BR Diesels In 'The Wee County'! (Part 1)

A cheery title for a rather sad story, as dieselisation couldn't save my local lines from withering away...

The standard gauge railway network of Clackmannanshire was built up in just over a century, as related on my SAK History page, but the high point for railways in 'The Wee County' had been reached by the early 1960s, certainly in terms of track mileage. Some signs of decline had already been seen with Kincardine losing it's passenger service well before the second world war and Alva losing it's service in 1954, but other lines continued to see passenger services and local coal traffic, despite the problems with the Glenochil mine, was still reasonably healthy with other freight being carried as it always had been.

Dieselisation was beginning to have an effect on the area though, particularly on passenger services which had largely been turned over to DMUs and railcars where they were still running at all, but diesel shunters also replaced steam locomotives in the local yards. As the 1960s progressed main line diesels steadily replaced the remaining steam locomotives, but against a backdrop of increasing decline.


A Class 20 hauls the local trip freight from Grangemouth through Cambus to Alloa New Yard in the summer of ether 1983 or 1984. Most of the wagons are carrying sand, which wasn't destined for anywhere in Clackmannanshire as it went back to Stirling with the loco later that morning after the CO2 tank near the back was swapped for the ones at the distillery in the background. It was rare in the early 1980s for the daily trip working to have no molasses tanks on it in either direction!


That coal traffic remained healthy despite the Glenochil mine being closed in 1962 and the branch to it being lifted soon after was due to two other local developments that were technically just beyond the boundaries of the county. At Manor Powis, despite major investment to reach deep seams of high quality anthracite, the digging of a cheap drift mine to reach a layer of low-grade coal was much more successful with large tonnages needing to be moved. Another drift mine just to the east of Dollar produced similar coal in what at the time were record tonnages, and both these locations were used to supply Kincardine Power Station which had opened in 1959. Places like Tillicoultry mine and the Devon Colliery closed however, leaving these two as the only substantial sources of coal-traffic in the area.

The daily trip working of molasses tanks is propelled into the loop at Menstrie by a Class 20 in the summer of 1983. Just visible in the background is a fitted brake-van, essential when propelling over a long distance. A maximum propelling load of 12 wagons was allowed on this branch for safely reasons, which I have been told didn't go down too well with crews on a day where the trip working brought thirteen or more to be delivered!

The next casualty after the Glenochil branch was the section from Menstrie to Alva. Having lost it's passenger service in on 1st November 1954 it continued to see goods traffic for a decade, but that was withdrawn on 2nd March 1964. The year before a railtour visited Alva and was probably the last passenger working on that section - at the time of writing a picture of it can be seen here. The 'Alva Railway' as far as Menstrie continued to see freight traffic, although ordinary goods traffic at Menstrie was withdrawn in early 1965.

Mere weeks later the Devon Valley line suffered the same fate, with freight traffic being withdrawn between Dollar and Kinross on 20th April 1964, and passenger traffic over both the Tillicoultry branch and the Devon Valley line being withdrawn on 13th June 1964. Freight traffic, mostly coal from Dollar mine transported in hoppers, was again all that was left on this route.

This picture, borrowed from friends, shows a Clayton diesel, also known as a Class 17, stopping while one of the crew opens the manually operated crossing gates at the former Tillicoultry station in 1970. The hoppers used on traffic to Kincardine power station can clearly be seen in the background. Picture (c) 1970 John Furneval (supplied by Ewan Crawford and used here with permission).

So far the decline in local railway fortunes had mainly affected branches, but in 1968 things got much much worse. The first casualty that year was with the Alloa Railway and the South Alloa branch when passenger traffic from Alloa West Junction over the Alloa Railway Bridge to Alloa Junction (near Larbert) was withdrawn on 29th January. Freight traffic over the bridge ceased soon after on 6th May, although a little bit of the route survived on the Alloa side at Longcarse Junction to allow trains coming from the chord connecting that junction to Alloa New Yard to reach the former Caledonian goods depot, (by then a coal-yard) through a reversal.

Worse was to come on 7th October 1968, when the remaining passenger service over the original 'Stirling & Dunfermline' was withdrawn completely after 118 years. Although I was born in the 1960s I don't really remember any of this happening myself as I was too young to realise what was going on, but I can conjure up one personal memory of standing looking up at the station bridge at Alloa, which means I was on the Alloa station platform and must therefore have traveled on one of the last passenger trains.

A Class 20 departs from Menstrie in the summer of 1983 having delivered some molasses tank traffic to the yeast factory there on a day where no empties were waiting to be picked up.

After this there wasn't all that much left to lose apart from the main line itself, but the Tillicoultry branch and the last of the Devon Valley line closed on 25th June 1973 (after the closure of Dollar mine) and then the Alloa Harbour branch, which had clung on as a freight railhead that Alloa New Yard hadn't been able to replace, was closed in March 1977.

Could things get worse? Under BR, or course they could, but as the story is far from finished I'll tackle the 1980s and 1990s on a new page!


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