The Lothian Lines

John Furnevel



The NB Lothian Lines came into being as a direct result of the continued growth in volumes of coal produced by the Lothian collieries in the early part of the 20th Century, most of which was transported to Leith Docks by rail for onward shipment by sea.



This heavy coal traffic, combined with increasing rail activity generally, had led to frequent and unacceptable delays as far as the coal owners were concerned in getting their product from the pits to the docks.

These problems, coupled with what were felt to be excessive freight charges on the part of the North British Railway Company, came to a head in 1912, with the coal owners consortium seeking parliamentary approval for a bill authorising construction of their own private railway.

The parliamentary bill eventually failed, but resulted in an undertaking on the part of the NB to address the issue as a matter of urgency.

The solution to the problem was to build what became known as the Lothian Lines.

Seafield Level Crossing: EWS 66078 brings coal empties from Cockenzie power station over Seafield level crossing on 9 June 2005 on their way to Leith Docks. View east from the pedestrian footbridge - note the smart new crossing gates! The trackbed used by the former NB Lothian Lines is on the left at this point. John Furnevel 09/06/2005
Meadows Yard: A coal train for Cockenzie leaves Leith Docks via South Leith yard and emerges from the bridge under Seafield Road in February 2006. The train is on the former NB Lothian Lines alignment at this point, with the original Edinburgh & Dalkeith line having passed under the northern span of the bridge. Meadows signal box once stood on this side of the bridge between the two routes. John Furnevel 07/02/2006


Authorised in August 1913 and opened in September 1915, these new lines effectively provided a specialised coal transportation system superimposed over what was an already complex arrangement of railway lines to the south and east of Leith.

A large part of the new network was single track, with much of it running in parallel with existing routes. Potential delays caused by conflicting movements on other lines were invariably avoided by crossing them at a higher level.



The new line ran south from Leith to Portobello in parallel with the existing Edinburgh & Dalkeith Railway route, heading towards the ECML.

Just before reaching the ECML, the Lothian Lines turned off at Leith South Junction, just to the west of Portobello Station, prior to skirting the north side of Portobello Yard on a long, rising, curved embankment.

Baileyfield Switch and Crossing Works: Russian coal on its way to Cockenzie power station in September 2006. EWS 66095 has brought the train from the import terminal in Leith Docks and has just passed below the A1140 road bridge heading for Portobello West Junction and the ECML. John Furnevel 16/09/2006
Portobello: EWS 66083 lifts a loaded coal train from Leith Docks up the bank to join the ECML at Portobello Junction in March 2007. The yard in the foreground is part of the VAE Baileyfield Switch & Crossing works. Trains on the former Lothian Lines route began to turn east at this point before circumventing Portobello Yard on a curving embankment. John Furnevel 22/03/2007


After bypassing the yard it then turned south, crossing a plate girder bridge over the ECML and, shortly thereafter, a similar structure spanning both the Waverley Route and the Edinburgh suburban lines.

Portobello East Junction: A Deltic about to bring train 1S17, the thirteen coach down Flying Scotsman through Portobello East Junction in October 1972. The bridge and embankment in the background carried the Lothian Lines across the ECML and around the northern perimeter of Portobello Yard. John Furnevel 30/10/1972
Portobello East Junction: A Brush type 4 with a Freightliner container train is held at signals approaching Portobello East Junction off the sub in 1972. The train is standing below the bridge that carried the Lothian Lines on their way to Leith Docks. The Freightliner is waiting to cross the ECML and enter Portobello FLT, but the manoeuvre has been temporarily blocked due to the passing of an EE Type 3 with a train of tanks from Granton. John Furnevel 30/10/1972


After running parallel with these lines for a short distance, it reached what was effectively the Lothian Lines "hub" at the high level Niddrie North Junction.

At Niddrie North a three-way split took place in order to reach the main "feeder" routes.

Brunstane: View north in 2002 from the remains of the bridge that once carried the Lothian Lines over the Sub. Brunstane station is under construction in the background. The view would once have been blocked by Niddrie North signal box [see image 32080] and the now removed embankment that carried the Lothian Lines north to cross the ECML. John Furnevel 11/02/2002
Brunstane: ScotRail 158739 approaching the platform at Brunstane from the south on 17 October 2005 with a mid-morning service to Dunblane ex-Newcraighall. The train is passing the site of Niddrie North Junction and the remains of the former Lothian Lines bridge. John Furnevel 17/10/2005


Firstly a line turned south west on a falling gradient to reach Niddrie West Junction and the Edinburgh sub, providing a link for traffic from the west and north.

Next, after crossing a bridge over the Waverley Route for a second time, a line descended to join up with it at Niddrie South Junction.

Niddrie West Junction: Scene at Niddrie West Junction in 1971 as 5068 passes Niddrie yard with a freight for Millerhill. In the centre is the direct freight link through to the ECML at Monktonhall Junction via Wanton Walls, while on the right is the sub. Beyond the sub is the trackbed of the line that once climbed to meet the Lothian Lines route to Leith Docks at the high level Niddrie North Junction. Niddrie West box is in the centre background. Niddrie West junction has seen many changes over the years since this photograph was taken [see image 50652] John Furnevel 30/04/1971
Niddrie South Junction: The 0911 Edinburgh - Tweedbank approaching Niddrie South Junction shortly after leaving Brunstane on 10 June 2018. On the left is the line to Niddrie West, with the footbridge visible in the background. The former Lothian Lines link from Niddrie North Junction was off picture to the right. John Furnevel 10/06/2018


Finally, a third line continued eastward across what was then open countryside to reach Wanton Walls, where it formed a junction with the original NB direct freight route from Niddrie West.



Beyond Wanton Walls, the combined route turned south east, running alongside the East Coast Main Line on a gradually falling gradient for approximately a mile and a half, before eventually coming together at Monktonhall Junction.

Musselburgh: Face to face. A class 322, long associated with the North Berwick line, meets one of the class 380 replacements at Musselburgh, photographed looking west over the platforms on 11 June 2011. The plate girder bridge beyond the stairway once spanned the goods lines on their climb from Monktonhall Junction to Wanton Walls. [See image 29553] John Furnevel 11/06/2011
Musselburgh: 322484 approaching the 1988 Musselburgh station with a North Berwick - Edinburgh Waverley service on a slightly frosty November morning in 2002. In the background the 1961 link from Monktonhall Junction to the south end of Millerhill Yard runs off to the west, while on the right is the overgrown embankment via which the direct freight lines once climbed to Wanton Walls Junction [see image 29308]. John Furnevel 12/11/2002


The Lothian Lines operated successfully for many years, with coal trains running day and night during much of the period when coal was king.

Effective closure of the network eventually came about early in 1967, following a period of slow decline.

Nowadays (2018) a line still runs between Portobello and Leith although the rest of the former network has now become a mixture of roads, footpaths, housing, retail developments and various open spaces.

John Furnevel

V4 20/07/2018

Information gathered from various sources, not least the Railscot website itself. Particular mention should also be made of Sandy Mullay"s "Rail Centres – Edinburgh", WAC Smith and Paul Anderson"s "An Illustrated History of Edinburgh"s Railways", the superb NLS Maps database, plus, as always, more than a little help from Ewan!