Forth Bridge climbs and Edinburgh Waverley station tours: We need to find the money - Alastair Dalton

Behind-the-scenes access to key rail landmarks could inspire Scots and visitors alike

The impending re-opening of the Levenmouth line in Fife after 55 years gives a new optimism and sense of purpose to Scotland’s rail industry.

It comes as Siemens Mobility, one of major players in the sector, provides the country with a major vote of confidence by opening new larger offices in Glasgow. Scotland was slower than the rest of Britain in passenger numbers rebounding after the Covid plunge, and ScotRail’s patronage remains below pre-pandemic levels.

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However, the long-term trend has been upwards, and Levenmouth should help further boost the recovery.

Siemens has decided to invest in Scotland despite still waiting, along with other train builders, for ministers to place long-overdue orders for new fleets to replace ScotRail’s ageing diesels and cut emissions.

It is doing significant work on upgrading signalling, such as the revolutionary scheme at Inverness Airport station, and last week won a new contract to maintain Edinburgh’s tram line, having been part of the original construction team.

The proposed Forth Bridge Experience centre at the south end of the bridge. (Photo by Network Rail Scotland)The proposed Forth Bridge Experience centre at the south end of the bridge. (Photo by Network Rail Scotland)
The proposed Forth Bridge Experience centre at the south end of the bridge. (Photo by Network Rail Scotland) | Network Rail

But as well as greener trains and more reliable infrastructure, Scotland’s railways have potential to attract and inspire not just passengers, but those with an interest in its incredible heritage. And there are many, as Glasgow Central Station’s sell-out and top-rated behind the scenes tours have proved.

One of the icons of Scotland - and I use that term advisedly - is the Forth Bridge, and pretty much since its centenary in 1990 there have been plans for increasing public access, such a viewing platform at the top and Sydney Harbour Bridge-style bridge climbs.

Network Rail has long examined options, and even got as far as winning planning approval for the latter. However, funding appears to have become the stumbling block - although sponsorship could be a potential option.

Having been lucky enough to be taken to the top of the bridge, I can vouch for how thrilling - or in my case, unnerving - an experience it can be. What an amazing visitor attraction that would be for selling Scotland to the world.

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Another opportunity that has been talked up, but appears to have stalled is for Edinburgh Waverley Station to run behind-the-scenes tours like its west coast counterpart.

I had previously been given the impression there were far fewer hidden parts of the station to see than at Glasgow Central. But last year, unprompted, Alex Hynes, then managing director of Scotland’s Railway, enthused to me about its potential.

His vision was that it would not just excite interest in the station’s past, but increase popular good will towards the railways and encourage more train travel - from a huge potential audience, including the millions of people a year who use the complex.

The Levenmouth line countdown clock at Edinburgh Waverley - but the station itself could attract new visitors if behind-the-scenes tours are launched. (Photo by Network Rail Scotland)The Levenmouth line countdown clock at Edinburgh Waverley - but the station itself could attract new visitors if behind-the-scenes tours are launched. (Photo by Network Rail Scotland)
The Levenmouth line countdown clock at Edinburgh Waverley - but the station itself could attract new visitors if behind-the-scenes tours are launched. (Photo by Network Rail Scotland) | Network Rail

And it turns out while Waverley doesn’t have a disused underground platform like Central, it has huge hidden vaults and “secret stairs” from an adjacent hotel.

Scotland already takes the railways to its heart, as Joanne Maguire found when she joined ScotRail two years ago before taking over Mr Hynes’s role at the train operator last month. But these two initiatives are likely to be embraced not only by Scots, but also huge numbers of tourists. Now we just need to find the money to make them happen.

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