The history of Edinburgh Waverley station

Edinburgh Waverly station

Edinburgh Waverly sits in a prominent position between the Old and New Town and was the flagship station for the North British Railway when it first opened. Since then, it has gone through redesign and redevelopment to make it a station fit for the Scottish capital and Britain’s second largest station.

The First Station

Originally there were three stations built in the 1840s to serve the city. North Bridge station, the terminus of the North British Railway from Berwick-upon-Tweed opened in 1846, General Station, the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway’s station opened in 1847 the same day as the Edinburgh, Leith and Granton Railway’s Canal Street Station.

The Second Station 

It quickly became apparent that the North British station and its track arrangement was inadequate. The Caledonian Railway opened the Mid-Calder line in the same year, increasing the traffic between Glasgow and Edinburgh, furthermore, the North Eastern Railway started running trains from York to Edinburgh, but they were frustrated by the congestion and accommodation at Waverley. Schemes were proposed to improve the station in the early to mid-1860s, but the North British Railway finances could not support the cost. It wasn’t until 1869 when James Bell, the chief engineer, provided his plan for the station that the improvement works could move forward. The plans involved extending the station west from Waverley Bridge through the North Bridge, so that it could cope with additional traffic. The extensions were undertaken whilst the station remained open, this included a new entrance to the station from Waverley Bridge, a new roof, a two-storey booking office, a new goods shed, first and second-class waiting rooms and refreshment facilities. The new ridge and furrow system roof was designed to lay as low as possible so as not to disturb the city’s historic skyline. Due to the working conditions, the plans of James Bell were not fully realised until the mid-1870s.

The Third Station

Dissatisfaction with the North British Railway and Waverley station hit its peak in 1890. Increase in traffic from the opening of the Edinburgh Suburban Railway in 1884, the second Tay Bridge in 1887 and the Forth Bridge in 1890 forced the company to expand the station. It was said that, despite the engineering achievement of the Forth Bridge which would create a faster and more direct route to Edinburgh, the feat would be negated by the fact that Waverley and the lines around it could not cope with the extra traffic. The North British Railway received powers to rebuild the station in 1891 and work began in 1892 engineered by Blyth & Westland.

The reconstruction was a monumental undertaking covering 23 acres. Two acres of ground were taken in the East and West Princes Street Gardens to improve the flow of traffic against much local opposition. The old North Bridge was reconstructed – changing the layout of the track so that it didn’t have to squeeze through two of the twelve arches of the old bridge, instead it would be opened-up into a new three arch iron bridge. Waverley Bridge, despite only being opened in 1873, was also reconstructed. Extra tunnels at Haymarket, the Mound and Carlton hill had to be built, came into use in 1895 and officially opened in 1896. The works of the 1890s made Waverly the largest station in Britain until Waterloo Station was reopened in 1921.

First World War

With the breakout of the First World War in 1914 the first ‘buffet for troops’ was set up at Waverley. By 1919 over 2 million meals had been served to service personnel at the station. There was also a Red Cross ward set up to aid the sick or wounded. Although there were air raids by zeppelins in Edinburgh, Waverley was never hit. In 1922 a war memorial was unveiled commemorating the 775 North British railway men who were lost.

Interwar Years

In 1921 the Railways Act amalgamated independent railway companies together to create the ‘Big Four’. In this grouping the North British Railway joined the London and North Eastern Railway. Very little improvement was made to Waverley in the interwar years. New colour light signalling was installed in the 1930s and Waverley West signal box was built in 1936 with Waverley East following in 1938.

Second World War

When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, Waverley was the focus for evacuating children to more rural areas – in three days over 178,000 children had been evacuated on trains leaving the station. Much like the First World War, a free canteen was established for servicemen. An emergency headquarters for LNER was also set up in Scotland Street Tunnel to ensure continuation of service should Waverley be seriously damaged. Unlike most stations during the war, Edinburgh retained its glass, mainly because there was too much of it to remove and it was dirty enough to block any stray lighting beneath. When the war ended in 1945 the railways were rundown and so, at Christmas, Waverley became the first Scottish station to install a Christmas tree to raise spirits.

Nationalisation and Modernisation

The station passed into the hands of the Scotland Region for British Railways when the railways were nationalised in 1948. Through the Beeching Cuts freight services were ceased from Waverley and the goods yard was paved and turned into a car park, Princes Street, Edinburgh’s other railway terminus, closed in 1965 and the Waverley Route was closed in 1969. The Commonwealth Games of 1970 were held in Edinburgh. This prompted a modernisation of Waverley by replacing many of the original features, like the oak panelling, decorative friezes, the octagonal booking office and the mosaic floor. It was judged unsympathetic at the time.

In the late 1970s a new signal box was built on the southern side of the goods yard making the existing signal boxes redundant. In the 1980s more improvements were made – a catering service building, crew operations office, British Transport Police office, several retail outlets and a new modern signalling centre were opened.


In 1991 Edinburgh Waverley was granted ‘A’ listing status by Historic Scotland. This meant that any work to be carried out at the station required listed building consent to protect its heritage and architecture. In 1994 the railway was privatised, and track and train were separated. Railtrack PLC took over the infrastructure including Waverley station and a regeneration program began. By 2004 Railtrack had been taken over by Network Rail and a series of projects were undertaken to refurbish the station. These refurbishments included a new control centre attached to the 1970s signal box, re-aligning of the tracks to the western approach and lengthening of the platforms and replacement of the canopies. Between 2006 and 2007 platforms 12 to 18 were electrified in preparation for the opening of the Airdrie-Bathgate Rail link in 2010. Between 2010 and 2012 the glazing in the roof was replaced and strengthened as part of a £130 million upgrade. As part of the Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) platform 12 was extended. Platforms 5 and 6 were extended into the former taxi rank in 2017 allowing more services for London North Eastern Railway and brought into use in 2019.

Did you know?

Edinburgh Waverley became the first Scottish station to have a Christmas Tree.

When the roof was refurbished, it took 27,400 new panels of glass – equal to 14 football pitches.

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