This article describes the Monkland Railways Company and the later neighbouring mineral line, the North Monkland Railway.
The Monkland Railways was a railway company formed in 1848 by the merger of three "coal railways" that had been built to serve coal and iron pits around Airdrie in Central Scotland, and connect them to canals for onward transport of the minerals. The newly formed company had a network stretching from Kirkintilloch to Causewayend, near Linlithgow. These coal railways had had mixed fortunes; the discovery of blackband ironstone and the development of the iron smelting industry around Coatbridge had led to phenomenal success, but hoped-for mineral discoveries in the moorland around Slamannan had been disappointing. The pioneering nature of the railways left them with a legacy of obsolete track and locomotives, and new, more modern, railways were being built around them.
The new company responded with connections to other lines, and to Bo'ness Harbour, and built new lines to Bathgate, but it was taken over by the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway in 1865. Much of the network was dependent on proximity to pits and ironworks and as those became worked out or declined, the traffic on the network declined too, but the Coatbridge - Airdrie - Bathgate line remained open for passengers until 1956. The section east of Airdrie then closed, except for minor freight movements, but it was reopened in 2010, forming the Glasgow - Airdrie - Bathgate - Edinburgh link. Part of the Bo'ness extension line was re-opened as the Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway, a heritage line.
The North Monkland Railway was an independent line built to serve pits and quarries to the north of Airdrie beyond the reach of the Monkland Railways system. It opened in 1878 and was taken over in 1888.
In 1826 the Monkland and Kirkintilloch Railway (M&KR) had opened, with the primary purpose of carrying coal from the Monklands collieries, south of Airdrie to Kirkintilloch, from where it could continue to market in Glasgow and Edinburgh over the Forth and Clyde Canal. As a pioneering railway, it adopted a track gauge of 4 ft 6 in, and at first operated as a toll line, allowing independent hauliers to move wagons, using horse traction. It later acquired steam locomotives and ran trains itself. At first it was successful, and when the iron smelting industry became a huge success within the railway's area, it became even more successful.
As coal extraction developed, pits were opened further north and east than the M&KR reached, and the Ballochney Railway was constructed to serve some of them, running from Kipps, near Coatbridge, to pits around Arbuckle and Clarkston, and a quarry. It opened in 1828. The area it reached was on high ground, and two rope-worked inclines were necessary to gain altitude.
There was a large area of undeveloped moorland between Airdrie and the banks of the Forth, and a railway was promoted to develop the region. There were optimistic ideas of serving new collieries in the area, as well as the advantage of connecting Monklands to Edinburgh more directly. The Slamannan Railway opened in 1840 between Arbuckle and Causewayend, a wharf on the Union Canal; it had a rope worked incline down to the wharf. Onward transport to Edinburgh involved transshipment to canal barges.
The M&KR and the Ballochney companies enjoyed huge commercial success as the iron smelting industry boomed around Coatbridge, and as successful new mineral extraction started around Airdrie. By the 1840s the buoyant times had ended, and the Slamannan company's sought-for new mineral business barely materialised. At the same time new intercity railways were being promoted and suddenly the coal railways disadvantages seemed dominant. Their near monopoly of mineral traffic in very small areas now seemed to exclude them from areas where new business was being developed, emphasised by the terminating points at canal basins, requiring transshipment to get to destination. Their primitive track on stone block sleepers, their distinct track gauge of 4 ft 6 in, their obsolete locomotives, horse haulage by independent hauliers is some parts, the rope-worked inclines and the antiquated operating methods were all considerable disadvantages.
In 1842 the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway (E&GR) opened its main line (to Haymarket at first) on the standard gauge of 4 ft 8½ in with modern locomotives, and the Caledonian Railway was promoting a new trunk line from Carlisle to Glasgow and Edinburgh (opened in 1848).
The three coal railways decided that their interests lay in collaboration, and they formed a joint working arrangement from 29 March 1845; in effect the three companies worked as one.
In 1844 the M&KR had built a short spur to transshipment sidings with the E&GR at Garngaber, a little east of the present-day Lenzie station. The inconvenience of the transshipment emphasised the disadvantage of the now non-standard track gauge, and it was decided to change the track gauge to standard gauge. They got parliamentary authority and made the change on 26 July and 27 July 1847.
Operating costs were high: from 1845 to 1848 the ratio for the three railways that formed the Monkland Railways averaged 55%. Giving evidence at the hearing of the Monklands Amalgamation Bill in 1848, George Knight, secretary and General Manager of the three railways explained that:
The Monklands complex consisted of 36 miles of railway proper and 12 miles of sidings, and had connected it with another 48 miles of private railways built by the various extractive and industrial interests. Although a through journey of 25 miles was possible on the system—from the eastern end of the Slamannan to the Kirkintilloch canal basin—30% of all traffic travelled less than a mile, and half of it less than 2½ miles. Hence locomotives were involved in a ceaseless pattern of stopping and shunting, and averaged only 24 miles per day against the 90 miles normal on the Edinburgh & Glasgow.
The sidings were expensive to work, and even private sidings required main line points which had to be renewed every three or four years ... these numerous points also meant the employment of a large number of men to supervise them. Traders could also benefit from using the company's waggons, and were not charged for their use on sidings and private lines. [The waggons] averaged only 5¼ miles per day against 23 miles on the Edinburgh & Glasgow.
In 1846 it became clear that the E&GR directors favoured a purchase of the coal railways, giving it immediate access to the collieries and ironworks, and gaining possession of the territory against newly promoted lines. Such a sale appeared at first to please everyone, but Lancashire shareholders in the E&GR felt that the terms of such a takeover were too favourable to the small Scottish lines, and a major row broke out in the E&GR: the scheme was dropped. In this period, numerous other railways were promoted and alliances seemed to be formed and abandoned quickly, but the only large newcomers were the E&GR and the Caledonian Railway.
Having been rebuffed by the E&GR, the Monkland companies decided upon a formal merger, and obtained the necessary Parliamentary sanction on 14 August 1848. The new Monkland Railways Company was formed with a nominal share capital of £329,880, the sum of the capital of the three former companies; the shares were converted as follows:
The Slamannan Railway terminated at Causewayend, a wharf on the Union Canal. This was close to the new E&GR main line, and a connection seemed desirable. An independent company, the Slamannan Junction Railway, was formed to build the link; the submission to Parliament for an Act of Parliament was supported financially by the E&GR and the Monkland joint companies together. In fact its shareholders sold the company to the E&GR immediately after obtaining the enabling Act, and the E&GR built the line from Bo'ness Junction (later renamed Manuel High Level) on the E&GR main line to Causewayend. The short line was completed by January 1847, but remained dormant until the Monkland lines altered their line to standard gauge, in August 1847.
The harbour at Borrowstounness (Bo'ness) was also not far from Causewayend, and a connection to it was desirable, enabling export and coastwise mineral trade. In addition there were ironstone pits and blast furnaces at Kinneil. The nominally independent Slamannan and Borrowstounness Railway (S&BR) had been promoted by the Slamannan company to connect to Bo'ness Harbour, with a link to the E&GR west of Bo'ness Junction (later Manuel) so aligned as to allow through running from the Polmont direction to Bo'ness. The unbuilt line was absorbed into the Monkland Railways at the time of formation of that company, but the subscribed capital of £105,000 was to be kept separate. The Act of 26 June 1846 specified that the Union Canal was to be crossed by a drawbridge or swing bridge, and that screens were to be provided to avoid frightening horses drawing barges on the canal. In fact the E&GR made considerable difficulties over the construction of the new bridge to pass the S&BR line under their own main line, and construction was delayed until 1848. With a resumption of friendly relations, it now appeared that some construction could be avoided if Slamannan to Bo'ness trains used the Slamannan Junction line to Bo'ness Junction on the E&GR and then the proposed Bo'ness Junction connection towards Bo'ness, so that trains would join and then immediately leave the E&GR main line.
In 1850, as construction was progressing, it was belatedly realised that the configuration of the junctions on the E&GR main line was such that a through movement would be impossible; trains would have to shunt back on the E&GR main line. In addition the E&GR made stipulations about the composition of the Monkland wagon wheels which were impracticable to comply with. Accordingly the Monkland Railways decided (in May 1850) to complete the originally intended through line from Causewayend after all. The E&GR took umbrage at this and put further difficulties in the way of the underbridge construction and disputation dragged on until May 1851. The Monkland Railways now got a fresh Act authorising some deviations of the new line, and the substitution of a fixed bridge over the Union Canal.
The approach to Bo'ness Harbour itself was to be along the foreshore there, and the Company was obliged to build a promenade on the sea side of the railway line there. John Wilson, the proprietor of important iron works at Kinneil obtained permission to run some mineral trains there while the line was still under construction, and the first trains ran from Arden on 17 March 1851, but opening from the E&GR line at Bo'ness Junction (Manuel) took place in early August 1851, with the undesirable backshunt on the E&GR main line now apparently permitted. Full opening of the through line took place on 22 December 1851.
Passenger traffic started, after some difficulties in obtaining approval, on 10 June 1856.
The Bathgate Chemical Works was established in open country a mile or so south of the town. James Young, an industrial chemist, had developed an industrial process of manufacturing paraffin from torbanite, a type of oil shale. He had obtained a patent for the process in October 1850, and the torbanite had been discovered on the Torbanehill estate, about halfway between Bathgate and Whitburn. Young joined in partnership with Edward William Binney and Edward Meldrum and the Bathgate works started operations in February 1851. It was located alongside the Wilsontown, Morningside and Coltness Railway (WM&CR) on its branch to Bathgate.
The chemical works, the torbanite fields, and the coal deposits in the area generally were attractive as a source of revenue for the Monkland Railways, and they obtained Parliamentary powers in July 1853 to construct a railway from Blackstone (often spelt Blackston) on the Slamannan line just east of Avonbridge to the WM&CR line near Boghead. Boghead is immediately south of Bathgate, and the new line would pass through the torbanite fields, but skirt past Bathgate and join the WM&CR facing away from the town, but towards the Works. In addition, a branch from the WM&CR to Armadale Toll and to Cowdenhead (about a mile west of Armadale town, later Woodend Junction, to collieries) was authorised.
A train of coal wagons passed along the Bathgate branch on 11 June 1855, apparently while the line was still in the possession of the contractors. The Company applied for authority to run passenger trains to Bathgate; this was repeatedly refused: there were no platforms nor a turntable at Bathgate, nor any signalling there or at Blackstone. The Board of Trade Inspector visited the line in 1856 to review the proposals for passenger operation; he reported that there was no turntable at Bathgate, but that one had been ordered. He continued:
The Bathgate and Bo'ness [routes] form a junction at Blackstone; from thence the traffic of the two branches will be conducted separately along the single line common to both, as far as Avon Bridge, a distance of three-quarters of a mile, then they will be united in one train, and proceed to Glasgow. To prevent any danger along the portion of line common to the two branches, the Bathgate train, both in going and returning, will have the precedence: the signal man at Blackstone will have instructions not to turn off the signal of the Boness branch until the Bathgate train has passed on its way to Avon-Bridge; of the train proceeding to Bathgate and Boness, the latter will follow the Bathgate train at an interval not less than five minutes.
The turntable was provided, and Monkland Railways passenger operation to Bathgate started on 7 July 1856. The Bathgate station was at the end of Cochrane Street, and later became Bathgate Lower station.
The 1853 Act also gave authority for a branch from Colliertree, near Rawyards, southwards to Brownsburn, where the Calderbank Iron Works would join it with an internal private railway. The Monkland Railways portion was to be 1 mile 32 chains (2.3 km). The mineral line was opened on 1 October 1855. (Some contemporary maps misleadingly refer to the Clarkston line at Rawyards as "the Brownsburn Branch".)
The Monkland Iron and Steel Company had extensive mineral working s in the Armadale area, now connected to the extension from Bathgate, and their iron works was at Calderbank. There was immediately a considerable traffic from the mines to the works, and it made a considerable detour, starting eastwards from Armadale, away from the direction of Calderbank. The Company observed that the gap of ten miles could be closed relatively cheaply, and a direct line would also connect worthwhile coalfields on the way, as well as the important paperworks at Caldercruix. An Act was obtained for the purpose in July 1857 in the teeth of considerable opposition from rival promoters and others.
The Act authorised a considerable number of branch connections and other lines, and these were constructed in priority order.
First was a short westwards extension from Cowdenhead to Standhill Junction, and from there turning back to Craigmill (otherwise known as the Woodend Branch), opened on 1 November 1858, to serve the Coltness Iron Company's mineral workings there. Similarly a short eastwards extension was made from a junction to the Clarkston Wester Monkland branch back to Stepends, with a short branch there for Wilson & Co of Summerlee Iron Works. Wilson built an internal network with a zigzag to gain height on Annies Hill. A further branch turned back from Barblues to Meadowhead Pit. The pit was close to the Ballochney workings, but the location was referred to then as Planes, later spelt Plains. These extensions were completed by early February 1860.
That left two sections. The first was the gap from Barblues to Standhill Junction, and that was completed by 27 April 1861 when a trial mineral train passed over the line; full opening to mineral trains was about 10 May 1861. This enabled through running from Coatbridge to Bathgate, but over the Ballochney inclines and running north of Airdrie.
The second gap was the line south of the town, from Kipps to Brownieside Junction. This may have opened, also for mineral traffic only, in early August 1861.
The important iron works at Shotts was connected to the Wilsontown, Morningside and Coltness Railway but the works owner obviously wanted an alternative carrier, and approached the Monklands company to propose a branch line southwards from the "new line". This was agree to, and Parliamentary authority for the 5½ mile line was obtained in August 1860. The line opened by 5 February 1862. A short branch off the branch to West Benhar was built in 1864.
The Monkland Railways Company was absorbed by the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway by Act of Parliament, dated 5 July 1865, on 31 July 1865. The following day, that company was itself absorbed by the North British Railway.
The larger company used the acquisition to consolidate its dominance of mineral traffic in the Monklands coalfield and in connection with the iron works in the area.
Coal extraction continued to flourish in the second half of the nineteenth century, and new pits opened throughout the Monklands area. Many of these were remote from the network of the Monklands section of the North British Railway, and many private mineral branch lines and tramways were built to close the gaps. Quarrying was also an important activity.
A new railway was promoted to reach some of the pits and quarries north of the Ballochney and Slamannan lines, and the North Monkland Railway got an authorising Act of Parliament on 18 July 1872. The line was opened on 18 February 1878, and carried goods and mineral traffic only.
The largest section of the Monkland Railways network now in operation is the line between Coatbridge and Bathgate; closed to passengers east of Airdrie in 1956, it was reopened in 2010[note 1] and carries (2013) a well-patronised fifteen-minute interval passenger service between the Helensburgh and Milngavie, and Edinburgh.
The north-south line between Gartsherrie and Whifflet carries freight and in part a more limited passenger service.
The remainder of the network is closed, although the Ballochney inclines in the Airdrie area are still easy to detect, and the moorland area of the Slamannan line is relatively undeveloped (except nearer Airdrie where extensive open-cast mining has obliterated any remaining landmark).
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