Railways – background


Railways have a long history, developing from crude tramways serving mines and other industries into long-distance goods and passenger carriers. Steam locomotives were a major step forward, starting early in the nineteenth century with a locomotive built by Richard Trevithick and being developed by the Stephensons and used on the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 1825 and later on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

In the Edinburgh area, we had a horse-drawn waggonway for coal haulage between Tranent and Cockenzie in 1722, and nearer to home the Edinburgh & Dalkeith Railway, opened 1831. It used horse traction, and was laid with the rails 4' 6" apart – the so-called Scotch Gauge (standard gauge, still used today, is 4' 8½" or 1435mm). This line was often referred to as the Innocent Railway. It connected Dalhousie, near Dalkeith, with St Leonards. Later branches extended to South Leith, Fisherrow and Dalkeith town. The line was promoted by a group led by 5th Duke of Buccleuch, who owned coal mines in Midlothian, and who also built Granton Harbour.

The 1840s were a major era of railway building, the so-called Railway Mania, the peak year being in 1846. Lines opened locally around that time included:

The 1860s saw many small companies amalgamate – including in this area, the Edinburgh & Glasgow with the North British. Railway ownership settled down to about 125 companies in the UK by the turn of the century.

In 1923, these companies were grouped into the 'Big Four':

Only the first two had lines in Scotland, the LNER taking over (among others) the North British Railway, and the LMS taking over (among others) the Caledonian Railway. In 1948, the four companies were nationalised into British Railways, later called British Rail. In the 1990s, the railway industry was privatised, and split into a network company owning the infrastructure (initially Railtrack, now Network Railexternal link) and separate train operating companies (for example First Scotrailexternal link, East Coast Main Lineexternal link, Cross-Country Trainsexternal link, Virgin Trainsexternal link and First Transpennine Expressexternal link).

The North British Railway

The North British Railway opened the first line to cross the Scottish Border in 1846 – from Edinburgh to Berwick. It expanded both by building further lines itself and by taking over other smaller companies, and in 1865 took over the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway, becoming one of the two largest railway companies in Scotland (the other one was the Caledonian Railway).

In 1923, when it became part of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) The North British Railway was the largest railway company in Scotland. It was based in Edinburgh and ran trains to Berwick, Carlisle, Glasgow, Fort William, Fife, Perth and Aberdeen. It was involved jointly with other companies in running trains between Edinburgh and London Kings Cross via the East Coast Main Line, and between Edinburgh and London St Pancras via the Waverley Route, Carlisle and Leeds.

The Caledonian Railway

The other main railway with lines in the Granton area was the Caledonian Railway. Its first line was from Carlisle via Beattock to Carstairs, where the line branched with one route going to Glasgow and the other to Edinburgh. They were based in Glasgow and ran trains from Edinburgh to Glasgow, Carlisle, Stirling, Perth and Oban. Jointly with another company it ran trains to London Euston.

In 1923, the Caledonian Railway became part of the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) and the lines therefore remained in competition with the former NBR lines, which formed part of the LNER.

Further information

There is a wealth of information about railways available on the internet and in books and magazines.

Here are a few links that may be of particular interest:

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