Why Waverley's New Lifts Give Me A Sinking Feeling

Submitted by edg on Wed, 15 Aug '12 10.07pm

Transport minister Keith Brown cut the ribbon yesterday on Waverley Station's new lifts (or "elevators" if you speak Americanese) providing "easy and step-free access from Princes Street for the first time in 140 years".

Two 16-person lifts now descend to Waverley from the roof of the Princes Mall. Also, as part of the "Waverley Steps Improvement Project" a new covered step and escalator access has been put in between Princes Street and the north entrance to Waverley station.

"The ‘Windy Steps’ have been given a vital upgrade and are now accessible and convenient for all passengers," said David Simpson, Network Rail route managing director for Scotland, of the "stylish and bright" new entrance.

Personally, I liked it the way things were. Trudging up and down the broad staircase of the well-worn stone slabs of Waverley Steps, there was a sense of walking in the footsteps of millions of travellers before me.

Lifts and escalators leave me cold. The building materials have little of the traditional quality or aesthetic of Edinburgh's New Town and Old Town architecture. The machinery usually requires large amounts of energy (more CO2 emissions), seeing as they are running all day.

They are, frankly, utilitarian and ugly.

It's not just that though. I feel herded and I don't get the same amount of exercise (probably more important as I get older). I'd rather roll the pram down the hill at the Waverley Bridge entrance than take the lift.

Before you write in - I realise I'm in the minority. I'm obviously not what the project managers call the "modern traveller". I'm just one in a handful or so people who would rather have seen the £16 million that was footed for Waverley's new escalators, stairs, and two lifts spent elsewhere.

I'm not against upgrading: I'm looking forward to seeing the results of the Waverley Roof reglazing project - due to be completed next year - which is designed to flood the station below with natural light. It's just I liked the old staircase, windy or not.

I'm sure the Waverley Steps improvements will be welcomed by many of the 14,000 passengers who use that entrance each day. As will the soon-to-be-completed, step-free access from Market Street.

In this sedentary age, convenience is king. With the nearest Edinburgh tram station to Waverley (assuming the tram opens on schedule in Summer 2014) a five minute walk away, travellers will probably appreciate that they can be shuttled by the new machinery the last short distance into the belly of the station, especially those travellers who have lugged heavy luggage the 1,000 feet (300m) from the St Andrew Square tram stop.

As travellers glide downwards into the old Nor' Loch, they can view Edinburgh’s famous skyline spread out before them. 

Of course, you can still stand on the top of the Princes Mall and enjoy the "historic view". So long as you don't look in the direction of the grey metal and glass box that has just been installed atop the mall.

I know what you mean about the symbolism of the  steps.  You knew you were in Edinburgh when you struggled up them against the east coast wind!  However, lately they had been (rather badly in my opinion) re-done so these old footprints were smoothed over anyway.   Just walk in the closes of the Auld Toun and you'll get that nostalgic feeling!

I think the new entrance gives the station a modern European feel.

Normally I am keen that we preserve our heritage and the unmodernised Waverley Steps were all part of "the Edinburgh experience", however, we do need to make the station more passenger friendly and easier to use, so I think they are a good thing. The grey metal and glass box for the lifts does look rather strange I would agree!

But even with the lifts it has not solved the incredible planning disconnect between the main railway station and the new tram, if it ever runs. It is totally ridiculous to expect people to have to cross a busy street and then walk uphill to the tram stop. Why the City Council officers decided on this crazy plan which is counter to every transport planning principle we shall never know - until the Public Inquiry!


I think it's as much the look and feel rather than the nostalgia value. As you say, they seemed distinctively Edinburgh. But I know cities feel compelled to keep up with modernity. If I say anymore I'll probably sound like a "crackpot" calling for the return of the horse and cart.