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

 

 
 
 
 

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.