The purpose of this document is to act as a “starter for 10” on gathering information on the history of the Aberfoyle railway line. Its focus is on key dates and events. Any additions and corrections are welcomed and can be sent to us for inclusion on this website.
It draws from a number of sources but is written by someone with an interest in local history as opposed to a specific knowledge of railway history and heritage so please do not hesitate to send further information.
The Opening in 1882
The Aberfoyle Railway was opened on 2nd October 1882 (1) by the Strathendrick and Aberfoyle Railway Company. The idea of a railway line linking Lennoxtown and Aberfoyle was first raised in 1861 by the Blane Valley Railway Company. A line was laid but financial difficulties meant that the line terminated at Dumgoyne.
An Act of Parliament in August 1880 gave approval for the company to develop the line. By March 1881 a report (2) to the directors was able to confirm that “the work of the company was being satisfactorily proceeded with and that Mr. Kennedy, contractor, Partick, had been arranged with by the directors to proceed with the construction of the line.”
However (3) in September 1882 complaints were reported in the Stirling Observer about the potential steep railway fares on the branch line.
The Company was responsible for building a line of 9 miles length at a cost of £62000. It began began at Killearn where the Blane Valley line terminated. From this point it went North West for nearly 3 miles where at Gartness it joined the Forth and Clyde Railway and then went to Buchlyvie. At this point a second section branched north westwards for approximately 5 miles terminating in Aberfoyle.
One of the notable features was crossing Flanders Moss and passing relatively near the Lake of Menteith. Equally what was interesting was that passengers who undertook the full journey from Glasgow had to travel on lines belonging to four different railway companies: Edinburgh & Glasgow, Blane Valley, Strathendrick and Aberfoyle and the Forth and Clyde (4).
The London Illustrated News offered a perspective on the nature of the area in its edition published on 21st October 1882.
The aim of the Strathendrick and Aberfoyle Railway Company was very much to open up the Trossachs to a wide range of tourists. As well as the new railway line the intention was to invest in improving the track from Aberfoyle to the Trossachs to develop a circular coach tour of the area. The Duke of Montrose was the first chairman of the company and the engineers were Foremans and McCall from Glasgow. This company was a firm of civil engineers founded in 1828 and were later to build the West Highland Railway (5). The main contractor was Hugh Kennedy of Partick. The Duke of Montrose was a significant landowner in the area and indeed subsequently Hugh Kennedy also developed and owned several properties in Aberfoyle. Kennedy brought to Aberfoyle large quantities of cut red sandstone from a quarry he owned in Ayrshire. It was used to test the railway’s weight bearing capacity especially across Flanders Moss. The material was used to build the station buildings as well as Craigauchty Terrace and also Corrienessan. Kennedy also had political interests and was Provost of Partick between 1878 and 1883.
The station had a long single platform as well as wooden good sheds and a turntable to turn the engines round for their return journey.
The Tourist Population
Following publication of Sir Walter Scott’s “The Lady of the Lake” in 1810 the Trossachs and especially the bridge at Brig o’ Turk and the Trossachs Hotel became very popular places for visitors. This was reinforced as the 19th Century progressed with visits by Wordsworth and Queen Victoria.
By January 1884 the intention to reconstruct the road from Aberfoyle to the Trossachs was reported in the Stirling Observer in order to “open up the area for tourism” (6). This continued to be developed and was up and running by June 1885.Ultimately this would lead to several Trossachs Tours being available often either starting in Aberfoyle or Callander. Typically it also gave visitors the opportunity to cross Loch Katrine and Loch Lomond leading to a return to Glasgow or onwards elsewhere. In many ways the nature of this circular routes has barely changed except for the mode of transport.
Another option was to take a four-in-hand coach from the Baillie Nicol Jarvie Hotel in Aberfoyle (7). These were operated on the Trossachs Tour as late as 1937. This tour would typically take the visitors to Stronachlachar at the west end of Loch Katrine via Loch Ard and Loch Chon. The steamer then transported passengers to the east end of the loch where they had the option of being taken to the Trossachs Hotel or further on to Callander.
The first train left Glasgow Queen Street at 05.55 am on 2nd October 1882.
The Proposed extension from Aberfoyle to Crainlarich
On 16th November 1882 Act of Parliament was passed for the Strathendrick and Aberfoyle Company to extend the line further to Crainlarich. These plans were developed in some detail and involved taking the line to the south of Loch Ard with a station at Blairhullichan. It is presumed that this was an alternative to the existing line but it did not get adequate financial support to be developed. Once again Foremans and McCall were involved in the planning.
In May 1885 a new private line of railway connecting Aberfoyle Railway Station to the works of the Aberfoyle Slate Quarry was tested. The quarries are situated about 2 miles from the station with a significant gradient up to 1 in 5. Whilst the test was effective it was noted by the newspaper report that there was significant breakage of slates in transit. On the day of the test some 16 wagons were used. This was considered to be at least 50% in excess of the usual load and despite this nothing of concern occurred. The report (8) concluded with the statement “the experiments were entirely successful.” During the building of the tramway in October 1884 a local man William McKeich had fallen into part of the works associated with the tramway and was found dead there the next morning. The family sued the company owing to the absence of safety lighting and the company argued that McKeich was probably inebriated. The case went to court but a settlement was reached by the parties concerned.
From the very beginning the links between the Railway and Slate Quarries were very strong. Amongst the shareholders was Hugh Kennedy and unsurprisingly Foremans and McCall were the engineers. By February 1891 it was decided by the shareholders to integrate the Aberfoyle Branch into the bigger network of the North British Company. This was despite the company paying regular dividends to its shareholders.
On 23 February 1907 the Strathern Herald (9) reported on a fatality on the line as follows:
“John Mathieson a surfaceman employed by the North British Railway was fatally injured between Gartmore and Aberfoyle. He was on his way home to Gartmore where he resides and it is presumed that he was attacked by a fainting fit”.
His body was ran over by the 4.43 train from Gartmore. He was taken to Aberfoyle Station where he died quickly afterwards. It was reported that he had heart problems and left behind a widow and family. Mathieson was originally from the Isle of Skye and was the father of 3 children. His eldest son Donald notified the registrar of his father’s death which had been confirmed at Aberfoyle Railway Station by Dr. MacGregor. His death certificate confirms that he died as a result of having as serious injuries to his head and hip.
In November 1912 a major storm with significant rainfall and gales affected Aberfoyle as well as other parts of Scotland. The railway shed was blown down and by good luck the driver and fireman managed to escape uninjured. However Dugald McGregor a surfaceman was caught by falling debris and sustained a double fracture of the left leg. He also has a scalp wound and internal injuries. Another worker Hugh Shields was struck by falling bricks and his head was cut. The injured men were attended to by Dr. McGregor.
The next report of an incident (10) on the line was in June 1914 when a group of surfacemen were moving lengths of rail and a rail slipped. As a result James McKeuran broke his leg and by good fortune and timing he was taken to Glasgow Royal Infirmary on the next train at 10.34.
The importance and risks associated with adders was as prevalent in the past as it remains today. A report in the Stirling Observer (11) in April 1918 reported that 2 adders of significant size were killed by the railway surfacemen working near Gartmore Station.
In the late 1920s it became clear that that the railway was losing passengers with the increase in the number of road vehicles both motor cars and buses. As a result in order to reduce costs a steam railcar named Retaliator was introduced between Glasgow and Aberfoyle. This was a Sentinel Railcar which was built at the Sentinel Waggon Works in Shrewsbury and were scrapped just after the war in May 1946 (12). This train conveyed passengers from Aberfoyle to Blanefield and from where they continued their journey to Glasgow by normal steam train.
The other major event was a derailment on the line on 1st October 1929 between Gartmore and Buchlyvie when the 10.32 am train from Aberfoyle and heading to Glasgow was derailed in an area called Deepston Pow which is about 2 miles from Buchlyvie. The accident occurred at about 10.41 when the train was travelling at a speed of about 30-40 miles per hour.
At the time there were about 20 passengers on the train, 2 of whom suffered shock and minor injuries. Two horses travelling in the horse-boxes on the front of the train were killed. The engine called a 0-6-2 tank engine was built by the Yorkshire Engine Company and been put into use in March 1929. The train was on the Aberfoyle branch line from April to June and then returned towards the end of September.
Accidents on Britain’s railways were independently investigated by a government department which from the 1840s until 1919 was the Board of Trade, and for many years thereafter the Ministry of Transport. The main aim of the investigation was to identify any shortcomings in operating procedures and suggest improvements rather than apportion blame. The great majority of accidents to passenger trains reported upon amounted to collisions and derailments.
The October 1929 accident was thus investigated by Lieutenant-Colonel E.P. Anderson who undertook the investigation and produced his report on 1st January 1930 (13). The investigation was extensive including detailed examination of the railway line and the train itself. Several witnesses were interviewed including passengers, the driver and the fireman. It also included the Inspector responsible for inspecting the track and the ganger and his team who were working near the line when the train passed by.
The report concluded:
“In my opinion the derailment was due to the running of heavy tank engines on a line where the track was of only light construction and the standard of maintenance low”.
The report also referenced issues associated with poor adjustment to the springs of the engines and advised about the marshalling of unbraked vehicles between the engine and heavy bogie passenger stock.
In December 1930 some 50 years after the initial investment Perth County Council decided to adopt the road from Aberfoyle to the Trossachs and invest £ 80000 in the necessary improvements (14). The majority of the money came from the government and whilst supported by the community in Aberfoyle it was opposed by Provost Glen from Callander. However the County Council agreed to proceed.
April 1943 During World War 2 Aberfoyle Railway station was a busy place. The arrival of children to stay at Dounans Camp and soldiers was a regular feature of life in Aberfoyle. Strathard was one of the ammunition dispersal sites in Scotland. In addition history was made in April 1943 when the following was reported in the Stirling Observer (15):
“History was made at the railway station on Monday when for the first time since its opening about 65 years ago, a lady appeared on the platform as a member of the out-door staff. The newcomer is Miss Jean Menzies who succeeds James Oliver as porter-signalman on his promotion to guard-a well merited recognition. A popular member of the village community, Jean, we feel confident will be no less so with the travelling public and we wish her every success in her new sphere”.
Like other places the Aberfoyle Railway line was under economic pressure both with passengers and freight. The tramway line closed in 1947 when the Aberfoyle Slate Quarries Company Limited was wound up. The quarries reopened for a few more years but production effectively ceased in 1951.
The end of an era
October 1951 saw the end of the passenger service and Aberfoyle Freight Branch Line was officially closed on Monday 5th October 1959. Elsewhere on this web site an article by Don Martin “Last Train to Aberfoyle Myth and Mystery” describes in detail the period leading to the final closure of the line.
James Kennedy, 7 November 2020.
- London Illustrated News 21st October 1882 p10 col 3.
- Glasgow Evening Citizen 29th March 1881 p3 col 4.
- Stirling Observer 30th September 1882 p2 col 5.
- J. Hood Old Aberfoyle, Thornhill and the Forth Villages (Stenlake Publishing 2000) p7.
- L. Stott Aberfoyle Slate Quarries-Fragments of an Earlier World (Stirling Council 2007) p28.
- Stirling Observer 24th January 1884 p3 col 3.
- E. Simpson Hail Caledonia The Lure of the Highlands and Islands (Amberley 2017) p75.
- Stirling Observer 7th May 1885 p3 col 4.
- Strathearn Herald 23rd February 1907 p7 col 1.
- Stirling Observer 20th June 1914 p.4 col 5.
- Stirling Observer 20th April 1918 p8 col 1.
- A. Cooper—personal communication September 2018.
- MoT Gartmore-Buchlyvie 1929 Accident on Railway https://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk
- Dundee Evening Telegraph 15th December 1930 p.6 col 1.
- Stirling Observer 22nd April 1943 p4 col 3.