In 2003, the Scottish Government announced plans for the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link (EARL) that would be comparable to that at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. Lines from Edinburgh to Glasgow and Fife would be diverted in tunnels to an underground airport station at an estimated cost of £650 million. The scheme was developed to the point of a Bill to the Scottish Parliament which received Royal Assent in 2007.

Later that year the incoming SNP administration scrapped the scheme as it was deemed too expensive. They did, however, confirm the Edinburgh tram scheme to the airport and announced that a new ‘Gateway’ station was to be built on the line to Fife and Aberdeen at Gogar to provide a rail-tram interchange. There was also to be a direct service from Glasgow via a new Almond chord with grade-separated junctions at either end, to be provided as part of the Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP).

The intention was that the Gateway station would open in 2011 at the same time as the Edinburgh tram. However, its construction was deferred due to uncertainty about the tram project. It also lost its proposed service to Glasgow as, in 2013, it was decided that EGIP would provide extra capacity by longer, instead of more frequent trains, thus removing the need for the Almond chord.

The airport got its rail connection in 2014 with the opening of the delayed Edinburgh tram project. Edinburgh Gateway station opened on 9 December to provide an interchange with the city’s trams, with only three stops to the airport.

Haymarket Mark II

With two 265-metre platforms that can accommodate 10-coach trains and a 1,500 square-metre floor area, the Gateway station is a substantial structure. It is of a similar size to the new Haymarket station buildings that opened in 2013 (issue 105, July 2013). It also has the same look as both stations are clad with lightweight Econic boards, engineered from magnesium oxide and supplied by Duncryne Ltd.

Its 303 square metre concourse is covered by a lightweight ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) roof system, that was also used at Haymarket. ETFE is a high transparency, recyclable material with a 30-year life. It belongs to the same fluoropolymer family as PTFE – or Teflon as it is more commonly known.

This roof system uses ETFE pillows filled with dehumidified air from an air pump that cycles as necessary. It offers significantly reduced weight compared with conventional roofing systems and is also sacrificial in the event of an incident. It was used at the Beijing Olympics and Glasgow’s new Hydro Arena, as well as for the atrium roof of the rebuilt Birmingham New Street station.

The access road is 300 metres long by 7.3 metres wide with a taxi drop-off point. Only 10 car parking places are provided as it is an interchange station. To provide access to the nearby Gyle shopping centre, an underpass, 45 metres long and 5.5 metres wide, has been constructed under the A8 road. This has CCTV and automatic sliding lockable doors at either end, and is connected to the station by a covered walkway.

Eight metres below the station are four tram tracks. Two of these are the tram line between the city and the airport whilst the other two lead to the nearby tram depot. The Gateway tram station is situated between these two pairs of tracks. It also has an ETFE roof. Between the depot tracks and the Gateway station is a 130-metre long retaining wall that was built as part of the Edinburgh tram project.

Part of the public realm area outside the main station concourse is on a bridge over this retaining wall and the depot tram tracks. This leads to the tram station entrance which has steps, escalators and a lift down to the tram stop. The entire station has step-free access and has three lifts and six escalators.

Lightweight design

The £26 million contract to build the Gateway station was let to Balfour Beatty. The designer was WSP, working with IDP Architects. Specialist sub-contractors were Lakesmere for cladding while Annadale design provided bespoke stainless steel and glass barriers and SES Engineering Services undertook the mechanical and electrical engineering fit out.

Work started on site in November 2014. However, prior to that, £2.5 million of enabling works were required to move the 11kV cable supplying the airport and to divert a 12-inch sewer. Track lowering under the adjacent A8 road bridge, to ensure the Gateway platforms would not be affected by any future electrification work, was also undertaken before the main works.

EGIP programme director Roger Querns is clearly proud of his new station and offered some interesting insights on its construction. He considered that the main construction challenges were the eight-metre difference in levels and restricted access off the busy A8 road into Edinburgh. Lane closures on this road were required, as the underpass to the Gyle shopping centre was constructed by the cut and cover method.

Over two days in one May weekend, the 40-tonne main link bridge between the rail and tram stations and 115 tonnes of steel framework were lifted into place using a 130 and a 500 tonne crane. In total, the station required 470 tonnes of steel and 2,040 cubic metres of concrete. Roger explained the lightweight cladding and the ETFE roof reduced the amount of steel required for the framework and also cut the station project’s carbon footprint, a key consideration of the station design.

Airport bird management

As Roger explained, the airport presented its own challenges as the station is 700 metres from the end of its secondary runway. This required the project to have a bird hazard management plan and to prohibit the use of cranes in foggy weather.

The £1.5 million tram station was not part of Balfour Beatty’s original contract and was added as a variation in November 2015.

The completed station required approximately 275,000 man-hours of work and was delivered to time and budget. However, no matter how well planned, projects will have their surprises. In this case it was thirty tonnes of Asbestos board that was thought to have been dumped on the site in the late 1970s. It took three months for this to be removed by specialist contractors, requiring some project reprogramming.

Station for the future

The £42 million Edinburgh Gateway station opened its doors to passengers on 11 December. At its opening ceremony Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf noted: “This £41m investment will offer huge benefits to rail passengers travelling to or from the Gogar area, integrating the rail network with the tram network and providing a convenient link to Edinburgh Airport.”

George Lowder, chief executive of Transport for Edinburgh added: “The opening of Edinburgh Gateway brings us another step closer to fully integrated passenger transport for Edinburgh and the Edinburgh city region.”

To promote the use of the new Edinburgh Gateway station, ScotRail has introduced through tickets with a reduced price for the tram journey to the airport. It has also installed a rail ticket machine at the Edinburgh airport tram stop. Each year, over five million passengers use the tram and eleven million travellers used the airport, which plans to significantly increase its traffic. The Gyle shopping centre is also promoting the station. Being on the tram route, nearby business parks will also benefit from the new Gateway.

Nevertheless, Edinburgh Gateway station is not initially expected to carry large numbers of passengers. There are, however, big plans for the area around it, including 1,500 new homes immediately north of the station for which there is passive provision for a footbridge, and a £700 million International Business Gateway development adjacent to the airport built around the tram line. Furthermore, the tram-connected Edinburgh Park business area is not yet fully developed.

By December 2018, EGIP will provide the Edinburgh to Glasgow main line with a 33 per cent increase in capacity. Notwithstanding this, the Network Rail Scotland Route Study, which considers route enhancements required up to 2043, envisages that there will eventually be a need to build the Almond Chord at an indicative cost of £200 million. This would then give the Gateway station a direct connection to Glasgow.

Whilst this large station may initially not be very busy, planned developments, and those that it will generate, will no doubt see it become well-used in a few years’ time. Hence, rather than being built to catch up with increasing passenger numbers, Edinburgh Gateway is indeed a station for the future.

Written by David Shirres