I spend a fair amount of my relaxation driving a variety of trains on my PC using Train Simulator. The program comes with several built in routes to get you started and then you can purchase others to expand your collection. It is unsurprising that over time one of those routes will become a favourite. The Career page of the program’s interface which displays your record as a driver tells me that my favourite route is the Western Lines of Scotland. Good routes for Train Simulator need to have a variety of potential traffic sources and some challenging sections for locomotive and driver. This route has plenty of freight traffic opportunities and there are also some very respectable gradients of around 1 in 75 (with one as steep as 1 in 63), single track sections and lots of speed restrictions that need careful observance whilst running to the timetable.
One thing that becomes apparent is that the line from Carlisle to Stranraer can be divided into three sections. The first section at the eastern end of the route is Carlisle to Dumfries and on to Castle Douglas. The section to Dumfries is a relative billiard table of a run past Kingmoor shed and yards on the old Caledonian Railway mainline before turning left at Gretna Junction and passing through Gretna Green station with its reputation for eloping lovers. The stations at Rigg and Eastriggs have long since closed but are depicted in their glory such as it was. Actually, Eastriggs station was originally named Dornoch but was renamed in 1923 by the LMS – the village of Eastriggs had grown to small town size almost certainly as a result of the Ministry of Defence munitions facility there. Reputedly Dumfries and Galloway council are seeking to fund the reopening of this station. The line then passes through Annan where locally caught fish were shipped by rail to all parts of the UK (true of several other stations on the route) before passing Cummertrees, Ruthwell and Racks, (all closed) and finally reaching the county town of Dumfries.
Dumfries station still looks much the same from St Mary’s Street bridge as it did in the 60’s which is the time period of the route as provided. I visited the station once in the early 1980’s but have passed through it often in the late 1970’s on Saturday night services to Glasgow and Edinburgh that were diverted from the West Coast Mainline due to engineering works, often picking up Class 40’s for haulage. The station in the simulation still has goods yards along with carriage and wagon works, civil engineers sidings and a loco depot. The bay platforms for services to Stranraer at the west end of the station are there too – features that have largely disappeared since the 1970’s.
From Dumfries the line diverges from the Kilmarnock route and heads towards Castle Douglas (the line was built as the Castle Douglas & Dumfries Railway in 1865). Leaving Dumfries the line crosses the River Nith and passes the Carnation Milk factory which is still open but just makes powdered milk substitutes nowadays. The tracks of the railway have long since been lifted and the bridge over the Nith converted to form part of a cycle path which follows the course of the railway to Castle Douglas. On the outskirts of Dumfries we pass the site of the closed Maxwelltown station and the Scottish Fuels oil terminal.
The initial miles of this central section of the route are similar to those to the east of Dumfries, crossing low lying farmland. At Drungans trains pass the ICI chemical plant which was served by rail – the plant is now owned by DuPont Teijin and has shrunk a little in size but remains an employer in the area manufacturing PET films. Beyond Drungans the line climbed steeply towards Lochanhead, crossing Goldielea Viaduct on the way. The viaduct is one of several impressive structures still standing along the route of the railway to Stranraer and straddles the grounds of Goldielea House, built in 1785, once home of the Goldie family and now a care home.
Lochanhead station marked the summit of the route between Dumfries and Castle Douglas. There are only a couple of houses and a road junction here as the line neatly passes equidistant between Lochaber Loch to the south and Lochrutton Loch to the north. The nearest settlement of any size is Lochfoot on the northern shore of Lochrutton 2.25 miles away! It seems that the only purpose of a station here was perhaps to allow locomotives to replenish their tanks after the climb? The station building is now a private dwelling – a fate shared by several other closed stations along the route. The line descended through Killywhan station – a place that seems to have been forgotten on today’s maps, the nearest village is Beeswing – before a station at Kirkgunzeon where there is a reasonably sized village. The next mystery station was Southwick with no villages at all nearby – though it seems to have caused a nearby plantation to be named Station Wood!
Next station along the line was Dalbeattie and it served a sizeable town. But before we get there we pass the Royal Navy’s Edingham Munitions Factory which was constructed in 1939. Closed soon after the war, most of the buildings remain to this day beside the trackbed of the railway. There were sidings here but they had been removed before the 1960’s period in which the Western Lines of Scotland route is set. From the historical accounts there were tracks running into the works from close to Southwick Station and there are two bridges across the curiously named Kirkgunzeon Lane stream of similar construction which suggests both were built by and for the railway in the 1930’s. The factory manufactured Nitro-Glycerin and Cordite which were then dispatched to other sites for processing into ammunition – presumably Eastriggs was amongst the receiving factories. Dalbeattie itself was a supplier of aggregates and building stone traffic for the railway and also had a creamery which received milk and supplied cheeses for onward transport to locations as far afield as London – sadly the creamery closed in 1988.
Finally, the line reaches Castle Douglas – This was the junction at which the line for Stranraer split from the Kirkcudbright Branch. The station was equipped with sidings for locally generated freight and for re-marshalling trains from the two routes for onward transmission to Dumfries and beyond. It also had a small locomotive depot. It is at this point that I will take a break in the narrative of what is already an overly long post and one that has required a lot of research and driving to set up photo opportunities 😉 Part 2 will cover the Port Road from Castle Douglas to Stranraer and hopefully will appear more promptly as I have got most of the images in the can for that one!
In an almost apologetic footnote within the July 1965 issue of Modern Railways there is a simple record of the closure to passenger services on the route from Dumfries to Kirkcudbright via Castle Douglas, along with a number of other Scottish branches deemed financially unviable. With that in mind I will leave you with a thought that occurred to me during the writing of this post. That change was needed on the British Railway’s network is not disputed – there were many minor branch lines that would never have been able to provide an acceptable level of loss (all national railway systems incur losses) and would have needed to be closed. But when you look at The Port Road at this eastern end you see industries that would find a rail connection essential to grow: You see a number of large communities for which an effective rail service would have allowed their inhabitants to commute to centres of employment. At that point you have to ask why it was necessary to do two things at once… Replace Steam traction with Diesel and close lines without waiting to see what benefits the former change brought in economies. A period of consolidation to see what savings were made might well have saved this railway – but dogma and money to be made out of building motorways clearly won out over common sense. This area certainly never saw the benefits of those motorways 😦 Now we are seeing the longer term costs as long discarded railways are having to be reopened due to a resurgence in demand in the 21st century, just 50 years later. Does that actually mean that real savings were made? I don’t know. Not far from The Port Road was The Waverley Route. The Port Road may have died with a whimper but the death of The Waverley Route made major national news. Now finally, money is being made available to reopen part of that essential link to the Scottish Borders – A section of the Waverley Route from Edinburgh to Tweedbank is being rebuilt. Hopefully the line will be extend further through Melrose and Dryburgh in the future – places I visited as a child when we went to stay with one of my Uncles in Jedburgh. And, who knows, perhaps it will get all the way back to Carlisle? From the late 1990’s Dumfries and Galloway Council have been asking the question, what about The Port Road? – who knows…It may yet re-open! So I leave you with this ‘What might have been’…
External Links: –
http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/76279/details/dalbeattie+royal+naval+armaments+depot+nitro+glycerine+works/ Note that there are many images of this facility available on the Canmore site and they are well worth viewing.