With the South Bridge Vaults and Mary King’s Close (as well as a few oddities like Gilmerton Cove), Edinburgh has become quite famous for its historic subterranean sites. But not so well known is the abandoned railway tunnel that runs for well over half a mile beneath the streets of the New Town.
Scotland Street Tunnel was opened in 1847, built by the Edinburgh, Leith and Granton railway company. At the north end it connected to their existing Scotland Street Station and goods yard, on the site of the present day King George V Park. At the south end it led to a terminal station called Canal Street, located roughly where Princes Mall is today. In between, it passes under Scotland Street, Dublin Street, St Andrew’s Square and Princes Street. At 1000 yards long it was one of Scotland’s longer railway tunnels. Because of the tunnel’s very steep gradient (1 in 27), trains were hauled through it by a cable rather than running under their own steam.
Despite the huge engineering effort that went into building the tunnel, it only operated for just over twenty years before falling into disuse when the North British Railway opened a new line from Waverley Station to the north of Edinburgh via Abbeyhill, effectively bypassing the tunnel. It had various other uses over the decades: most notably as an air raid shelter during World War II, but it was also used for growing mushrooms and briefly for storing cars.
Today Scotland Street Tunnel lies empty and derelict. The north portal, in good condition, can be clearly seen on the edge of King George V Park, but the south portal was destroyed when the Waverley Market shopping centre (now Princes Mall) was built in the early 1980s. There has been talk of reopening it, either as an underground car park or as some form of transport route, but nothing has come to fruition yet.
Inside, the tunnel is divided into sections by brick blast walls with doorways through them. These were probably added during the war when it was used as an air raid shelter. The toilet blocks that were constructed for this purpose are still there, mostly empty and ruined now, along with another wartime relic: the LNER (London and North Eastern Railway) emergency control centre buildings.
The lining is mostly brick, now with mineral deposits and stalactites visible in many places. In addition to the buildings there are a few refuges in the side walls throughout its length. Despite being a long tunnel, Scotland Street has no ventilation shafts; because trains were cable-hauled through it there was no need for them.
At the south end, a narrow corrugated metal tube runs from the tunnel underneath Princes Mall, emerging behind an insignificant looking barred gate in the north wall of Waverley Station. Most people who pass it daily would never suspect where it goes! So access and ventilation has been maintained, even though the south portal no longer exists.
In addition to Scotland Street, there are two smaller (less than 200 yards each) tunnels on the same line: Rodney Street, directly opposite the north end of Scotland Street, and Trinity, a mile or so to the north. They’ve both been reopened for pedestrians and cyclists and have electric lighting. The pathway is worth a look if you’re interested in railway history as in addition to the tunnels there are several original bridges, the viaduct over the Water of Leith, and the old station building at Trinity to see.
More photos on my flickr account.