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The Scotland Street Tunnel- Tuesday 27 April 2010.

The Edinburgh meeting of 27 April 2010 took the form of a presentation on the "Scotland Street Tunnel" by Duncan Fraser of TIE and Andrew McRae, architect and was held at Edinburgh's Napier University when 28 people turned up to hear about the tunnel.

Duncan Fraser of TIE (left) and Andrew McRae, architectd

Duncan Fraser of TIE (left) and Andrew McRae, architect.

© John Yellowlees, 2010

Part of the early Victorian boom in railway construction, the thousand-yard Scotland Street Tunnel was built by noted engineers Grainger and Miller to connect the station at Canal Street on the site of the present Waverley with the Duke of Buccleuch's pier at Granton from where the world's first train ferry commenced operation in 1850 to Burntisland, taking passengers and freight bound for Dundee and Aberdeen.

Being at right angles to what became the main line at Waverley and too steep for locomotive haulage, the tunnel lasted in use for 21 years until in 1868 it was replaced by a conventional rail link between Waverley and Granton via Abbeyhill and Powderhall whose passenger service continued only until 1925.

Robert Louis Stevenson recalled the sight of trains controlled just by brakemen emerging at speed on the descent out of the Tunnel, but in the other direction they had to be dragged with ropes on a pulley worked by a winch. The twenty-four by twenty-four feet bore remained in pristine condition, housing during the Second World War the city's central air raid shelter and the railway control centre and serving also as a mushroom farm and housing second-hand cars for Cochrane's Garage.

Its shallowness led to concern about movement of properties in Dublin Street and Scotland Street, and train robbers who used it as a getaway route prompted its sealing off in 1963. The railway from Scotland Street to Granton finally closed with the end of domestic coal deliveries by rail in 1967, and the other tunnel through which it passed at Rodney Street has been incorporated into Edinburgh's extensive network of cycle routes.

The Tunnel was also used as a store by the Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee. It featured in Lothian Regional Council's Edinburgh Metro plan of the 1980s which foundered on cost. Unfortunately the developers of what is now Princes Mall wrecked its exit onto Waverley Station, leaving a ventilation shaft which causes it to be classed an enclosed space, precluding visits. That plus its gradient and right-angle intersection with the main line will probably rule out any reuse as a railway, though other uses that have been suggested are as a carpark or cycle-route or a route for transferring heat under a district heating plan.

At the Tunnel's north end Canonmills Loch had been drained to make way for the railway. Previously the Royal Patent Gymnasium from 1865 to 1889 and the home ground of St Bernard's Football Club until 1939, King George V Memorial Park laid out in 1946 at the Tunnel's northern entrance adjoins a children's playground created by local residents in the 1970s and the purpose-built Scotland Yard for disabled children opened in 1986.

The Park contains the burnt-out wreck of a youth shelter, and the rise in antisocial behaviour there came to attention when an MP's window was broken by a shot from an airgun. Community police officers researched the area's youth provision, and after a six-month consultation the consensus was that a bespoke youth shelter should be created as a catalyst for regeneration. The first phase has now been completed to secure the northern entrance, and the ultimate vision within the above-noted limitations is to inhabit the entire Tunnel.

The CILT Scottish Region thanks Edinburgh Napier University for hosting the event.

Report and photograph by John Uellowlees.


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