SAK History

Although Clackmannanshire had had an extensive waggonway system for decades by the 1840s, it was considered a ripe target for a standard gauge railway in the so-called 'Railway Mania' era of the mid-1840s. For those of you who haven't heard of it, 'Railway Mania' had a very close resemblance to the the recent 'Internet Bubble' - in both cases investors were piling investment into schemes ranging from the sound and well-planned through to the speculative and ill-thought out. Proposed railway lines in Scotland were of all kinds, but the sounder ones were either trunk routes between population centers, or those serving industrial areas.

A westward-looking view of the disused main line through Alloa taken in 1985 looking toward Alloa West Junction taken from one of the three overbridges that cross the line west of Alloa station. The line here is is relatively good condition and is still more or less free of trees and bushes, but within a few years the growth of vegetation got badly out of control to the point where standing at this point in the late 1990s it was difficult to tell how deep the cutting was, let alone that there was still track there! (The discolouration on the right is on the original print.)

Clackmannanshire, sitting on several layers of coal seam and with a developing industry spreading along the banks of the River Forth in Alloa, was a natural target for a standard gauge railway, and despite a financial crash in the middle 1840s which had effects similar to the crash in Internet stocks, the 'Stirling & Dunfermline Railway' was finally built at the end of the 1840s. It opened between Dunfermline and Alloa on 28th August 1850, along with a short branch down to Alloa harbour and a branch line to Tillicoultry, both opened on the 3rd June 1851. 

A eastward-looking view of the disused main line through the middle of Alloa taken in 1985 showing two of the three overbridges that cross the line west of Alloa station. The double-track Alloa Harbour branch diverged between the two bridges seen here and immediately went through a short tunnel on the way down to the River Forth.

Surprisingly the harbour branch was then used for passenger traffic for just over a year, as a short ferry journey across the River Forth allowed passengers to join a train at South Alloa (whose branch line opened 2nd September 1850) to continue their journeys to places like Falkirk, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Of course this ceased when the rest of the S&D opened between Alloa and Stirling on 1st July 1852.

The next 'wave' of railway development was the authorising of the Devon Valley Railway which was to run between Tillicoultry and Kinross. Funding and construction problems meant that the eastern half of the line from Rumbling Bridge to Kinross was opened in 1863 well before the Clackmannanshire end of the line was built. It then took until 1869 before trains ran from Tillicoultry even as far as Dollar, and two further years to complete the short but difficult middle section between Dollar and Rumbling Bridge. In the meanwhile the short line from Cambus to Alva, which was authorised as 'The Alva Railway' in 1861, was opened on 3rd June 1863.

So far all the standard gauge railway development in Clackmannanshire had been lines that were operated by and ended up as part of the North British Railway, but with the traffic from a coalfield at stake it was natural that someone else would want access and this happened when the 'Alloa Railway' was authorised in 1879. This single-track line was backed by the Caledonian Railway, and had the distinctive feature of a swing bridge over the River Forth just upstream of Alloa about half-way between it's starting point on the South Alloa branch and it's end-point where it met the Stirling & Dunfermline at Alloa West Junction. This line had a short branch into the south end of Alloa serving the Caledonian goods station, but passenger trains used the existing Alloa station from the time the line opened on 1st October 1885. The station was re-built about this time, doubtless at Caledonian expense!

A 1988 view of the site of the east end of Alloa station looking west toward Stirling. The remaining single track of the main line shows where the curve of this end of the platform was. The platform curved just as much in the other direction, but surprisingly the Tillicoultry branch, whose trackbed diverged to the right here, had connections to both sides of the main line.

The last line in the area built for both passengers and goods was the Kincardine branch, which left the Stirling & Dunfermline at Kincardine Junction to the east of Alloa and ran south and east through Clackmannan to Kincardine terminating somewhere near the shore of the River Forth. It was opened on 18th December 1893, and was extended to Dunfermline via Culross in 1906.

The railway map of the area was virtually almost complete by this time, not counting things like colliery sidings and some nineteenth century colliery branches to places like Sheriffyards and Gartmorn which I don't have any dates for, but two developments of the 1950s deserve mention as they involved a fair amount of new railway construction - the only new railways ever built in the area under Nationalisation.

The junction at Cambus for the 'Alva Railway' (known more recently as the Menstrie branch) taken in 1988 just after the signal box had been demolished, which is why the point is hand-operated. This junction was created in 1863 when the Alva Railway opened, and up to the late 1960s the main line was double track.

The better known of these was 'Alloa New Yard' which was a marshalling yard built in the mid-1950s between Alloa and Cambus and which was intended to handle all the goods traffic in the area, including traffic from all the local collieries. Built to a typical 1950s plan for a modern marshalling yard, it consisted mainly of a largish number of loops with very few dead-end sidings.

A side view of a Class 20 and a brake-van shunting at Alloa New Yard in 1983.

Looked at in isolation a new marshalling yard of this size hardly seemed worthwhile as many of the existing pits and mines were aging and weren't likely to generate much extra traffic between them, but there was a second development under way which was supposed to secure the future of mining in the area for many years.

A rare shot of van traffic at Alloa New yard in 1983. These vans were almost the only traffic I ever saw in one of the four remaining sidings, as the main use of the yard in the 1980s was for running round trains and re-marshalling the order of wagons to suit where they were to be taken to next, for which the four remaining loops were used.

The Glenochil mine was a good idea on paper, but the NCB didn't have the sense to do the basic research that would have told them to keep it there! This 1950s 'supermine' was supposed to exploit large untapped areas of coal in the lower Devon Valley, but when the mine got down to the coal seams they found (wait for it...) old coal-workings not marked on the mining maps! Personal anecdotes from relatives who were ex-miners (mostly passed on second-hand through my father) suggest that NCB management refused to listen to miners who tried to tell them that the coal Glenochil was after had already been mined from other mines and pits. Work started on it in 1952, but it shut a mere decade later having brought relatively little coal to the surface. Although the mine never reached anything like the coal  production levels it was intended to produce, it had a fairly substantial colliery branch that left the Alva Railway half a mile or so from Cambus and which climbed the south side of the Devon Valley to reach the site of the mine roughly a mile later.

No expense was spared to connect Alloa New Yard to the outside world as can be seen from this picture. This chord line originally connected the yard to the former 'Alloa Railway' at Longcarse Junction to give access to Alloa Bridge and the main line near Larbert without going via Stirling. It survived after the line over Alloa bridge closed as it was the simplest way to access the branch to the coal-yard on the site of the 'Caledonian goods', albeit via a reversal.

Well I've gone on at some length about how my local railway network grew in the steam era (perhaps too long given that I have had to illustrate it with 1980s pictures), but having told the story of how all the local lines came into existence here I'll tell the story about how they disappeared or became derelict on later pages!

For further information about the history above I recommend the Railscot website of my friend Ewan Crawford which has pages about most of my local lines.


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These pages are owned and maintained by Jeffray Wotherspoon. The storage space for these pages is provided by the University Of Stirling, but it is in no way responsible for the contents of these pages. Please email me at if you have any questions, comments, problems etc.