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Scottish Parliament Speech: South Edinburgh Suburban Railway (December 2008)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

I thank Gavin Brown for securing this debate on an old, familiar friend, the Edinburgh south suburban railway. I stand before you, Presiding Officer - there are probably some in the public gallery, too - 46 years on, as a former commuter between Morningside Road station and the Royal High School.

Like other members, I wish to make good the folly of the 1960s which, symbolically, started with the closing of the sub in the autumn of 1962 and ended with the closure of the Waverley route in 1969. Incidentally, I think that I can congratulate the Scottish Government on bringing forward the first tranche of works on the Borders line as part of its public works programme. That is an excellent start.

There is a problem with the south suburban, which was vividly impressed on me during my youth. I was rarely in Royal high in time for assembly because our trains would gallop merrily along the south suburban line only until they reached the junction near Murrayfield, where they would stand for 10 minutes while the commuters from Glasgow and Fife, and a magnificent 12-wheel sleeping car that came down from Inverness, were given precedence going into Waverley station. That reminded us that the Edinburgh suburban railway was what I would call a raised pinkie railway. Awful genteel, it was built in the 1880s out to ultra-genteel Morningside at a time when very few Edinburgh workers, who lived in the banana of working-class housing between Gorgie and Abbeyhill, travelled by any means other than Shanks's pony. Indeed, very few of them travelled by tram until the 20th century. Many journeys were, however, made from Colinton, Morningside and Davidson's Mains, with the goals being solicitors' officers or Jenners in the centre of town.

The delays were real, and they got worse - or they would have got worse had the south suburban survived - when trains to and from the west stopped being terminated at Caledonian station and were concentrated instead into the west end of Waverley. Trains have since made the west end of Waverley station almost totally congested.

I have great sympathies for the idea that has been put forward, but I think that another type of terminal facility in Edinburgh is needed. If we are anticipating a threefold increase in general rail travel by about 2020, Waverley station is utterly inadequate. It was inadequate in 1948 when Sir Patrick Abercrombie settled on having a quite new station, which was to be served by an underground line running under the Meadows, at Morrison Street, near Haymarket. I think that that siting still holds good.

Why not think of the suburban railway in the way that the people who planned the new Eurostar terminal at St Pancras thought of the north London line? We could keep the solum but build an underground route to the main area and use the area above for passenger transport purposes. We should be contemplating a solution on that scale. It has been done on the north London line, and it has enabled trains from the continent to run directly into St Pancras station. Only thus could we get the basic capacity that an Edinburgh terminal would need. All wise European countries are doing something of that sort, and they are preparing for railway passenger levels far higher than those that we have now. In Switzerland, Z├╝rich station is now on three levels, has 26 platforms and handles 340,000 passengers a day using nearly 3,000 trains - roughly double the number Waverley serves.

What of the south suburban line? What of trams? One would best leap over the existing lines to the west and terminate the trains along the tramway line, carrying the services on to Princes Street and Waterloo Place. The vehicle of the future, all over Europe, is the tram-train, and the south suburban line services would fit very well as an experimental tram-train in Scotland

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