I stumbled upon an old SNP election leaflet yesterday, but I wasn’t actually intentionally looking for that. I was after something *much* more interesting (depending on your point of view!) There’s much talk about “city mobility” in Edinburgh just now, so lets look at an earlier attempt.
or… City of Edinburgh Rapid Transport – A guided busway from the Airport to the city centre via the Gyle and the direct fore runner of the current tram line.
CERT was first mooted in about 1993 by Lothian Regional Council and the City of Edinburgh District Council (back in the days of two-tier local government in Scotland) and during the depths of John Majors government. The uninspired graphic design and woeful branding feels very appropriate for this time of the early days of desktop publishing.
CERT itself was the direct descendant of the abortive Lothian Region Metro (more on that some other time) which had been snuffed out before it got going in the late 80s due to total lack of funds available for such an adventurous scheme in a provincial backwater like Edinburgh.
Note that last paragraph. CERT was always planned to be capable of being turned into a tramway at some point in the future. If Edinburgh couldn’t have a Metro or Trams, they at least had the forethought to try and futureproof a more economical scheme to allow it.
Let’s start with some numbers first. The proposal envisaged a 39 strong fleet of single decker buses that would carry 30k passengers per day, rising to 37k over the 20 years to 2010. In comparison, Edinburgh Trams started off at ~ 14k per day rising to ~20.2k by 2018 (before being completely trounced by Covid).
That’s a lot higher than the tram scheme, but as we will see later, CERT was not just the guided busway part but also there were two other branches in West Edinburgh running on-road. CERT also had a more convenient route out of the city as far as population centres were concerned (if you’re not familiar with the route of the Edinburgh Tram, it has an uncanny knack of running through the middle of the least populated parts in the west of the city).
Lothian Region optimistically hoped that they would get the necessary parliamentary ascent by 1997 and that running services by 1999. £28 million was the estimated capital costs with a £4.4 million annual revenue cost (including the vehicles) which would be covered by the fares.
Now the fun bit: maps!
We can see that the route was more or less the same as the tram for the western section, running along a vacant land corridor long reserved for the full West Approach Road into the city – but at Balgreen it would cross over (or under?) the railway and run to the south of it to join up with the West Approach Road at Westfield. The Tram in contrast runs between the Railway and Murrayfield stadium, a route that ends up requiring much more civil engineering but does bring it closer to the stadium.
Another key difference from the tramway was that it was planned to go OVER the Gogar Roundabout rather than under one side of it! Here we see one of the very small-looking buses sailing over the then new Gogar Underpass on an enormous overpass.
And here we see a schematic showing service paterns. A South Gyle “commuters’ loop” was planned around the Broadway and a “branch” out to Broomhouse, Sighthill and Wester Hails was planned (although to run on the road). Notice also the never-built (at that time) Gogar station .
Again, with some foresight, a corridor through Edinburgh Park had been reserved for transportation. The reserved corridor of the West Approach Road is why CERT, and the tram after it, have to cross over the railway at Stenhouse on a very substantial and expensive overpass, because the unbuilt corridor swaps sides along the edge of the golf course from south to north as you head into the city. From the text in the documentation it sounds like plan was to go under the railway using the existing bridge at Balgreen.
There were engineering challenges to cross the Water of Leith (note the tram running along the north of the railway)…
And then across the Edinburgh “South Sub” railway at Westfield. This would have involved some demolition of existing commercial properties here and I vaguely recall some controversy at the time about money for this. Note the chunk cut out of the building in the bottom left in the image below, which was to clear the CERT route.
After crossing the South Sub, it would have run along the old railway embankment here, across Roseburn Street on a new bridge and then connected with the West Approach Road, itself an old railway alignment.
And here are some rather nice but vague artists impressions of what CERT might have looked like. Not that different from the tram to be honest, just missing rails and using what look like VERY small vehicles for such an intensively planned service.
CERT of course was never built, I think this was largely due to a/ the Regional Councils being dissolved in 1995 and organisational confusion that followed and b/ a lack of funding for it. (I could be wrong though! let me know if you know otherwise)
But CERT wasn’t quite dead, it came back to life as a scheme called WEBS (West Edinburgh Busway Scheme) which proposed a much more modest scheme, which itself ended up in legal acrimony with a carpet bagging developer who tried to block the route for financial gain
But WEBS, or a bit of it, *did* eventually get built as Edinburgh Fastlink, a short stretch running from South Gyle Access to Stenhouse on part of the CERT route. This again was designed to allow conversion into a tramway (indeed, it is now the tramway).
Fastlink opened in 2004, before closing in 2009 to be converted into the tramway (which as we know took a further 5 years to materialise.)
Fastlink was served by the 2 and 22 bus routes which were more or less peak0time commuter services for the employment centres of South Gyle and Edinburgh Park. The buses were initially single deck but were always rammed and had to be replaced by double deckers. They required special guidewheels .
Fastlink demonstrated how good a segregated public transport corridor could be to massively reduce journey times, delays and increase patronage; but was crippled by having to re-join the main road at South Gyle Access where, despite traffic light priority, you inevitably got jammed in with all the single occupant cars.
It was flexible as it could get back on the road, but it was still a regular bus and was slow to load and unload. Even on the dedicated concrete trackway the ride was very rough and noisy. I commuted on it every day for most of its existence and have mixed memories.
The best thing about Fastlink though was that in 2009 when it shut, the tram project was just entering its interminable delays and legal wranglings, and for a good year or so it became Edinburgh’s best and biggest cycle super highway (I was so sick of the experience of the number 22 that I started cycling to work, and this route made my journey so much quicker, safer and easier).
Despite its long gestation and short life, CERT/WEBS/Fastlink managed to preserve the basic alignment from development for long enough to eventually lead to some proper high-capacity, environmentally friendly, urban rapid public transport in Edinburgh.
So let’s hear it for CERT and it’s crappy name and crappy logo.
I can recall seeing the aftermath of the time that 3 buses managed to get into a pile up on the Fastlink…
Also I can recall the time that somebody drove their car onto it by mistake, and had to crawl along the whole route at walking speed with a queue of buses behind and hundreds of commuters laughing at them, trying not to gouge big chunks out their bodywork on the guide kerbs.
For those of you that missed out on the Fastlink experience, here’s a short video of the ubiquitous No. 22 bus on it;
And here’s some specifics about the Fastlink scheme. tie (Transport Initiatives Edinburgh) was a well meaning arms-length council organisation that ultimately sewed the seeds for the calamitous implementation of the tram route. Note that Princes Street was largely removed of cars, as this intended, but filled up with even more buses, and the Greenways on Leith Walk were never properly enforced so were always a joke.