Here’s where Edinburgh could have new railway hub – John McLellan

Edinburgh’s ‘Mr Hogmanay’ Pete Irvine has been getting pats on the back for his assertion that tourists are now making parts of the city “impassable” at peak times, and much of what he said will resonate with Old Town residents.
Waverley is projected to deal with 49 million passengers a year by 2048 (Picture: Ian Georgeson)Waverley is projected to deal with 49 million passengers a year by 2048 (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
Waverley is projected to deal with 49 million passengers a year by 2048 (Picture: Ian Georgeson)

“Over-tourism is a word that has only recently been coined, but those of us who live with it know what over-tourism means,” the Scotland the Best guidebook author told The News. “In Edinburgh’s case, they come to the Royal Mile and sometimes make it impassable. You dread going across town if you have to go that way.”

The man whose company Unique Events built Edinburgh’s Hogmanay from scratch to a global attraction, until losing control to Underbelly in 2017, is certainly well-qualified to observe that, “The phenomenon of over-tourism means that tourist seasons are now extending. It’s no longer just a few months in the summer.”

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Edinburgh’s Hogmanay creator warns city in grip of ‘overtourism’ crisis
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But if it’s too busy now, what about the prediction this week from Network Rail that footfall at Waverley will double to 49 million a year by 2048? Passenger numbers have doubled to 24 million in ten years and another 24 million hardly bears thinking about. Although some will just transfer from one train to another and not leave the station, it’s fair to assume the majority will require some sort of onward road transport.

Although the station has undergone changes in the past decade to open up new platforms and provide better pedestrian access from Market Street and Princes Street, the closure of the ramps to all traffic has improved passenger experience and cut pollution in the concourse, but has created chaos around the Market Street taxi ranks and inconvenienced disabled users.

The upgrades are what was left from a previously defeated remodelling scheme and already heritage groups are sharpening their swords about Network Rail’s latest plan to transform the station to cope with the boom. A new public consultation comes just after the city council published its “City centre transformation” interim report which acknowledges the rail passenger forecast but focuses on the increase in people walking and cycling.

That will be true for some of the extra 30,000 people a day but not all, so how will they move on if the surrounding roads are gridlocked? If the tram is part of the answer then one of the mysteries of the original project was why, when Line 3 was scrapped after the 2005 Congestion Charge Referendum (and how much would that fee have been now had it gone ahead?), was the route not redesigned to connect Waverley?

A better understanding of onward journeys is needed, and Network Rail challenged on its projections, before the city accepts there is no alternative to Waverley for 24 million extra train users. We know from both tourism and business that the city centre is where demand lies, but for businesses does this always need to be so? I’ve argued before that Edinburgh needs a second rail terminus, something it hasn’t had since the Caledonian/Princes Street station closed in 1965, or at least another hub.

More services will be needed at Edinburgh Park if or when the massive Parabola estate of homes and offices gets going, as will better use of the white elephant Edinburgh Gateway station if the council ever gets its act together around West Edinburgh.

In an illuminating conversation with rail expert and retired transport civil servant John Yellowlees, now an honorary rail ambassador for Scotrail’s Dutch parent Abellio, we explored the possibility, however remote, that Cameron Toll could become an interchange with commuter services coming off the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line and down the South Sub.

A better Waverley is an essential part of expanding Edinburgh’s rail services, but it is far from the only way forward and there is a long way to go before Pete Irvine’s “We’re full” signs need to go up.