A NEW “rugby tunnel” is to be created at Haymarket station to deal with thousands of passengers heading to major events, as bosses revealed the station will be open in time for Christmas.
Contractors are due to start the final concrete pour tonight to complete the floor of the station’s new upper level and pedestrian bridge in a significant landmark for the £25 million project.
It was revealed that a new stairway and pedestrian lane would also be created on the north side of the station specifically for rugby fans and concert-goers travelling to and from Murrayfield Stadium.
The route, which will only be opened for large-scale events, will lead spectators directly on to Haymarket Terrace in a bid to avoid hundreds of people clogging up the main part of the station.
The planned December opening means passengers and businesses surrounding the Haymarket junction in the West End should finally be free of traffic chaos by the end of the year. Tram works at the major intersection are due to be finished by September.
A monitor will be erected inside the station in the next fortnight showing live updates of on-site improvements and construction deadlines in a show of confidence behind completing the upgrade on time and on budget.
Network Rail Haymarket project manager Tom McPake said: “This facility will be open in December. We’ve been very clear on what our objectives are in terms of opening times and we are hitting those and hitting our budgetary targets.
“The only work that will be left to do is the work at the top end of the main station building and the removal of the existing footbridge.
“Obviously that had to stay in place to get people in and out of the station. We’ve got to keep the station fully operational.”
The overhaul to Scotland’s fourth busiest station will triple the concourse floor space to 8700sq metres, catering for a predicted 125 per cent increase in passenger numbers over the next 15 years.
More than ten million passengers are expected to use Haymarket by 2030.
Bosses claim the upgrade will return the 170-year-old station to its past glory, with Haymarket to become a key train, tram and bus interchange.
Under the redesigned layout, passengers will be able to reach the station through two entrances – a new access route on to Haymarket Terrace and one towards Morrison Street.
A line of ticket gates similar to those at Waverley will be built for passengers exiting on to Haymarket Terrace.
The new entrance will service the new tram stop, located opposite Rosebery Crescent.
An entrance tunnel will be knocked through the existing building facing Morrison Street, which was erected between 1840 and 1842.
The brickwork on the front of the main entrance will be renovated. Upstairs office space will also be opened for the first time.
Mr McPake said the new-look concourse would be wind and watertight by June, with cladding, heating and high-specification plastic roofing installed over the next three months.
He said: “Every part of the station will be accessible for everyone. We’ll have lifts, escalators and stairs. For mobility-impaired people, they’ll be able to go down the lifts on to the platforms. It’s a big improvement.
“It’s not the most user-friendly station at the moment and that’s the feedback we’ve got from community groups.
“When you compare it to what we’ve got now in terms of width, it’s honestly ten times the usable space. In terms of getting people in and out of the station, it’ll be much more user friendly.”
New retail units are also being built on both the main concourse and on platform four.
Network Rail is in negotiations with companies to fill the outlets, but Mr McPake, right, promised coffee shops would be part of the offering on the station’s upper level.
Commercial operators will be asked to sign a seven-year lease. Extra toilets and a waiting room will also be part of the platform four revamp.
Overhead canopies will extend the full length of all four platforms under the facelift.
Resurfacing works to finish the platforms and the demolition of the old footbridge are scheduled to be finished by April next year.
Mr McPake said: “We won’t disrupt any services and we won’t disrupt any passengers. We might have them moving around the station differently, but in terms of keeping services going and keeping passengers flowing through the station, that’s a big priority.”
An original £113m revamp that would have included extra offices, flats, shops and a glazed extension to the existing atrium had to be scaled back due to budget constraints.
Euan Leitch, a member of the Forth and Borders case panel of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, went as far as claiming the redesigned station could be mistaken for a “supermarket”.
Cockburn Association director Marion Williams said the upgrade would be an improvement, but labelled the project as a “missed opportunity”.
She questioned why the Haymarket Terrace exit was not being built adjacent to the junction’s tram stop to create true integration and said a walkway leading directly on to Dalry Road was also badly lacking from plans.
Ms Williams said: “We thought this was something more to do with commercial gain than the comfort of rail travellers. With the disruption that’s been going on I expect passengers will feel some slight improvement, but for that little bit more effort and finance it could have been much better.
“We did talk about Grand Central in New York and I think we looked at some of the other European cities that have quite amazing places for arrival. I think we’re being short-changed.”
Transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “It’s fantastic to see work progressing so well. This redevelopment work, together with the construction of the tram line, is transforming Haymarket into a major transport interchange, offering truly integrated and accessible public transport from 2014.
“As well as connecting trains with the tram, the work at Haymarket will offer better taxi facilities and improved opportunities for active travel, such as walking and cycling.
“The full reopening of Haymarket station will be a key milestone for the city’s ever-improving transport infrastructure and we have been pleased to work closely with Network Rail to create such an important transport hub.”
IT was the epicentre of a social revolution in Victorian Edinburgh when Haymarket opened in 1842.
As the original terminus and head office of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, it provided an unprecedented gateway to the rest of Scotland.
But when the line was extended in 1846, through the Haymarket tunnels and Princes Street Gardens, it took a back seat to what is now Waverley station.
In 1866, when the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway was taken over by the North British Railway, Haymarket took on a more important role as part of the Edinburgh Suburban Railway, which opened in 1884.
The platforms were redesigned in 1894 and the station modernised in the 1980s. Automatic ticket gates were introduced in 2005.