Alloway and Southern Ayrshire FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY Robert Burns Cottage, Alloway, Ayr
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Thursday, 21 February 2013

20 Feb 2013 - "Ayrshire's Railway Heritage"

A good turnout of members and guests attended to hear Gordon Thomson, the secretary of the Ayrshire Railway Preservation Group, who presented us with a well-researched presentation of the many types of rolling stock used, starting with the horse-drawn carts on iron rails used from the Coal mines and the early rail routes that used to cover Ayrshire. In those days, it was freight that made the money with passengers being only a secondary consideration. This meant these routes were primarily from the coal-mine or factory to the coastal ports.

Gordon told us of the many different types of rolling stock that operated in and around Ayrshire with many "Made in Kilmarnock", including the unusual compressed steam-powered “Fireless” engine made by Andrew Barclay & Sons. This was in demand for environments where sparks could be dangerous such as munitions factories, paper mills and fuel depots.  To bring us up to date it was noted that there is still a railway works in Kilmarnock today. The tremendous changes which took place over the 20th century were described, with the move from steam to diesel to electric followed by the closure of many smaller stations and lines during the 1960s. 

These continuous changes saw first of all Nationalisation, then the Beeching era, then Privatisation.  Some of the lines lost were regretted by speaker and audience alike, such as the "Nith Valley route" on the London to Glasgow line which was used when there were problems at Beatock, the loss of which now means that passengers have to be bussed from Carlisle.  The lines covering Glasgow suburbs and towns such as Helensburgh and Motherwell disappeared and it was thought they could have done much to ease the traffic congestion of today.

Many of the stations no longer used for the Railway have found other uses.  One in Speyside is now a Youth Hostel, Strathpeffer, on the edge of the valley, now houses a cafe and shops while Aberlour is a cafe and Tourist Information Centre.

There are, however, some notable survivors: Some very old Signal Boxes still exist in rural areas such as that near Girvan on the Stranraer line which has operated since the 1890s.  The last manually operated hinged gates in Scotland, just north of Dumfries, have been refurbished.  Kilmarnock Station Tower created by G & S Western as a grand statement still exists, while Dumfries still has a signal box dating back to the 1950s.  At Ballater the old railway station is now in use as a Tourist Information Office, museum and restaurant. 

The very first railway route in Scotland was from Kilmarnock to Troon and the viaduct, having been realigned in 1846 was restored in the 1980s when sections of the old railway line were found.  It was built to carry coal to Troon and on to Ireland.  Some lines used in the old coal mining days were closed by Beeching and have subsequently been reopened in connection with Open-Cast Mining.

The tremendous amount of work which goes into maintaining the Heritage Railways was described, including photos of volunteers hard at work (and frequently with more watching or photographing them).  Engines, track and boilers have to be maintained to the same standard as the commercial railways which entails much effort and expense.  Preservation groups such as those at Boat of Garten were mentioned and Bo'ness where grandchildren can be treated to "Thomas the Tank Engine" Days, even if the enthusiasts would rather be doing other things...

Members were impressed with the speaker's depth and breadth of knowledge and were encouraged to go along to the special steam days at the Scottish Industrial Railway Centre which take place on summer Sundays at the Dunaskin Heritage Centre, not far from Ayr, see for more information.  Here industrial engines from a variety of sources can be seen whether obtained from other organisations such as the steam locomotive and crane combination from Carnforth or the engine "liberated" from the new Glasgow Transport Museum.

Patricia & John Weston

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