Site Records

Site Name: Scotland Street Tunnel

Scotland Street
OS Grid Ref: (North portal) NT254747

Sub Brit site visit 20th September 2006

[Source: Nick Catford]

On 13th August 1836 the Edinburgh Leith and Newhaven Railway Act received Royal Assent allowing a line to be built from Canal Street in the centre of Edinburgh to Trinity, on the Firth of Forth. Its construction was beset by problems and was delayed for several years because of financial difficulties and objections from local residents who did not want a gas-lit tunnel underneath their homes. The railways engineers were Thomas Grainger and John Miller who had previously worked on many of Scotland's early railways.

The Edinburgh, Leith and Newhaven Railway Company opened their horse drawn railway on 31st August 1842, providing a direct link from Canonmills, on the north side of the Edinburgh city centre to Newhaven Station near Newhaven harbour, just west of Leith. Canonmills Station was later renamed Scotland Street. A new station called Trinity replaced the former Newhaven station both of which overlooked Newhaven Chain Pier on the Firth of Forth, a popular location for early morning bathing in the 19th century.

Photo:The site of Canonmills station (later Scotland Street station) in January 1967. When the station opened in 1842 the tunnel had not been built.
Photo by John Hume

On 19th February 1846 the line was extended westwards to Granton Harbour where ferries had been operating from Duke of Buccleuch's Granton Pier to Fife since May 1838 and a branch was built to the busy docks at the Port of Leith.  The terminus of the Leith branch was at Citadel Station with an intermediate stop at Bonnington. Connecting lines were later also added to Abbeyhill and Piershill to the south. At this time the company was renamed the Edinburgh, Leith and Granton Railway

In 1847 the line was further extended southwards to allow services to operate right into the heart of the city. This involved driving a substantial tunnel from Canonmills, under Scotland Street, Dublin Street and St Andrew Square to a new terminus at Canal Street immediately to the north of North Bridge (Later Waverley) station and at right angles to it. Canal Street
was later renamed Princes Street. At the same time locomotives were introduced north of Scotland Street replacing the horses.

Photo:Canal Street Station in 1847 - the south portal of Scotland Street tunnel can be seen on the left with North Bridge station (later renamed Waverley) at right angles to Canal Street on the right.
Watercolour by Ebsworth

The tunnel measures 1000yds in length, 24ft in width, and 24ft in height with a gradient of 1-in-27 towards the north.  The roof of the tunnel is just below street level at Scotland Street, but is 49 feet deep at St. Andrew Street and 37 feet deep under Princes Street.  In order to cope with the steep gradient, cable haulage was required, with a stationary winding engine at Canal Street.  Passenger carriages proceeding downhill were steadied by brake trucks, while those heading uphill were hauled by an endless rope, which ran under rollers beneath the rails and was powered by the engine at Canal St. Station.

Rodney St. Tunnel in 1904 - Photo from John Alsop

A second shorter tunnel on the north side of Cannonmills took the line under Rodney Street and Broughton Road.

Robert Louis Stephenson wrote of the tunnel, "The tunnel to the Scotland Street Station, the sight of the trains shooting out of its dark maw with the two guards upon the brake, the thought of its length and the many ponderous edifices and open thoroughfares above, were certainly of paramount impressiveness to a young mind.

It was a subterranean passage, although of a larger bore than we were accustomed to in Ainsworth's novels and these two words, 'subterranean passage,' were in themselves an irresistible attraction and seemed to bring us nearer in spirit to the heroes we loved and the black rascals we secretly aspired to imitate."

On 27th July 1847, the Edinburgh, Leith and Granton Railway was purchased by the Edinburgh & Northern Railway who introduced the worlds first railway ferry on 3rd February 1850, with goods wagons running onto the ferry crossing the Firth of Forth where they continued northwards on a new line to Burntisland in Fife.  Soon afterwards the line became part of the Edinburgh & Northern route to Dundee, connecting with ferries over the Tay with ownership passing to the Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee Railway.

1860 map shows Edinburgh North Bridge (Waverley) station with Canal Street station at right angles to it to the north.

In 1862 the line was absorbed into the North British Railway who built a new line to Abbeyhill and Trinity allowing trains from Trinity to be diverted into Edinburgh Waverley (renamed from North Bridge in 1866) from 22nd May 1868. On this date, both Scotland Street and Princes Street closed to passengers. Scotland Street remained in use as a goods and coal depot, accessed only from the north.

In 1923, the North British Railway became part of the London & North Eastern Railway. The LNER were quick to close loss making lines withdrawing passenger services between Edinburgh Waverley - Granton Harbour on 2nd November 1925 despite local protests.

Photo:Looking south along Scotland Street tunnel. The building in the foreground is a toilet block with the LNER emergency control centre located in buildings beyond
Photo by Nick Catford

During WW2 the tunnel was used as an air raid shelter serving parts of Central Edinburgh. The LNER also used the tunnel as its wartime emergency headquarters, building a series of brick and wooden buildings in the northern end. Because of the natural protection afforded by the tunnel it was eminently suitable to house a protected control centre comprising a traffic office with centralized traffic control.

The traffic controller had telephone links to all signal cabins, goods yards and major stations and offices. There are no facilities for remote operation of signals etc., orders being given from office to signal cabins; military liaison staff would also be present.

For further information and pictures of Scotland Street tunnel click here

[Source: Nick Catford]

Home Page
Last updated: 04 01 2011
©1998- 2019 Subterranea Britannica