Council chiefs said future development of the line, currently only used for freight trains, was “in the mix” in a national review of transport projects – but they warned the “South Sub” was not necessarily an answer to the Capital’s transport needs.
A consultation on the council’s draft City Mobility Plan asked for people’s views on issues ranging from segregated cycle routes to extending the tram route, but also noted feedback on topics not mentioned in the plan but which members of the public raised. Top of these was reopening the South Sub.
The line, which opened in 1884, connected the city centre with Gorgie, Craiglockhart, South Morningside, Cameron Toll, Craigmillar and Portobello, but closed to passenger services in 1962.
Senior transport manager Ewan Kennedy told the transport committee: “There has been considerable work looking at the potential of passenger services on the South Suburban line over the years. The last study was a joint one by Sestrans, the council and Network Rail, and it specifically considered trams as an option.
“The work that was done indicated there was certainly no case to support a service serving the city centre. It showed some potential as a southern orbital, but the level of capital investment was extremely high and it was unlikely to run commercially.
“The position adopted by the council was it would be looked at again when it was electrified – Network Rail have plans to electrify it as a freight route.”
But he said the Scottish Government’s second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2) was currently under way, looking at transport investment for the next 20 years and the South Sub was “in the mix”.
He said: “The likelihood of some type of new system utilising that rail line is one that is probably better looked at at a regional level rather than as a very short length of line round the centre of Edinburgh.”
Transport convener Lesley Macinnes said the South Sub was a “perennial topic”. But she said: “While the infrastructure is in place it would appear to be very logical for it to be used, we have to verify that it actually meets the current needs of the city. Does it allow people to go to where thy want to be? Does it reflect travel patterns that we see?
“Beyond saying there is infrastructure there that should be used, which is the starting point for a lot of the arguments for it, we would also have to look at exactly what benefits it might bring in terms of movement around the city and whether it ultimately serves a useful purpose.”
Green transport spokeswoman Claire Miller said: “I think local people want the council to use railway lines we already have, and this line has lots of potential. It has captured the public imagination, that we have a fully functioning railway line in our city but with no passenger services. I’m going to take up their call for the South Sub to be re-opened, and will be looking in detail at how much it would cost and how many people would use it.”