes are half a kilometre apart vertically) the water shafts become smaller and smaller, further ramping up the pressure. 

This, in turn, spins the turbines which are linked to the generators, with valves regulating the water flow. Unlike traditional UK power stations, which can take hours to get to full capacity, at Dinorwig it’s a matter of 16 seconds from a cold start, or as little as five if the plant is on standby.

And, designed with the UK’s 50hz frequency in mind, the generator is also built to shut off quickly and avoid overloading the network. Despite the immense water pressure, the valves are able to close off the supply within just 20 seconds. 

At night, the same thing simply happens in reverse, as low-cost, surplus energy from the grid is used to pump the water back up to where it came from, ready for another day of hectic TV scheduling. Or blackouts, take your pick.

Completed in 1984, the power station was the product of a decade of work, and the largest civil engineering project commissioned at the time – and it remains one of Europe’s largest manmade caverns. Not that you’d know it from the outside. And really, if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that looks can be deceiving, and that mountains can actually be really damn good at making electricity. 

Jem Collins is a digital journalist and editor whose work focuses on human rights, rural stories and careers. She’s the founder and editor of Journo Resources, and you can also find her tweeting @Jem_Collins.