Edinburgh’s Haymarket station has long been eclipsed by its larger neighbours, but a £25m revamp will see it become a major asset once more writes Alastair Dalton
IT WAS the epicentre of a social revolution in Victorian Edinburgh. In 1842, the opening of Haymarket station provided an unprecedented high-speed gateway to the rest of Scotland: the terminus of the first railway line to Glasgow. But just four years later, the station lost its pre-eminence when the line was extended to what is now Waverley, and a century after it was built, it became dingy and run-down.
However, Haymarket is about to be put back on the map with the launch of the biggest overhaul in its 170- year history, to transform it into a major transport interchange that will be largely complete by late next year.
This will provide an important train-tram link from 2014, with the expansion also coping with passenger growth expected to be fuelled by new electric trains two years later – providing more services and cutting Edinburgh to Glasgow journey times from 50 to 35 minutes.
The work will get under way next month, at a time when the surrounding area already looks like a building site, with serious traffic disruption caused by tramworks on the surrounding streets.
The £25 million scheme will refocus the station on its original site, behind the imposing main building where the first trains arrived and departed. This has latterly been a car park. It will feature a large new concourse north of the current platforms, to be linked by escalators and lifts west of the current footbridge and staircases, which will be removed.
In the 19th century, Haymarket opened up a new realm of travelling opportunities. The Glasgow line was Scotland’s first inter-city route, with its two-and-a-quarter hour journey time a fraction of that by horse-drawn coach or canal barge.
The line came two decades after rail enthusiast Charles Maclaren, the joint founder and editor of The Scotsman, presciently forecast networks across Europe.
Railway historian John Thomas wrote: “The opening began a new era in the social history of the two cities. For the first time, citizens could exchange visits with ease and convenience.
“They journeyed in their thousands to see the places that hitherto had only been names to them. Hundreds of excursionists from Edinburgh were introduced to the magic of the Firth of Clyde and Burns Country.”
Passenger numbers soared far beyond expectations, with nearly double the expected 340,000 annual travellers by 1844. They had topped 1 million by the time the line was extended east. However, they were not entirely comfortable journeys: while first class passengers were conveyed in “elegant coupe carriages”, those in second class faced the chill of unglazed windows, while third class stood in open trucks.
The station building, with its Doric porticos, was a marvel itself, according to contemporary guidebooks. One referred to a “splendid and imposing structure with a handsome colonnade in front.” Passengers descended stairs to a “departure parade” within a “beautiful and commodious” cast iron train shed.
Outside, the station became the capital’s travel hub, with “omnibuses drawn up for all parts of the town and Leith”. Haymarket became the headquarters of the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway Company, and its upstairs boardroom is still in use as the station manager’s office. The building is one of the oldest in Britain in continuous railway use.
However, the change in travel patterns brought by the railway triggered furious opposition from the Church over Sunday trains, which led to them being scrapped. Glasgow ministers had threatened passengers with excommunication, and the first Sunday arrivals at Haymarket were welcomed with a fire-and-brimstone sermon on the platform.
However, after such opening hullaballoo, Haymarket was soon overshadowed by bigger and more central stations appearing in the capital.
The company extended the line in 1846 to General station – later to be amalgamated with two other adjacent stations operated by other companies to form Waverley.
At Haymarket, new platforms were built south of the main building, ending in tunnels to the east. Meanwhile, the Caledonian Railway built a line into Edinburgh in 1870 along what is now the Western Approach Road, with its Princes Street station terminus behind the Caledonian Hotel also bringing passengers from the west. With Haymarket losing its crown, the rot set in.
Author WC Acworth observed in the 1890s that the station “had remained untouched except for the platforms – it may have been painted, but it shows no signs of it”.
Edinburgh-based rail historian Alexander Mullay added: “Unfortunately, this impression was still prevalent for nearly another 100 years.”
One railman recalls: “Haymarket station was dark and dingy, with a traditional valanced canopy which seemed never to have been painted.”
Another says: “It was a very drab station in the 1960s and 1970s because it was overdue for repainting. There had been proposals for a planning development in the area that would have involved new buildings at the station site, so British Rail cancelled the repainting in the belief that demolition would happen soon.”
Mullay wrote in 1991: “The ‘business’ end of the station has always been functional to the point of depressing austerity, although not so bad now as in the days of steam.” However, he said, modernisation in the 1980s and the addition of a buffet had helped.
The station is now only the eighth busiest in Scotland, with 1.9m passengers last year compared to more than 19m at Waverley, according to official Office of Rail Regulation figures. Network Rail, which owns the station and calculates the total differently, put it at 4.1m.
The station’s original train shed was demolished by British Rail in 1982, but saved to become part of the Scottish Railway Preservation Society’s station at Bo’ness in West Lothian.
The station is now set to return to its past glory, to become a key train, tram and bus interchange, especially for airport passengers.
Edinburgh airport managing director Jim O’Sullivan says that direct access by rail and tram will massively expand its catchment area, as far as north-west England and to beyond Dundee.
The station redevelopment was approved last year by the city council in the face of claims the development would be an eyesore.
Network Rail has pledged to complete the work without disrupting passengers. Little work will happen outside the station, with the main project largely separate from areas used by passengers. However, the firm says construction will continue at night because of the need to lift materials into place when the station is closed, with noise likely from generators.
A spokesman said: “The current station layout is cramped and overcrowded and passenger numbers are expected to more than double in the next 15 years.
“Our works have planned to minimise impact on both passengers and residents. The existing station will be fully operational throughout while the new facility is built alongside it. There will be some night-time works, and some disturbance as a result, but this will be kept to a minimum.
“We have recently delivered major works at Edinburgh Waverley and Glasgow Central without significant inconvenience to the public and are confident we can deliver Haymarket in a similarly sensitive way.”
1842 Haymarket Station opens.
1844 660,000 passengers use the Haymarket-Glasgow Queen Street line.
1845 Passengers numbers up to 877,000.
1846 Passenger numbers reach 1.02 million. Line extended east to General station (now Waverley).
1870 Rival Caledonian Railway opens Princes Street station.
1890s Haymarket’s platforms extended to five.
1924 Two trains collide at station, killing five people.
1965 Princes Street station closed, with trains rerouted through Haymarket.
1982 Original train shed removed.
1984 Station refurbished as first purpose-built, barrier-less station.
2004 Automatic ticket gates introduced.
May 2012 Station redevelopment starts
Late 2013 Major work complete
April 2014 Project complete
Summer 2014 Trams due to start serving station with opening of Edinburgh airport-York Place line
2016 More and faster trains with electrification of Edinburgh-Glasgow/Dunblane/Alloa lines