Waverley Steps: Walk this way for Edinburgh’s new rail gateway

The glass roof will offer some protection from the elements. Picture: Jane Barlow
The glass roof will offer some protection from the elements. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE train may take the strain, but getting to the station has been a daunting struggle for generations of Edinburgh passengers.

The Waverley Steps, the notorious principal entrance to the capital’s railway hub, provided a 72-step nightmare – especially in the wind and rain.

However, weary travellers will heave a sigh of relief on Monday when they are able to glide up to Princes Street on escalators under a glass roof for the first time in 145 years.

The year-long construction is being completed on time, albeit five years after it should have originally been finished because of delays caused by objections to the scheme.

However, station owner Network Rail also warned that the new roof, which is supported by six tree-like pillars, would not remove the steps’ wind-tunnel effect completely.

The Scotsman was given exclusive access yesterday as workers put the finishing touches to the £7 million project.

The first section, between Waverley station and the lower entrance to the Princes Mall shopping centre, will open tomorrow, ahead of the full opening in time for Monday’s morning rush-hour.

The staggered opening is to maintain a link to the mall from the station, while a temporary bridge which currently provides access will be removed at the weekend.

The rebuilt steps have been narrowed to just over half their width, with three banks of adjacent escalators providing a new option for the 40ft ascent.

The steps have been remodelled into eight shorter flights from the previous five, with a central handrail added. Before the refurbishment some 14,000 people a day took the steps – 40 per cent of station users – a figure which is now expected to increase.

In a separate part of the project, to be completed in July, two 16-person lifts will take passengers between the station and mall roof, with a ramp up to Princes Street. The lifts have been re-sited away from the steps following an objection from the Balmoral Hotel over their impact on views of Edinburgh Castle.

A spokeswoman for the hotel said the completed scheme would not restrict views from its rooms or function suites.

She said: “We are pleased that the Waverley Steps are set to re-open, marking the end of a project which will undoubtedly bring improved access to the station for Edinburgh’s visitors and locals.”

The reopening was also applauded by the city council and heritage groups.

Gordon Mackenzie, the council’s transport leader, said: “The completion of the steps is a key milestone in a programme of works that will see Waverley station transformed into a modern facility, whilst still keeping true to its Victorian heritage.

“This long-awaited revamp of the station will keep Edinburgh at the centre of rail travel in the UK for years to come.”

David Simpson, Network Rail’s route managing director for Scotland, said: “The new steps will vastly improve access to the station for passengers, especially less-mobile travellers.

“The refurbishment has delivered a modern gateway to one of the country’s oldest stations which is also sensitive to the heritage and history of the building and those around it.”