Jim Eadie: South Sub return can take us in the right direction

Whether it's debates over the tram extension, campaigning for further investment in cycling infrastructure or the inquiry into the Forth Road Bridge closure, transport in Edinburgh has never been a more hotly discussed topic than right now.

Jim Eadie in Sheffield seeing how the tram-train system works. Picture: comp
Jim Eadie in Sheffield seeing how the tram-train system works. Picture: comp

Over the past few months there has been talk about reinstating the Edinburgh South Suburban Railway, which I know has been a burning ambition for SEStran, Transform Scotland and the Capital Rail Action Group.

After some fact-finding and research, I believe that there is a very good case for reopening the line. Tomorrow, I will lead a debate in parliament on the reinstatement of the South Sub and I am pleased to see an appetite across Edinburgh’s political divide for different transport links to be discussed. I read with interest, too, that the News’ own Brian Monteith has expressed a desire for this option to be looked into.

The Capital will experience an 
exponential population growth over the next 20 years, with studies showing it will increase by almost 30 per cent if current trends continue. These figures clearly show that we cannot continue with the current transport infrastructure in place and new plans need to be brought forward.

And this is where the South Sub can play its part.

The existing infrastructure, which runs through Gorgie, Craiglockhart, Morningside, Blackford, Newington, Craigmillar and Portobello, is already there and is currently used to carry freight through the city. Previous studies have shown that if trains were to be reinstated, it could attract more than 10,000 passengers per day – and with the city growing this number would only increase.

Consistently – and without fail – our roads are congested during rush-hour peak times and I believe this option could help to drastically cut both congestion and travel time. Taking more people off the road would undoubtedly help with meeting our carbon emissions targets, too.

However, there are a number of hurdles to be overcome before this becomes a reality.

Reinstating the line using traditional heavy rail may be difficult given Waverley is almost at full capacity. However, using a tram-train – which would use both rail links and the tram network – may well be the best way forward. Germany has used this model with some success, showing that a mix of heavy and light rail can utilise a city’s infrastructure so new public transport links are available.

This option is now being copied across Europe and is soon to be piloted south of the Border in Sheffield. I have been keeping a close eye on the scheme and met with officials from both the council and the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive last week to tap into their expertise in order to help turn this idea into a reality for the people of Edinburgh.

We have a massive opportunity over the coming months with talks ongoing over a City Deal for Edinburgh and the wider city region. It is envisaged the UK and Scottish governments could commit £1 billion, unlocking the potential for new and sustainable transport links. This could be the answer for extending the transport network without having to raid the funds needed for other vital services while ensuring that as the economic opportunities expand at the BioQuarter and King’s Buildings, there is the light rail infrastructure to match.

Reinstating the South Sub could act as a catalyst for an integrated transport plan fit for the 21st century; one that our capital city needs and deserves. Given the challenges facing Edinburgh over the next 20 years, I believe this is an idea whose time has come.

• Jim Eadie is SNP MSP for Edinburgh Southern