Kilmarnock and Troon Railway

A section of railway which extends for 9½ miles (15 km) from Kilmarnock in East Ayrshire to Troon in South Ayrshire, approximately following the course of the River Irvine and then the border between North and South Ayrshire. The Kilmarnock and Troon Railway was built by landowner William Bentinck, 4th Duke of Portland (1768 - 1854) at a cost of £42,000, to transport coal from his mines to the west of Kilmarnock to his harbour at Troon. William Jessop (1745 - 1814) was the engineer and the surveyor was John Wilson. It was the first line in Scotland to be authorised by an Act of Parliament (1808) and began as a double-track plateway, using L-shaped cast-iron plate rails on a 1.2-m (4-foot) gauge to support horse-drawn wagons. Each 0.9-m (3-foot) long rail was joined to the next by an iron spike driven into a wooden plug located in a stone sleeper. The line gradually rises all the way from Troon to Kilmarnock, with a gradient of around 1 in 660. Two particular engineering challenges were involved in the construction of the line: the Laigh Milton Viaduct, now A-listed and said to be the oldest surviving public railway viaduct anywhere in the world, and the straight section of track which crosses Shewalton Moss, that involved a layer of sand being laid over the peat which was then covered with broom, gorse and timber, to bear the weight.

The official opening took place on the 6th July 1812 but the line was already carrying passengers in railway carriages, as well as the coal for which it was designed. It became the first railway in Scotland powered by a steam locomotive, when a brief trial of a George Stephenson engine - The Duke - was undertaken in 1816. This was quite possibly the first time steam pulled a passenger service, nine years before its use on the rather more famous Stockton to Darlington Railway in England. The trial was unsuccessful because the heavy locomotive broke several of the cast-iron rails. By 1839, the line was still worked by horses but carried a remarkable 230,000 tons of freight annually (including 150,000 tons of coal), with 200,000 passenger miles travelled per year.

The line closed temporarily in 1846 to be upgraded to modern rails and re-opened the following year as part of the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway. The route was re-aligned and the Laigh Milton Viaduct was abandoned, with the line now crossing the river on a new wooden bridge just upstream. In turn this was bypassed by the current viaduct, yet further upstream, in 1865.

The line was closed once again as part of the Beeching cuts in 1969, but was re-opened as early as 1975 and continues to operate as part of the Glasgow South Western Line. The stations at Drybridge and Gatehead did not re-open, leaving stops at only Kilmarnock, Barassie and Troon.

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