Edinburgh has been good to its former railway infrastructure. All bar three of the many disused railway tunnels that lie within the city and the towns and villages that surround it have been converted into footpaths. Pedestrians and cyclists will be familiar with the short tunnels of Colinton, Trinity and Rodney Street but lying just to the south of Rodney Street Tunnel is something a little more intriguing, the Scotland Street Railway Tunnel.
At 1007 yards in length, Scotland Street Tunnel is by far, Edinburgh’s longest disused railway tunnel and thanks to its colourful history, it’s also the most interesting. Despite the efforts put into constructing the tunnel, it only operated as a railway for a mere 21 years. It’s short, operational life can be explained by the fact that the tunnel runs steeply through the hillside at 1:27. As such, trains were hauled up the tunnel via a never-ending rope attached to a stationary engine located at Waverley Station.
The northernmost 250 yards of Scotland Street Tunnel were constructed via cut and cover techniques and there’s not a great deal to see within this section. In fact, it looks nearly identical to the Innocent Tunnel which runs under the side of Arthur’s Seat, only without the lights and cycle path that make the Innocent Tunnel a little friendlier and inviting to the cyclists and pedestrians that walk through it every day.
During the construction of the bored section of the tunnel, problems were encountered with water ingress. Today, the walls are flowing with calcite, providing the tunnel with great character and a lot of colour but the calcite coated walls also tell a more tragic story. Two miners were in the process of breaking the rock between two excavated sections of tunnel but unbeknown to them, the section they were tunnelling into had been slowly filling with water. Once the men broke the final barrier, the water crashed through with the roar being loud enough to hear above ground. The force in which the water tore through the tunnel killed both the miners, as well as their ganger and superintendent.
The colourful history of this tunnel continues on beyond its fraught construction and short-lived use as an actual railway tunnel. Since the tunnel lies 49 feet below the city centre, it found renewed use during WWII as a bomb shelter – the remnants of which are still very much present within the darkness. The shelter was designed to accommodate up-to 3000 people and as a result, the vast majority of the buildings are toilet blocks.
After the war, a mushroom farm was cultivated within the tunnel’s historic walls and for a brief period in the 70s, cars were stored inside. Apart from the occasional old photograph, there are no traces of these uses left. In fact, the tunnel has now just been fenced over and largely forgotten about. This is a great shame as the history of this tunnel is worth being explored, either as a continuation of Edinburgh’s cycle and foot routes or by opening up the tunnel as a tourist attraction in its own right. Edinburgh’s underground history has proved fascinating for tourists for many years so why not add another jewel to the crown? Whatever the outcome for this amazing piece of forgotten railway infrastructure is, one thing is for sure, the unceremonious southern end of the tunnel will need to be fixed…