Tuesday, 23 December 2008


The Davies Christmas letter to friends and relatives has been despatched. Of course it contains a few paragraphs devoted to the carbon capture and storage campaign but I realise now that there is one glaring omission. How can I have forgotten to make mention of the second most important event of the year?

On 15 May the first passenger train in 40 years pulled out of Alloa station and headed up the line towards Stirling. A steam special, pulled by 61994 'The Great Marquess' (LNER K4), it passed under the town bridges and the site of the branch line that once led down to the docks, alongside the park where scores of children stood waving, across Grange Road and the site of Alloa West Junction signal box, and then onto the embankment by the side of the house where my grandparents and great grandparents had lived from the 1890s to 1970.

By then the train was out of town, running alongside the trees growing where once there was a marshalling yard with wagons that screeched and crashed, on to Cambus and the whisky warehouses, past the site of Manor Powis colliery, beneath Wallace's monument, round the bend to cross the Forth overlooked by Stirling Castle, across the junction with the main line to Perth and into the station platforms.

Sheer bliss, what a cathartic experience.

Early memories crowd in of listening from the bedroom of my grandparents' house to the sound of steam locomotives painfully, but determinedly, hauling trains of coal wagons out of the marshalling yard on their way to Kincardine power station. The smoke would rise in the icy morning air above the trees until the engine would finally emerge, visible for just a few seconds before passing out of view behind the house.

Then, one day in 1967, a poster appeared that marked the beginning of the end: "Notice of Withdrawal of Passenger Services." I was 12 but was sufficiently outraged to take my first political act, writing to the Scottish Transport Users Consultative Committee to protest. (I also spent an evening writing protest posters, but discovered the following morning as I went around the town that I had not thought through how to stick them onto walls!).

The passengers service between Stirling, Alloa and Edinburgh went the following year, and Alloa was left as the largest town in Scotland without a station. The coal mines closed and the last goods train ran in 1983. The line became derelict, but the rails were not lifted and nothing was built on the trackbed that could prevent its reopening. By 1988 a campaign was underway to bring that about.

The achievement this year has re-established the line from Stirling as far as Longannet power station for coal trains, and as far as Alloa for an hourly passenger service from Glasgow, but with a hefty price tag of £86 million for the 21km route. Passenger figures for the first months of operation are said to be double those forecast.
All credit to the Scottish Executive and little Clackmannan Council for bringing about the rejuvenation.

It's taken 40 years and a lot of money but it feels good to have been proven right. They should have listened to me in the first place: the line should never have been closed!

Good thing it is in Scotland, where railway re-openings have become commonplace since the country gained home rule. If the line had been south of the border, with finances controlled by the Treasury and directed by the Department for Transport, all hopes of its restoration would long since have been dead and buried.

Merry Christmas everyone!


Iain Rubie Dale said...

BBC Scotland recently reported that there is going to be a study regarding extending the line further to Rosyth and thus enabling services to Edinburgh. Sadly the Gnats are dragging their heels over the Borders rail project and also tried to de-rail (pardon the pun) the Edinburgh tram project

Anonymous said...

Second attempt at leaving a Comment,

I hope the sevice is still running.

Your story reminded me of staying with my Grandparents in Blackpool. 60 George Street, and wathcing the Donkeys go down to the beach in the morning and back again in the evening.

Wonderful memories of the sounds and smells. Well, kids do, don't they.

All the best,

Debs n Clém xx