Edinburgh Suburban and Southside Junction Railway

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Edinburgh Suburban and Southside Junction Railway
System National Rail
Status Open
Locale Edinburgh, Scotland
Termini Edinburgh Waverley (loop)
Opening 31 October 1884
Closed 10 September 1962
(to local passenger services)
Owner Network Rail
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)

The Edinburgh Suburban and South Side Junction Railway (also known as the Edinburgh South Suburban Railway or in Edinburgh simply the Suburban Line) is a freight and former commuter railway which runs in a loop for 14 miles across the southern suburbs of Edinburgh, Scotland. It opened in 1884 for both freight and passenger services. Passenger services were withdrawn in September 1962.

A proposal has been put forward by a campaigning group for the line to be re-opened to passenger transport.


Edinburgh Suburban and Southside Junction Railway
East Coast Main Line
Portobello (E&DR)
Portobello East Junction
Niddrie South Junction
East Coast Main Line
Waverley Line
Innocent Railway
& Craigmillar
Blackford Hill
Haymarket Tunnel
Morningside Road
East Junction
Myreside Aqueduct
(Union Canal)
Gorgie East
Craiglockhart Junction
Slateford Junction
Caledonian Main Line

The construction of the suburban line was formally proposed in the Edinburgh Suburban and Southside Junction Railway Act of Parliament, dated 26 August 1880, as a mechanism to relieve the congested main line - running between Portobello and Haymarket - of freight traffic.[1]

The Act described the route of the suburban line as:

"Six miles 1507 yards, approximately, from a junction with the N.B.R. (E & G Section) at…the bridge carrying the Caledonian Railway Granton and Leith branches over the N.B. at Haymarket, and terminating at a junction with the N.B.R. some 200 yards south east of... Portobello Station".[2]


Sir Thomas Bouch, designer of the Tay Bridge, surveyed and planned the original route of the suburban line but following the bridge's collapse in 1879 and his death in 1881, the engineering responsibility was transferred to George Trimble of Trimble and Peddie Ltd.[3]


Construction of the suburban line, conducted primarily by contractors John Waddell and Sons, began in August 1881 and continued for a period of three years. MacLean argues that despite: “the normal high cost of suburban land, the actual cost of the line was low.”[4] In 1882, however, the Merchant Company of Edinburgh (governors of George Watson’s Hospital) presented the North British Railway with a claim for £23,368.10/-, to cover the capital cost of land upon which the suburban line was to be built and the incurred construction costs of new drainage systems, two bridges, and the erection of fencing.


Newington Station (disused)
A 1905 Railway Clearing House diagram of Edinburgh railways, with the SSJR (in blue along the bottom)

The suburban line, which was opened to freight transport on 31 October 1884 and to passenger traffic on 1 December 1884, included stations at Gorgie East (renamed from Gorgie), Craiglockhart (opened in 1887), Morningside Road (previously called Morningside), Blackford Hill, Newington, and Duddingston & Craigmillar (previously Duddingston). Stations at Portobello, Piershill, Abbeyhill, Waverley, and Haymarket although not lying on the suburban line were considered part of its 14-mile circular route.[5]


The operators of the suburban line were dubious as to the appeal of passenger services. In a letter to the Board of Trade in London, dated 25 October 1884, the company stated:

"Keeping in mind that the primary objective of the suburban railway was to relieve the main lines between Haymarket West and Portobello of all through goods... it will be many years until suburban passenger traffic be at all considerable."

When the half-hourly passenger services began, however, they were well patronised; several hundred journeys were made on the first day of operation.[1]

Incorporation into the North British Railway[edit]

The Edinburgh Suburban and Southside Junction Railway Company, whose £225,000 founding capital was raised by the selling of 22,500 £10 shares, was legally incorporated into the North British Railway on 1 March 1885.[6]

Original route and stations of the line[edit]


Function of the line[edit]

Freight traffic[edit]

Freight train leaving a spur from the South Suburban loop to join the main Edinburgh-Carstairs line at Slateford
Freight train at Slateford being diverted to the South Suburban loop so as to by-pass the main line for passenger traffic

Although the nature of goods traffic on the suburban line has changed since its inception in 1884, freight transport has remained its mainstay. The circuitous route of the suburban line reflects not only settlement patterns and topography but also the location of mining and industry at the time of its construction. The suburban line intersected at its eastern extent the Niddrie yards, which, during the late-nineteenth century, was an important marshalling point for locally produced coal, particularly from the Woolmet colliery.[7] Coal was, consequently, among the most prevalent of goods transported on the suburban line at that time. Goods and mineral traffic were handled at Gorgie, Morningside Road, Newington, and Duddingston, where sidings were constructed to service local industry, including breweries at Duddingston and Gorgie.[8]

Today the suburban line remains heavily used for freight, transporting a wide array of goods: cement, chemicals, oil, vehicles, and - on occasion - nuclear waste.[9] The introduction of diesel locomotives during the 1950s, combined with the discontinuation of passenger services in 1962, allowed a greater frequency of goods traffic. Network Rail currently licences sixty-one freight train journeys daily on the suburban line: thirteen between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., thirteen between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., nine between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., twelve between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., six between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., and eight between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. The continuing success of the suburban line as a transporter of large-scale freight suggests that whilst road-freight transport is significant, it is – for specific tasks – unable to match the speed and carrying capacity of rail-freight transport.

Passenger traffic[edit]

Passenger services on the suburban line, by contrast, faced varied competition in the forms of horse-drawn, cable drawn, and electrically driven trams, motorised buses, and later the private car. Edinburgh’s first tram – horse-powered – began operation on 6 November 1871, and ran between Haymarket and Leith.[10] The following year saw the establishment of the circle route, which ran via Marchmont and Church Hill to the West End of Princes Street; the fare was one penny, or two pence for a return. Contemporary with the opening of passenger services on the suburban line was the introduction of cable car trams; these employed a wire-rope cable within the road to pull the tram along its route.[10] By the turn of the twentieth century, Edinburgh’s cable car system had increased to include 200 cars, servicing 25 route-miles of track.

Competition from tram and bus services[edit]

The initial service was an hourly regular interval circular service running through Waverley. When Leith Central station opened in 1903, it became the terminus of the South Side Suburban service, with inner circle trains running west through Waverley and outer circle trains east through Portobello. The hourly regular interval pattern continued in 1910.

The competition from tram and bus services was accentuated when Edinburgh’s trams were converted from cable cars to electric operation in 1922-23. John Thomas, “A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain – Vol VI, Scotland: the Lowlands and the Borders,” 1971, explains: “When the Edinburgh tramway system was electrified in 1922 it proved a formidable rival to the inner suburban lines, just at a time when the new buses were attacking the outer suburban services. At first only a few less prosperous stations were closed, but in time whole services began to disappear from the timetable” (page 250). DLG Hunter, in “Edinburgh’s Transport,” 1964, equally outlines the impact of tram and bus competition and decline of local rail services in and around Edinburgh starting by 1930. The 1938 timetable exemplifies the regular interval timetable breaking down, e.g. with a 2-hour gap on the inner circle and a 3-hour gap on the outer circle during the morning and no trains after early evening.

The South Side line was used heavily by freight trains, and there was a significant increase in freight traffic in the Edinburgh area during the war which lasted well into the 1950s. DLG Hunter says that “in many cases” the post(Second World)-war local rail service in and around Edinburgh “became a purely business-hours one”. That very sharply applied to the circuitous south side line, and is illustrated by the 1957-58 timetable, at the end of operation wholly by steam trains, when there were 10 services on the inner circle Mondays-Fridays (3 morning peak, 3 lunchtime, 4 evening peak), 8 on the outer circle (4 morning peak, 3 lunchtime, 1 evening peak), (Saturdays 3 in morning peak, 2 lunchtime, on inner circle, 4 morning peak, 3 lunchtime, on outer circle). Thus there was no off-peak service, and no service on Saturdays after lunchtime.


Diesel multiple-units replaced steam trains in 1958, part of the introduction of diesel trains first on North Berwick, Galashiels via Peebles, and then on other local services around Edinburgh – as was happening elsewhere on BR. That did not mean faster journeys. For example, the journey time allowed from Morningside via Haymarket to Waverley was 11-12 minutes in 1958, at the end of steam operation, and normally 13 minutes with diesel operation, as in 1960-61.

When diesel trains were introduced in 1958-59 to the Musselburgh, Corstorphine, Rosewell and Edinburgh south side circle services, BR introduced a wider spread of operation over the day on these lines in a last effort to stimulate some additional traffic, except on the south side circle - which must have reflected an expectation that there was nothing to gain from that. As the 1960-61 timetable illustrates, there was only a moderately increased service within the same limited times of operation: Mondays-Fridays 19 on inner circle (7 morning peak, 6 lunchtime, 6 evening peak), 15 on outer circle (6 morning peak, 4 lunchtime, 3 evening peak) and Saturdays 7 on inner circle (4 morning peak, 3 lunchtime) and 8 on outer circle (6 morning peak, 2 lunchtime).

There was minimal increase, if any, in passenger journeys and revenues on the line as a result of dieselisation.

Part of the justification for dieselisation was the reduction of movement costs. In the event the savings were insufficient and when the services were withdrawn after a few years the diesel units were redeployed on other services.

Withdrawal of passenger service[edit]

On 29 January 1962, the Edinburgh Corporation Transport Committee met to discuss a request made by British Railways to withdraw passenger services from the suburban line. The text records:

"British Railways proposed to make a saving of £56,885 per annum with the withdrawal of the circle and the Rosewell to Hawthornden branch. The Assistant General Manager argued that reducing the frequency of service would not result in a saving unless the stock and crew could be used on journeys elsewhere in the intervals."[11]

The measure was approved with a concluding remark from Councillor Bailie McLaughlin noting: "the desirability of ensuring that the line would be retained against the possibility the increasing congestion of road traffic might make its renewed use for passenger services necessary and practicable at some future date."[12]

On 10 September 1962, the suburban line was closed to local passenger services and, consequently, the stations at Gorgie, Craiglockhart, Morningside, Blackford Hill, Newington, and Duddingston were closed. Portobello, Abbeyhill, and Piershill stations closed in 1964. Occasional long distance passenger services still operate - mainly to and from the Caledonian Railway Main Line when direct access into Edinburgh Waverley via Haymarket is not possible or desirable.

Campaign for re-opening[edit]

The line at Duddingston Road West, Craigmillar

In 2003-4 the advocacy groups Transform Scotland and the Capital Rail Action Group (CRAG) put forward proposals for re-opening the South Suburban line to passenger rail services, suggesting three possible options:[13]

  • re-opening the full circular route as a commuter rail service. To address congestion issues along the Haymarket-Waverley rail corridor, the group proposed a further alternative of running the line with tram-train rolling stock; these vehicles could switch to street-running mode as part of the Edinburgh Trams network. The tram option would require the electrification of the line.
  • creating a "Crossrail 2" service, in which existing North Berwick-Edinburgh trains would run through to Haymarket and then round the South Suburban line to Newcraighall;
  • reconfiguring the existing Edinburgh Crossrail service from Newcraighall so that after Haymarket, instead of running west to Bathgate, Dunblane or Fife, trains would loop back along the South Suburban line to Newcraighall.

Campaigners also suggested the construction of new stations at Cameron Toll, Niddrie and Fort Kinnaird, but omitted the Piershill and Abbeyhill stations from their plans.[13] The proposals were considered by the City of Edinburgh Council in 2004, and the council indicated a preference for a North Berwick-Niddrie service (Crossrail 2 option).[14]

Campaigners submitted an online petition about their proposals to the Scottish Parliament, raising 1923 signatures.[15] The Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee noted that the re-opening the line would not require parliamentary consent as the line itself is still operational, and that there would be the minimal infrastructural work required (no additional tunnelling work or level crossings would be needed) indicated that the re-opening costs would be relatively low.[16] After further consultation with the City of Edinburgh Council and the South East of Scotland Transport Partnership (SEStran), it was concluded that reopening the line would not be cost effective, nor in line with Scottish Governmental priorities.[17]

In January 2013, Network Rail announced that it was intending to electrify the line in the next control period (2014-19) at a cost of £27million. [18]



  1. ^ a b (MacLean, 1991)
  2. ^ (MacLean, 1991, p 67)
  3. ^ (Mullay, 1996)
  4. ^ MacLean (1991, p 68)
  5. ^ (Mullay, 1996, p 286)
  6. ^ (MacLean, 1991, p 69)
  7. ^ (Mullay, 1991, p 114)
  8. ^ (Mullay, 1991, p 115)
  9. ^ (Mullay, 1991, p 123)
  10. ^ a b (Mullay, 1996, p 348)
  11. ^ (Transportation Committee, 1962, p 1)
  12. ^ (Transportation Committee, 1962, p 2)
  13. ^ a b "Reopening the South Sub" (PDF). Transform Scotland. March 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 8 January 2010. 
  14. ^ "Review and Options Analysis of Edinburgh South Suburban Railway - Final Report" (PDF). City of Edinburgh Council. March 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 June 2006. Retrieved 8 January 2010. 
  15. ^ Marshall, Lawrence (2 April 2007). "Edinburgh South Suburban Railway". The Scottish Parliament - Public Petitions Committee: e-Petitions. Retrieved 8 January 2010. 
  16. ^ "Public Petitions Committee Official Report". Scottish Parliament. 6 November 2007. Retrieved 8 January 2010. 
  17. ^ "Public Petitions Committee Official Report". Scottish Parliament. 27 January 2009. Retrieved 8 January 2010. 
  18. ^ http://www.networkrailmediacentre.co.uk/News-Releases/Network-Rail-sets-out-response-to-challenges-of-Scotland-s-growing-railway-1c71.aspx


  • MacLean, A (1991). A History of the Railways in the Edinburgh District. Edinburgh: Ravenswood.
  • Mullay, A J (1991). Rail Centres: Edinburgh. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd.
  • Mullay, S (1996). The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing.
  • Transportation Committee (1962). Lord Provost’s Committee Report on Suburban Railways. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Corporation.

External links[edit]