In the last year we have brought you a few rail journeys from families who have chosen to take a more planet friendly, sustainable approach to their holidays, using trains to travel abroad (here and here). Now we want to share with you some posts from staff and volunteers who love Scotland’s railways, their history and the opportunities for domestic travel that they bring.
Today Andrew Parrott has written for us about the renaissance of rail travel in Scotland illustrated by a journey between Bathgate and Airdrie. A great read for fellow rail enthusiasts. Please read on for Andrew’s article.
Between Bathgate and Airdrie
Today a train leaves Bathgate station every fifteen minutes for Edinburgh Waverley arriving there just under half an hour later. Westbound there is a train to Glasgow Queen Street Low Level every fifteen minutes. Two of these trains each hour stop at all stations, reach Queen Street in about fifty minutes and continue on to Milngavie. The other two leave out stops at Armadale, Blackridge and Caldercruix, reach Queen Street in just over forty minutes and continue on to Helensburgh. People increasingly accept it as the norm but it’s probably the best example of the recent renaissance of rail travel in Scotland. For thirty years between 1956 and 1986 there were no passenger trains at all serving Bathgate.
In 1973, in the aftermath of the Beeching Closures, there were two trains every hour from Edinburgh Waverley via Falkirk High to Glasgow Queen Street High Level and one train every other hour from Edinburgh Waverley via Shotts to Glasgow Central High Level. Beeching had recommended the closure of the route via Shotts, regarding it as unnecessary duplication, but the closure proposal was not accepted and the route was retained. In 2016 there are direct trains on four routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow. The routes from Edinburgh Waverley via Falkirk High to Glasgow Queen Street High Level and from Edinburgh via Bathgate to Glasgow Queen Street Low Level both have four trains every hour. From Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Central there are three trains every hour, two via Shotts and one via Carstairs. Whereas in 1973 there were five trains every two hours between Edinburgh and Glasgow there are now no less than twenty-two.
Go back to 1948 and there were just four trains per day from Bathgate Upper station to Edinburgh and Glasgow, Mondays to Fridays. On Saturdays there were ten to Glasgow and seven to Edinburgh. These services were withdrawn in 1956 leaving Bathgate without passenger trains. Freight trains continued to serve Bathgate although the line west of Bathgate to Airdrie closed completely in 1982. Once it was possible to travel by train via Whitburn, Bents and Fauldhouse to Morningside, south of Newmains, but this line closed for passengers in 1930. It was also once possible to travel by train via Bathgate Lower and Westfield to Blackston on the Manuel to Coatbridge line via Slamannan but this line closed for passengers in 1930 too.
The present station in Bathgate opened in October 2010, replacing the station that had opened in 1986 when passenger trains between Edinburgh and Bathgate were restored after a 30 year long gap. Passenger trains west of Bathgate to Airdrie were restored in December 2010 and that is the way we now head. Immediately after leaving Bathgate station the tracks curve to the left. Very little of the past is now left but just to the north is the site of the 1986 station and then very quickly the train passes the site of the original 1849 station, the terminus of the Edinburgh and Bathgate Railway which became Bathgate Upper to distinguish it after 1856 from Bathgate Lower on the line to Blackston. Then on the north side is the site of the triangular junction for the old Monklands Railway line to Blackston opened in 1855 and then as the train today curves to the right the old line to Morningside, opened in 1850, diverges to the south.
We are now on the line of the Bathgate and Coatbridge Railway opened for passengers in 1862. Four minutes later the train reaches Armadale station about a mile south of the town centre. The original Armadale station, open between 1862 and 1956, was west of the roadbridge but the new station is east of the bridge. Until 1967 a short goods branch, which diverged to the north just east of the station, served Bathville on the south side of the town. Another four minutes takes us to Blackridge station just to the south of the village. About a mile before Blackridge is the site of the branch to Woodend Colliery which diverged to the north and closed in 1973. Shortly after leaving Blackridge the train passes the site of Westcraigs station which opened in 1862 and closed in 1956. Just west of Westcraigs is the site of the junction for the goods line to the south, closed in 1963, which used to serve local collieries west of Harthill and north of Shotts.
It is seven minutes on the train from Blackridge to Caldercruix station. Shortly before the train starts to run along the south side of Hillend Reservoir the site of Forrestfield station is passed. This station opened as Forestfield, with one “r” not two in 1862 but despite having another “r” added to its name closed in 1930. No new station has been provided at this location where there is no substantial settlement. The new Caldercruix station has reopened on the site of the station open here from 1862 to 1956 and the 1925 Railway Clearing House Handbook of Railway Stations lists six industrial sites to be rail connected in the vicinity of Caldercruix.
Four minutes takes us from Caldercruix to Drumgelloch. Our train passes the site of Plains station which opened in 1862 and closed in 1951. Although there is a sizeable village here no new station has been provided. West of Plains there used to be a link line to the Slamannan line at Rawyards. The 2011 Drumgelloch station is on the site of Clarkston station which was open between 1862 and 1953. The Drumgelloch station which was open between 1989 and 2010 as an extension of the services to Airdrie was about half a mile to the west of the present station and we pass its site after leaving the new station. Although the line from Airdrie to Bathgate closed for goods in 1982 a short section of track east of Airdrie was retained until 1986 to serve Moffat Mills south-east of Airdrie. It was when this traffic ceased that the opportunity arose to extend the passenger service to Drumgelloch.
A final four minutes brings us to Airdrie. On the approach to Airdrie two lines used to cross the line we are now on. First was the branch to Calderbank Iron Works which opened in 1855. The iron works closed in 1930 and the branch line probably closed at the same time. Second was the Caledonian Railway branch to Airdrie and the small Caledonian Railway terminus station in Airdrie at Graham Street lay north of the surviving Airdrie station. It opened in 1886 and finally closed to passengers in 1943 as an economy measure during the Second World War having also been closed to passengers from 1917 to 1919 as an economy measure during the First World War.
A journey on the modern railway from Bathgate to Airdrie takes just over twenty minutes. Its frequent service of modern electric trains is a demonstration of the renaissance of passenger rail travel in Scotland. That single short journey though is laden with reminders of Scotland’s railway history and its industrial past that was served by the railway.
Thank you to Andrew for taking the time to share his rail journey with us. If you have a favourite rail journey to share you can email yours to firstname.lastname@example.org