Edinburgh, Leith and Newhaven Railway

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     Edinburgh, Leith and Newhaven Railway

Schematic map
Locale Scotland
Dates of operation 31 August 1842 – 1986
Successor North British Railway
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
North Leith
Duke of Buccleuch's
harbour tramway
Junction Road (Edinburgh)
Bonnington Goods
Trinity Junction
Caledonian Railway
East Junction
North Junction
Warriston Junction
South Junction
Scotland Street Tunnel
Scotland Street Goods
Leith Walk
Abandoned Scotland Street
tunnel with incline railway
Leith Walk Goods
Canal Street
Edinburgh Waverley
Leith Central
Easter Road
Caledonian Railway
Lochend Junction
East Coast Main Line

The Edinburgh, Leith and Newhaven Railway, which later became the Edinburgh, Leith and Granton Railway, was a railway in Edinburgh. It carried passengers and freight between the city centre and the northern ports. It was Edinburgh's second railway, after the Duke of Buccleuch's Edinburgh and Dalkeith Railway. All of the original route has been dismantled, but part of one of its later connections remains in use for freight.


The Act of Parliament to allow building of the railway received its Royal Assent on 13 August 1836.[1] A further Act of Parliament on 1 July 1839 authorised an extension to Newhaven and abandonment of the Leith portion.[1] A third Act, on 19 July 1844, reconstituted the company as the Edinburgh, Leith and Granton Railway.[1]

Route history[edit]

Map showing Edinburgh railways in 1905
Abbeyhill Station was constructed by the North British. It is now derelict.

The line was originally horse-drawn, and ran from Canonmills (later Scotland Street) to Newhaven (later Trinity), with services beginning on 31 August 1842. As well as carrying passengers and cargo between the port and the city, it gave access to the Trinity Chain Pier at Newhaven which was popular with bathers. On 19 February 1846 the line was extended into the Duke of Buccleuch's recently built harbour at Granton (completed in 1838), and became the Edinburgh, Leith and Granton Railway.[2]

A branch to Leith was opened on 10 May 1846; Citadel station in Leith (formerly North Leith) is one of the remaining structures from the original line. It is now a youth centre.[3][4] An intermediate station was provided at Bonnington, and Junction Road opened in 1869.[5][2]

It was further extended to its city centre terminus at Canal Street in 1847, by the 1,000 yards (910 m) Scotland Street tunnel. This carried the line from Canal Street under Edinburgh's New Town with a peak gradient of 1 in 27, using a stationary engine to haul trains up the slope with an endless rope. Canal Street was later absorbed into Waverley station. It was named after an ornamental canal, proposed to replace the Nor Loch but never built.[6] The tunnel was designed by the renowned civil engineer Thomas Grainger, and its construction supervised by George Buchanan. The difficulties overcome included shifting sand under the New Town, and concerned property owners above ground. The tunnel is just below street level at Scotland Street, but is 49 feet (15 m) below St. Andrew Street and 37 feet (11 m) below Princes Street. At the same time as the tunnel was opened, horse power was abandoned on the rest of the network in favour of steam locomotives.[2]

On 27 July 1847, the company was taken over by the Edinburgh and Northern Railway.[2]

At Granton, the world's first train ferry took goods wagons by boat to Burntisland in Fife. The service commenced on 3 February 1850.[2] Thomas Bouch designed the ferry slip.[7] The ferry was the Leviathan, and was also designed by Thomas Grainger.[8] From Burntisland, Edinburgh and Northern Railway services connected to Perth and Tayport (ferry to Broughty Ferry, for Dundee).[9] It was intended as a temporary measure until the railway could build a bridge, but this, the Forth Railway Bridge, was not opened until 1890, its construction delayed in part by repercussions from the catastrophic failure of Bouch's Tay Rail Bridge.[8] The through train ferry service was withdrawn in 1876, but a passenger ferry continued for many years.

The northern entrance to the tunnel, 2012
Leith Citadel station is now a youth centre

On 29 July 1862 the line was taken over by the North British Railway. In 1868 they connected it to the East Coast Main Line at Piershill and Abbeyhill, allowing the closure of Scotland Street tunnel. Scotland Street station was retained as a goods depot until 1967, with access only from the north. Scotland Street tunnel was used to store wagons, then for commercial mushroom growing (1887-1929), and as an air raid shelter during World War II. It was also used as one of ten emergency control centres for the LNER during the war. In the 1970s, Cochranes Garages used the north end to store vehicles.[10] The southern entrance to the tunnel, long abandoned, was rediscovered in 1983 during the construction of Waverley Market.[11][12] The site of the station, at the northern end of the tunnel, is now a children's play park.

In 1902 the line was extended to Granton Gas Works, and given a connection to the Caledonian Railway network. In 1903 the North British opened a new line into Leith Central railway station. This closed to passengers on 7 April 1952, and final closure after a period as a motive power depot was on 29 April 1972.

The North British Railway was absorbed into the London and North Eastern Railway at the Grouping in 1923, and LNER was in turn absorbed by British Rail in 1948. Passenger services to Granton were discontinued in 1925, and freight in 1986. The last few cargoes were naphtha.

The loop via Piershill and Abbeyhill was retained and used as a diversion for slower trains, and in both 1970 and 1986 a temporary passenger halt at Meadowbank was built for the duration of the Commonwealth Games.[5] It fell into disuse upon electrification of the East Coast Main Line in 1989. As of 2006 track was still in place on the Abbeyhill loop from Piershill Junction to Abbeyhill Junction, but the junction to the main line had been disconnected. The embankment along the shore from Trinity to Granton was removed and landscaped in the 1990s.

Connections to other lines[edit]

The former connection with the East Coast Main Line at Abbeyhill Junction, just east of Waverley Station, photographed in 2006.
  • To the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway (1847 to 1868) at Canal Street (later Waverley), via a very tight 90° curve.
  • To the rest of the North British network at Piershill and Abbeyhill (from 1868).
  • To the Caledonian network at Granton Square. This was one of only two connections between the rival networks in Edinburgh (the other being at Haymarket) until the Caledonian's 1 August 1903 opening of the Leith New Lines from Newhaven to the east end of Leith docks.[13]

Current operations[edit]

A section of the 1868 connecting line, from Powderhall to the East Coast Main Line, is still in use, and is used to carry waste from the waste management plant at Powderhall to a landfill site in East Lothian.



  1. ^ a b c Awdry (1990), p.130
  2. ^ a b c d e "Subterranea Britannica". Subbrit.org.uk. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  3. ^ "Citadel Youth Centre". Citadel Youth Centre. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  4. ^ "Leith Citadel Station, Now Citadel Youth Centre (photos)". Edinphoto. 25 May 2006. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Railscot". Railbrit.co.uk. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  6. ^ Stuart Harris The Place Names of Edinburgh: 16 October 2002 ISBN 1-904246-06-0, quoted at http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/0_P/0_paintings_and_engravings_ebsworth_looking_east.htm
  7. ^ Marshall, John (1989). The Guinness Railway Book. Enfield: Guinness. ISBN 0-85112-359-7
  8. ^ a b Shipway, J.S. (2004). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
  9. ^ "Railscot, Edinburgh and Northern Railway". Railscot.co.uk. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  10. ^ "Subterranea Britannica". Subbrit.org.uk. 20 September 2006. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  11. ^ "Edinburgh - Granton, Edinphoto.org". Edinphoto.org.uk. 2 September 2009. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  12. ^ "Lost Edinburgh: The Scotland Street Tunnel - Lifestyle - The Scotsman". The Scotsman. Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  13. ^ Leith New Lines (Caledonian Railway) at Railscot


External links[edit]