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The line opened in 1884 for both freight and passenger services. The construction of the suburban line was formally proposed in the Edinburgh Suburban and Southside Junction Railway Act of Parliament, dated 26 August 1880, as a mechanism to relieve the congested main line - running between Portobello and Haymarket - of freight traffic.
The Act described the route of the suburban line as: "Six miles 1507 yards, approximately, from a junction with the N.B.R. (E & G Section) at…the bridge carrying the Caledonian Railway Granton and Leith branches over the N.B. at Haymarket, and terminating at a junction with the N.B.R. some 200 yards south east of... Portobello Station".
Sir Thomas Bouch, designer of the ill-fated Tay Bridge, surveyed and planned the original route of the suburban line but following his death in 1881, the engineering responsibility was transferred to George Trimble of Trimble and Peddie Ltd.
Construction of the suburban line, conducted primarily by contractors John Waddell and Sons, began in August 1881 and continued for a period of three years. MacLean argues that despite: “the normal high cost of suburban land, the actual cost of the line was low.”
In 1882 the Merchant Company of Edinburgh (governors of George Watson’s Hospital) presented the North British Railway with an impressive claim for £23,368.10/-, to cover the capital cost of land upon which the suburban line was to be built and the incurred construction costs of new drainage systems, two bridges, and the erection of fencing.
The suburban line, which was opened to freight transport on 31 October 1884 and to passenger traffic on 1 December 1884, included stations at Gorgie (later renamed Gorgie East), Craiglockhart (opened in 1887), Morningside (later Morningside Road), Blackford Hill, Newington, and Duddingston (later Duddingston and Craigmillar).
Stations at Portobello, Piershill, Abbeyhill, Waverley, and Haymarket although not lying on the suburban line were considered part of its 14-mile circular route. The Edinburgh Suburban and Southside Junction Railway Company, whose £225,000 founding capital was raised by the selling of 22,500 £10 shares, was legally incorporated into the North British Railway on 1 March 1885.
The operators of the suburban line were dubious as to the appeal of passenger services. In a letter to the Board of Trade in London, dated 25 October 1884, the company stated: "Keeping in mind that the primary objective of the suburban railway was to relieve the main lines between Haymarket West and Portobello of all through goods... it will be many years until suburban passenger traffic be at all considerable."
When the half-hourly passenger services began, however, they were well patronised; several hundred journeys were made on the first day of operation.
Passengers services were withdrawn in September 1962.