Let there be light

Two ridges create Edinburgh’s spectacular topography. On the glacial tail from an extinct volcano are the castle and high medieval buildings. Opposite is a drumlin ridge on which sits the city’s Georgian New Town.

The Nor’ Loch between them was drained to become Princes Street Gardens in 1820. To them was added the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway in 1846, reaching the site of the current station. A year on, two other companies opened adjacent stations. All three were later combined to become Edinburgh Waverley.

Since then the station has been expanded to cope with additional rail traffic but always taking account of its historic setting with the roof limited to 12.8 metres above rail level by statute and the station having listed building status.

Following the increase in traffic from the Forth Bridge’s opening in 1890, the lines through Princes Street Gardens were quadrupled, much to the outrage of many in the city, and Waverley was rebuilt around a central island, essentially becoming today’s station. 120 years later, with a roof area of 34,000m2, it is the second largest station in the UK with much of its fabric in urgent need of renewal.

The project to end all projects

To keep it fit for the 19 million passengers who use it each year, a £110 million project started in September 2009, following on from a number of previous developments.

Railtrack had considered transforming Waverley into a station with through platforms accessed from a concourse above. Although this option was actively progressed, with a Parliamentary application to increase the roof height restriction by 2 metres, by 2003 it became apparent that it was not viable.

Despite some work being undertaken by the Station Regeneration Project in the late 90s, little was done to Waverley’s roof due to the uncertainty of the station’s future.

With the pending reopening of the Airdrie-Bathgate line, the priority was to increase capacity. A £150 million project to add four new platforms was completed in 2008, enabling 28 trains per hour to be handled rather than 24. This set the stage for the current mission.


Work taking place on the roof alongside one of the disused walkways.

Four steps

Al Barclay, Network Rail’s Project Manager for the renewal is clearly proud of the way that work has been done to date and in particular how it has not disrupted train services.

He explains that the close liaison with train operating companies this entails is just one example of the way the project is working with its many stakeholders: retail units, taxis, disabled groups, prestigious hotels, planning authorities.

From an early stage, the team has worked with the City of Edinburgh Council and Historic Scotland to meet their requirements without delaying the programme.

Minimising the risk from consents was one of the reasons for splitting the project into four packages –

1. Enabling works comprising demolition of the old GPO building at the east end of station together with its associated link bridge and reconfiguring the HV supply for the station and signalling centre. This was undertaken by May Gurney between September and November 2009.

2. Roof repairs and reglazing, resurfacing of the concourse and ramps, station drainage and stonework repairs. This is the largest package and is being carried out by Balfour Beatty. It started in April 2010 and will be completed at the end of 2012.

3. Replacement of the Market Street entrance, resurfacing and providing new canopies for the southernmost island platform (8 & 9) as well as resurfacing New Street car park. This has been let to C Spencer and will be done between September 2011 and July 2012.

4. Repairs and rationalisation of services in the main building and operations building, coupled with resurfacing of the main building’s internal concourse. This last item of work will be completed by March 2014.

The Waverley Steps entrance is the focus of a separate £7 million project to provide a ‘feature entrance’, canopy, escalators and lifts. This was designed by architects Jefferson Sheard with Morgan Sindall appointed as contractor.

The low road

Currently ongoing is Balfour Beatty’s £50 million Package 2, split into high and low level works. The latter involves resurfacing 9,000m2 of platforms including copes and tactile paving, 4,000m2 of station concourse and the approach ramps, as well as upgrading the drainage system.

White Terrazzo concourse tiles, installed in the early 80s, are being replaced with new ones of buff sandstone. Al explains that this will reduce glare with the extra light from the new roof, will be in keeping with the station character and reduce the risk of slipping when wet.

All the platforms are being resurfaced except for the new ones provided by the recent enhancement project.

This is done within overnight and disruptive weekend possessions, typically from 01:00 Sunday to 04:30 Monday. This does not affect the train service although some replatforming is necessary and the station berthing is changed to accommodate the work.

Resurfacing the station ramps included repairs to the corroded steelwork below and renovation of cast ironwork. The two heritage lamp standards on each ramp were removed for blasting and repainting by the Ballantine Bo’ness Iron Company who are also producing replacement cast iron balustrades for the ramp. These were removed 15 years ago as they were not secure.

Although some can be reused, many new castings are required for which the old balustrades provided a pattern.

Closure of the south ramp excluded vehicular traffic from the station except for delivery vehicles at specific times. This required a temporary taxi stand outside by the Market Street entrance as agreed with the council and taxi drivers.

With typically 250 requests for mobility assistance each week, special arrangements were devised with advice from support groups. A bus shelter in the New Street car park with a call button was provided and four additional helpers were hired for the ten-week ramp closure to guide mobility-impaired passengers through specially marked disabled access routes.


The station ramps have been resurfaced.

And the high road

Renewing the roof’s 28,000 panels requires repairs and surface treatment of the supporting steelwork and a new glazing system. Currently there is no easy access to most of the roof – this is being rectified by providing fixed walkways and moveable running gantries.

The working platform for this work is typically half the total roof area to avoid delay to the project. After its erection, each roof bay is encapsulated prior to grit blasting. The encapsulation uses the working platform and old roof with sheeting along the sides and ends of each bay.

The blasting is being done by ThyssenKrupp Palmers using the technique they use on the Forth Bridge. This involves a compressor and grit extraction plant up to a kilometre from the workplace, located in the Carlton Road compound. It services the entire roof.

After the blasting, steelwork repairs are undertaken and surplus material removed, including glass, timber and steel. Balfour Beatty has subcontracted this work to CEP Demolitions Ltd who recycle the material; only 5% is taken to landfill as waste.

Bare steelwork is then painted before the secondary steel and aluminium glazing system is erected. Laminated glass panels are then fitted, the first of which were put in place on 21st April this year.

Other high level work involves the removal of a large redundant water tank on the Klondyke wall, an improved roof drainage system, new lighting and work on three station roof walkways. The Balmoral walkway is directly above the west side station footbridge and services the Balmoral Hotel. It is to be repaired and retained.

The redundant walkway from the north-east of the main building to the former GPO building will be removed except for its steelwork which is part of the roof structure.

The Jeffrey Street walkway resulted from the Act of Parliament for the 1890s station redevelopment. This allowed the council to build a railway footbridge through the roof to maintain a route between the old town and Leith Walk.

It was closed for repairs in 1958 and cannot now be reinstated as, in 1974, a span was removed to construct the Edinburgh Signalling Centre. The bridge is to be reclad to retain the current appearance of the roof, its deck removed and sides glazed to provide an attractive feature with increased light.

For the future

Package 3 is to be undertaken by C Spencer for £9 million between the 2011 and 2012 Edinburgh Festivals, from this September to next July. It concerns the station’s southern part, separated from the rest by the Klondyke wall.

The Market Street entrance involves steps and a footbridge crossing Platforms 8 & 9, then through the wall to the main station. The new entrance will have a wider footbridge and street-level lift access. Platforms 8 & 9 are to have new canopies and improved steps.

This package also includes resurfacing New Street car park and Klondyke wall repairs. It requires a footbridge to be provided through an opening in the wall and access to the New Street car park for a construction compound, all on a temporary basis.

Refurbishing the historic main building and the operations depot is the final package, comprising roof repairs, watertight windows, rationalisation of services and cleaning of stonework, murals and the glass cupola.

Provision of a construction compound is a constraint that might affect timing of the work. At the latest it will be completed by March 2014.

Fitting it all together

Making this all happen requires effective management of the interfaces between various items of work and station operations, for example supports for the working platform constrain resurfacing works.

This is managed by sequencing the programme with priority being given to roof works by the Waverley Steps project. Also, at some locations the working platform is being hung.

Willie Watson, the project’s Station Interface Manager, has the job of minimising the impact on Waverley’s operations. His advice has helped maximise possession opportunities without affecting train services.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is to manage the flow of 50,000 passengers each day, especially as the station footprint can change up to three times per week. Al considers that Willie’s advice is invaluable in this respect both in determining what footprint is acceptable, ensuring that there is suitable temporary signage and specifying other measures, such as the purchase of smaller trolleys for Rail Gourmet.

The next 120 years

Waverley’s roof and the Forth Bridge have a shared history. They are both 120 years old and have lasted well despite inadequate maintenance under British Rail. Both are undergoing similar types of treatment with revised access arrangements that should ensure their future for the next 120 years.

The roof is only part of the Waverley renewals project which is impressive in many ways, especially for its lack of impact on train services.

Nevertheless it is inevitable that there will be some inconvenience to station users who may not appreciate how their station is being transformed. But it will soon be revealed so they can share Al Barclay’s pride in a station that is fit for the next century.