Waverley welcomes stairway from heaven

THE £150 million revamp of Edinburgh’s main railway station has entered a new phase with the arrival of the first section of an escalator for the Waverley Steps which will allow passengers to travel from the concourse up to a new exit to Princes Street.

The new escalator, to be operational before Christmas, will be covered by a glass canopy and as a result the days of visitors to the city battling with the “wind tunnel” effect of the steps will be a thing of the past.

The refurbishment, which also includes two new 16-person glass lifts to Princes Street, replacing 28,000 Victorian glass roof panels with clear glass to flood the station with natural light and upgrading the entrance on Market Street, is due to be completed by early 2013.

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Gary Cunningham, scheme project manager for Network Rail’s Waverley Renewal Project, funded by the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency, said a major overhaul of the station had been long overdue.

“Waverley station is one of Scotland’s major stations but it lacked an iconic entrance,” he said. Passengers, especially those with heavy luggage, or mothers with prams, faced quite a trek up the steps to get to Princes Street. The idea of having an escalator for the steps was first talked about in 1923 but really took off in the past 20 years.

“The new escalator will solve that problem. It will lead up to a specially-designed entrance flanked by two stone pillars to match the sandstone of the adjacent Balmoral Hotel.

“We intend commissioning an artist to make gates for the entrance.”

Mr Cunningham said a massive 500-tonne crane, specially hired for its 65-metre reach, had lifted the eight-tonne “up and down” escalators into the steep valley between the Balmoral Hotel and Princes Mall at the weekend, with the remaining two sections due to be delivered in October.

The Market Street entrance will close in January 2012 for refurbishment and is rescheduled to reopen by July 2012.

A spokeswoman for Historic Scotland said: “The steps are part of the major reconstruction works to the station, which is A-listed for its architectural and historic interest.

“They have, over the past hundred or so years, been documented as a distinctive landmark in Edinburgh – even appearing in commemorate postcards for the city. We have been involved to strike the balance between maintaining the historic access with the introduction of a new escalator, steps and lift system.”