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Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway, The

The highest narrow-gauge adhesion railway in Britain, the Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway was established in 1983 by the Lowthers Railway Society, running a regular weekend service from 1987 on part of the route of the former railway which had been opened by the Caledonian Railway Company in 1901.

This original railway was constructed primarily to export lead ore from the mines which surrounded these two isolated villages, while also providing a passenger service. The Light Railways Act of 1896 permitted companies to build lines over routes which were previously regarded as impossible. The Caledonian Railway made use of this Act to build a line which rose by 215m (705 feet) from Elvanfoot in just over 7 miles (11 km). The contractor was Sir Robert "Concrete Bob" McAlpine who was also responsible for the eight-arch Risping Cleuch Viaduct, which was sadly demolished in 1991. Speeds were restricted to 20mph (32 kph) and the engines were fitted with 'cow catchers' to deal with sheep and cattle which regularly wandered onto the line. The First World War brought a boost for the lead industry, which was otherwise in decline due to cheap imports. However, the introduction of a bus service reduced rail passenger numbers and the Depression of the 1920s and 30s finally killed lead mining. The railway closed in 1938.

The narrow-gauge railway now attracts tourists and enthusiasts, extending for a mile (1.5 km) to Glengonnar Halt, on the border between South Lanarkshire and Dumfries & Galloway, a half-mile (0.8 km) northeast of Wanlockhead. The line passes the remains of the Glengonnar Lead Mine.

The Society has eight operational locomotives, together with an electric and a steam engine under restoration. These were acquired from coal-mines, peat railways, a brick-works and the Royal Ordnance Factory at Bishopton. The oldest is a Belgian engine, dating from 1937. Another, Little Clyde, helped rebuild the Foyers Power Station (1971) and worked at Leith Docks (1979-80) before being acquired by the Society in 1987. Nith was built in 1956 for the National Coal Board and was restored by Anniesland College in Glasgow (1993-96). Mennock worked on the Jubilee Line underground extension in London. The rolling stock represents a range of wagon types, with coaches built on peat-railway underframes.

The signal box is constructed from bricks recovered after the demolition of the Risping Cleuch Viaduct and the signal levers came from Arrochar in 1992.


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