Rail passenger numbers slump at £41 million '˜white elephant'

Edinburgh's new £41 million Gateway rail station has attracted just a third of the expected number of passengers.

The Edinburgh Gateway station at Gogarburn which serves as a link between the trains and trams. Picture: Greg Macvean

The “white elephant” opened at Gogar on the outskirts of the capital last December but is often deserted because it does not connect to the country’s busiest rail services.

It has also emerged that construction costs for the station were originally estimated at £24m but soared to £41m by completion.

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Transport chiefs forecast up to 600,000 passengers a year would use the station, which lies next to the depot for the city’s controversial £1 billion tram line. But figures reveal just 134,655 people have used it in its first eight months.

The passenger shortfall is being blamed on the decision to drop plans to connect the station to the Glasgow-
Edinburgh line.

The site was chosen because it is next to the tram line and would have given SNP minsters a cheap way to create an airport rail link.

Last night former transport minister and Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott criticised the Scottish Government’s transport planning and the station’s cost.

He said: “This is a complete failure of joined-up thinking from the Scottish Government. They pulled the plug on the capital having a dedicated airport rail link that the whole country could have used and left us with a white elephant.

“Thousands of Scots from every point on the compass could have used a proper airport station but instead we now have a vastly over-budget
station with poor connections which nobody uses. And this at a time when the SNP is encouraging more and more use of air travel.”

Scottish Tory transport spokesman Jamie Greene said: “This appears to be another abject failing of Scottish Government planning. It has overestimated a project which is now being underused and the Scottish taxpayer has to foot the bill.”

Plans for the Edinburgh Gateway station were announced by ex-transport minister Stewart Stevenson in 2007 but the final business case was signed off by his 
successor Keith Brown, who is now the economic secretary. The taxpayer also pays for the staff who work at Edinburgh Gateway instead of franchise holder Abellio because running the station – first mooted in 2007 – was not in the 2014 franchise agreement.

Figures released under freedom of information show that, between December 11 last year and July 22, 134,655 passengers used the station. This is an average of 4,207 passengers a week, which if extrapolated over 12 months comes to 218,814, just over a third of the projected annual total.

John Carson, a civil engineer and former director of maintenance at Network Rail, said: “Predictions of 500,000 or 600,000 passengers per year do not compare well with the reality but that should not come as a surprise to those who knew they were hyped in the first place.”

Edinburgh Gateway offers travellers’ services to Fife, Perth, Dundee and Inverness.

The station was also built to link in to Edinburgh’s tram line, which then takes passengers the short distance to the city’s airport.

A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said: “A full year’s worth of data is required before a view can be come to with respect to market demand for the station.”