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£56M to Reconnect Penicuik to Rail Network

The Penicuik Cuckoo can finally reveal details of a £50,000 study into resurrecting the town’s railway line, following years of negotiations to make the documents public.

Penicuik remains one of Scotland’s largest towns not to be served by a rail network but new reports made available to us, show that we could once again be served by a railway line, should the council choose to act on their received guidance.

It is the so called “Borders Railway Effect”. Following the reopening of the former Edinburgh Waverley to Tweedbank line last year, hopes have been raised across the country that towns once frequented by trains may again be connected to the grid. Today, Penicuik is one such town. Costings have now been undertaken on four detailed routes between the town and Edinburgh City Centre, along with additional studies on tens of other options.

Structural Engineering Students at Heriot Watt University agreed to work with Midlothian Council in 2013 and produce feasibility studies into the reinstatement of the Penicuik Spur. These reports were completed by the following Summer. The students completed two stages of the eight stage industry standard GRIP (Governance for Railway Investment Projects) process; GRIP 2 and 3.

GRIP Stage 2 looks at a diverse selection or routes, regardless of their feasibility, and then narrows the selection down to three for further studies, including cost and detailed design. The stage two report, made available, suggests ten routes but comes to the conclusion that a route north to Fairmilehead, the old Valleyfield to Rosewell route and an eastward route to Gorebridge should be investigated further. Both of the latter would have to connect to the new Borders Railway and could face capacity problems however the Fairmilehead option would connect to the Edinburgh Southern suburban line, which is currently only used for freight. This option would also have the freedom of coming into the north of Penicuik and perhaps serving Bush and other neighbouring towns.

However, the GRIP Stage 3 report is by a different author, this being a University project after all, and does not make the same conclusions, instead selecting the old Pomathorn to Bonnyrigg and Eskbank line rather than the northern option. It also acknowledges the possibility of reopening the Auchendinny line but at a total cost of £62M it is deemed to have a net negative impact on society.

The report states:

The primary advantages of Route 1 are the fact that it is a historic route, and as such there is a high degree of certainty that there will be few problems in re-opening the line. The route also passes through the centre of Bonnyrigg and Lasswade, and although this causes some concerns, including noise, it provides a central station which is easy for the commuters to travel to.

For the majority of Penicuik this route, costing £56,207,190 and taking two years to construct, would be unreachable by foot. A new station in the approximate vicinity of Pomathorn Mill would be fifty minutes walking distance from the north of the town. It would only serve as a viable alternative to the current commuting options is there was a fast and regular bus service or a large park and ride facility. Even then, with a journey time of 28 minutes to Edinburgh Waverley, it may struggle to beat express bus services. Should congestion prevail on the roads, the train journey would be considerably faster than the bus.

Another option considered would be to create a five storey station in the valley behind Kirkhill Road, allowing a railway to run along the current path to Auchendinny where it would diverge and head northwards to Loanhead. It could then cross the A701 and have station to the north of the Park and Ride or it could continue north to the east of ASDA with a station to the east of Sainsbury’s Straiton. Both would use a current crossing across the City Bypass to lower costs. These options would have the added benefit of serving Loanhead and Straiton but would have less of a benefit over sixty years; neither project would recoup their costs within that period.

Whilst these reports have now presented their findings to Midlothian Council, the administration has made it clear that there is no funding available to pursue the matter further, apart from the upcoming South East of Scotland City Deal. Their Local Development Plan states:

The potential to serve Penicuik by rail has been reviewed. Whilst Initial studies have identified some options for further investigation, the project will not be deliverable within the plan period. [up until 2025]

Instead the council are focusing on delivering an A701 bypass. This could cost significantly less at between £7M and £14M but it too has no funding in place and according to documents released as part of the ongoing Pentland Studios appeal, the project is not included within proposals for the City Deal. Concerns also remain about this route actually alleviating traffic, or whether capacity will again be reached.

Read our full analysis of the reports here.

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