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Railway Reintroduction One Step Closer

The multi-million pound reintroduction of the Penicuik railway line came a step closer this week after it was announced that a preliminary feasibility study had been completed.

A Midlothian Council commissioned survey into the costs of delivering a railway line, connecting Penicuik to Edinburgh, has been compiled by postgraduate students at Heriot Watt University.

The in depth report into the costs of reopening the Penicuik railway line is expected to put the cost of reintroduction at £150m. However multiple heavy rail options, and their associate costings, have been considered by the students, likely including the complete reopening of the old Penicuik to Edinburgh Waverley line, along with a partial reintroduction using the Loanhead railway line. Other options could include a connection to the new Border’s Railway or a northern route via Bush into the new housing developments in the north west of Penicuik.

Now over fifty years since Dr Richard Beeching’s report axed the Penicuik railway line, our town remains the largest in Scotland which is not served by a railway line. A return is all but guaranteed though, as the feasibility study will likely show that the line would struggle to break even unless a competitive service could run alongside the town’s regular bus service.

A Midlothian Council spokesman said:

We have two very lengthy reports by final year engineering students about the feasibility of reinstating the Penicuik railway line. We received these a few weeks ago and our officers will now be examining these with a view of taking a report to council on issues raised later this year. It will then be a matter for councillors to decide how and if they want to proceed.

The reports will focus solely on heavy rail options, and should they be discounted, councillors may choose to investigate the introduction of a light rail option, which could include a connection to the Edinburgh tram line. In a 2003 Edinburgh Council report, they investigated whether a tram line to Penicuik would be beneficial, however they did not see a situation where the use would outweigh the cost.

Midlothian Council’s cabinet will have their say on the findings later this year.

Analysis: What are the options?

Red Route – Former Rail Line

This is the route which was removed as part of Dr Beeching’s reports into the railways in the 1960’s. It is believed to be the main focus of the feasibility study however the ease in reintroducing a line using the old trackbed is unknown. Whilst a lot of the original route remains untouched, housing has been built in places, Dalmore Mill in Auchendinny is one example. These new housing developments would either to be avoided or compulsory purchased. Avoided would prove difficult, especially at Auchendinny as the route is unable to go elsewhere but compulsory purchase would have a detrimental effect on house builders’ willingness to develop in the area. In our view: Likelihood: 3/5

Green Route – Via Bush and Loanhead

This is a speculative route, we are not aware whether it has been considered however we think it is definitely worth looking at. The green route on the map above starts from brownfield land north of Penicuik which is set to be home to new housing developments within fifteen years. With this in mind, a new station here could tap into a larger market than one which reaches Pomathorn (red route), which is out with the town’s boundary. Travelling via Bush, the line would also benefit from commuting students and business people and tapping into Loanhead would also prove lucrative. Pitfalls include the noise from the trains, however if a light rail or tram line were considered instead, the noise would be barely noticeable. Perhaps a european style tram/train could be used? Likelihood: 3.5/5

Orange Route – Via Bush, Bilston and Straiton

Yet again this is a speculative route but we think it is worthy of inclusion. Also starting from the new housing development land in North-West Penicuik, this route would also benefit from serving the Bush science park. The benefit from Bilston would be minimal however it could be tied in with the new Taylor Wimpey development. Stopping at Straiton would prove to be very lucrative for the council if their plans for a “Gateway Devlopment” including new housing, retail and leisure developments gets the go ahead as part of the A701 realignment. A Park and Ride facility connecting both rail and bus networks would likely be created from the existing facility. Loanhead residents would also benefit from the proximity of the station. Problems arise when looking at how the line would then connect to the former Loanhead railway line. The line would need to cross onto the other side of the A720 City Bypass. Unfortunately there is a large electricity substation which would hamper an easy crossing. The line would need to swing wide to the West to cross under (or over) on vacant land. It would then be required to avoid the substation and cross the A701. Alternatively the line could tunnel under the roundabouts at Straiton however this would all prove to be very costly and the line may struggle to be viable. Despite this we say: Likelihood: 4/5

Blue Route – Via Roslin and Loanhead

Our final speculative route is one which does not serve Bush. This would lose a lot of income and is unlikely to be viable however it would serve Auchendinny, Roslin and Loanhead. Auchendinny and Roslin will see large housing developments within the next ten years. The route would be relatively easy to construct as it passes over mainly farmland and would then connect to the still vacant Loanhead railway line. Due to the low cost of this route it has been included in our analysis. Likelihood: 2/5

Purple Route – Tram Line via A701

This route has not been considered as the report was solely on heavy rail options however it will likely be considered in follow up investigations. This would be a southern extension to the Edinburgh Tram Line. It would largely follow the A701 however in places it would be required to cross into farmland due to the width of the roads in Penicuik. Whilst our map shows the route ending in the town centre, it would be easier to allow the route to go via the orange route after following the A701 southbound to Straiton. It would be close to impossible to get the tram line into the centre of Penicuik. Future Likelihood: 3/5

Other options could include the route heading east instead of north to connect to the Border’s Railway line. This however would be a long way for a shortcut and would not be viable. A line could also head west and connect at Haymarket instead of Waverly, however we are unsure how this wold be achieved unless the route could connect to the old circular Edinburgh sub-urban line at Newington or Morningside.

What’s you view? Would you welcome a reintroduction or do you think that the idea is just another white elephant? Let us know in our poll below and comment your views in the box at the bottom of the page.

What’s you view? Would you welcome a reintroduction or do you think that the idea is just another white elephant? Let us know in our poll below and comment your views in the box at the bottom of the page.

[Image © Leslie Barrie, a train on the old railway line near Auchendinny]