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

 

 
 
 
 

“A story of incompetence, arrogance, privilege and power”: A brief history of the Garden Bridge

Ewwww. Image: Heatherwick.

Labour assembly member Tom Copley on a an ignominious history.

The publication last week of the final bill for Boris Johnson’s failed Garden Bridge has once again pushed this fiasco into the headlines.

As well as an eye-watering £43m bill for taxpayers for this Johnsonian indulgence, what has been revealed this week is astonishing profligacy by the arms-length vehicle established to deliver it: the Garden Bridge Trust. The line by line account of their spending reveals £161,000 spent on their website and £400,000 on a gala fundraising event, amongst many other eyebrow raising numbers. 

Bear in mind that back in 2012, Johnson promised that the bridge would be entirely privately funded. The bridge’s most ardent advocate, Joanna Lumley, called it a “tiara for the Thames” and “a gift for London”. Today, the project would seem the very opposite of a “gift”.

The London Assembly has been scrutinising this project since its inception, and I now chair a working group tasked with continuing our investigation. We are indebted to the work of local campaigners around Waterloo as well as Will Hurst of the Architects Journal, who has brought many of the scandals surrounding the project into the open, and who was the subject of an extraordinary public attack by Johnson for doing so.

Yet every revelation about this cursed project has thrown up more questions than it has answers, and it’s worth reminding ourselves just how shady and rotten the story of this project has been.

There was Johnson’s £10,000 taxpayer funded trip to San Francisco to drum up sponsorship for the Thomas Heatherwick garden bridge design, despite the fact that TfL had not at that point even tendered for a designer for the project.

The design contest itself was a sham, with one of the two other architects TfL begged to enter in an attempt to create the illusion of due process later saying they felt “used”. Heatherwick Studios was awarded the contract and made a total of £2.7m from taxpayers from the failed project.


Soon after the bridge’s engineering contract had been awarded to Arup, it was announced that TfL’s then managing director of planning, Richard de Cani, was departing TfL for a new job – at Arup. He continued to make key decisions relating to the project while working his notice period, a flagrant conflict of interest that wouldn’t have been allowed in the civil service. Arup received more than £13m of taxpayer cash from the failed project.

The tendering process attracted such concern that the then Transport Commissioner, Peter Hendy, ordered an internal audit of it. The resulting report was a whitewash, and a far more critical earlier draft was leaked to the London Assembly.

As concerns about the project grew, so did the interventions by the bridge’s powerful advocates to keep it on track. Boris Johnson signed a mayoral direction which watered down the conditions the Garden Bridge Trust had to meet in order to gain access to further public money, exposing taxpayers to further risk. When he was hauled in front of the London Assembly to explain this decision, after blustering for while he finally told me that he couldn’t remember.

David Cameron overruled the advice of senior civil servants in order to extend the project’s government credit line. And George Osborne was at one point even more keen on the Garden Bridge than Johnson himself. The then chancellor was criticised by the National Audit Office for bypassing usual channels in order to commit funding to it. Strangely, none of the project’s travails have made it onto the pages of the London Evening Standard, a paper he now edits. Nor did they under his predecessor Sarah Sands, now editor of the Today Programme, another firm advocate for the Garden Bridge.

By 2016 the project appeared to be in real trouble. Yet the Garden Bridge Trust ploughed ahead in the face of mounting risks. In February 2016, despite having not secured the land on the south bank to actually build the bridge on, nor satisfied all their planning consents, the Trust signed an engineering contract. That decision alone has cost the taxpayer £21m.

Minutes of the Trust’s board meetings that I secured from TfL (after much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Trust itself) reveal that weeks beforehand Thomas Heatherwick had urged the trustees to sign the contract in order to demonstrate “momentum”.

Meanwhile TfL, which was represented at board meetings by Richard de Cani and so should’ve been well aware of the mounting risks to the project, astonishingly failed to act in interests of taxpayers by shutting the project down.

Indeed, TfL allowed further public money to be released for the project despite the Trust not having satisfied at least two of the six conditions that had been set by TfL in order to protect the public purse. The decision to approve funding was personally approved by Transport Commissioner Mike Brown, who has never provided an adequate explanation for his decision.

The story of the Garden Bridge project is one of incompetence, arrogance and recklessness, but also of privilege and power. This was “the great and the good” trying to rig the system to force upon London a plaything for themselves wrapped up as a gift.

The London Assembly is determined to hold those responsible to account, and we will particularly focus on TfL’s role in this mess. However, this is not just a London issue, but a national scandal. There is a growing case for a Parliamentary inquiry into the project, and I would urge the Public Accounts Committee to launch an investigation. 

The Garden Bridge may seem like small beer compared to Brexit. But there is a common thread: Boris Johnson. It should appal and outrage us that this man is still being talked about as a potential future Prime Minister. His most expensive vanity project, now dead in the water, perhaps serves as an unwelcome prophecy for what may be to come should he ever enter Number 10.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.