Edinburgh has pretty much anything a tourist could be looking for, with its castle, Royal Mile, Holyrood and a plethora of fine buildings and open spaces. What it does lack, though, is a railway museum, with the nearest being some way out of the city at Bo’ness, home to the Scottish Railway Museum.
While it is good to see that a pair of junction signals from Stirling (SN18/SN11) have pride of place in the National Museum of Scotland, there is scope for much more, so it seems high time to consider a magnificent and listed building that stands in an ideal location, within a stone’s throw of Princes Street.
Waverley West Signal Box was built by the London & North Eastern Railway in 1936 to control early colour light signals on the western side of Waverley station. It lasted just 40 years before being decommissioned in November 1976, so has now stood empty and unloved for longer than it was actually in service.
Looking at the citation for its 2013 listing, as part of the Scottish Signal Box Review, neatly sums up why it is rather special, describing it as an inter-war box modelled specifically for its sensitive location beside East Princes Street Gardens and Waverley station: “As a 20th century signal box designed to blend with its classical surroundings, it is a particularly rare example…the use of reconstituted stone and concrete reflect the material shortages of the inter-war period.”
What makes Waverley West a compelling site for a railway and signalling museum is its city centre location, easy and level rear access from a path leading to it in East Princes Street Gardens, and the commanding view it enjoys over the western end of Waverley station – offering a vantage point similar to the one at the National Railway Museum in York.
Scotland has an impressive railway heritage, not least its many historic and listed signal boxes, so it seems something of a no brainer for Network Rail to get together with those promoting tourism in Scotland and breathe new life into such a magnificent and centrally-located building.