Several mineral tramways were in existence in the district from the 18th century but the first railway line to operate in Falkirk district, in the modern sense, was the Slamannan Railway which was authorised by parliament in 1835. It ran from Balochney near Airdrie and terminated at a basin on the Union Canal at Causewayend in Muiravonside parish. Opened in 1840, its stated purpose was to carry coal, lime and manure to the canal, an indication of how these earliest railways were perceived simply as feeders for the canals. In 1844 a short link was made between Causewayend and the nearby Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway at what became Manual Junction and in 1851 the line was extended to Bo’ness. Several minor branch lines led off the Slamannan Railway to serve the numerous coal-mines in the area while a more important branch running to Bathgate led off from Blackston Junction. Although designed for carrying minerals, the line did carry passengers and a number of stations lay along its length.
An Act of Parliament was granted in 1838 for the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway Company and it opened, in 1842. It ran between Edinburgh and Glasgow and the 46 mile line ran by the south of Falkirk with a station there which, later, came to be known as Falkirk High. The Caledonian Railway Company opened in 1847 with a line from Carlisle to Glasgow and in 1848 a branch was laid to Greenhill near Bonnybridge to join with the Scottish Central Railway which had opened from Greenhill to Perth in that same year. With the opening of the Stirlingshire Midland Junction Railway, the Grahamston branch line, running from Polmont to Larbert a direct railway link was established between Edinburgh and the north of Scotland. A contemporary commentator emphasised the geographical importance of Larbert at that time by describing it as “the Constantinople of the Scottish railways”. Three other branch lines joined the Scottish Central. The South Alloa Branch opened in 1853 running from Alloa Junction near Torwood to South Alloa at which place passengers would, at that time, cross to Alloa on a ferry. A bridge replaced the ferry crossing in 1879 but, following the closure of the line, the bridge has been demolished. Opened in 1858, the Denny Branch was extended to Ingliston in 1860. From Greenhill a short branch-line ran to Bonnybridge Canal Station. Two junctions on the Grahamston Branch gave access to lines to the port at Grangemouth. One of these, the Orchardhall Branch also gave access to Carron Iron works where sidings equivalent in length to about 50 miles of line serviced the works. The Kilsyth and Bonnybridge Railway opened in 1882 and joined the Denny Branch at Bonnywater Junction. It was taken over by the North British Railway but there appears to have been joint operating arrangements between them and the Caledonian. Railwaymen who worked on that line recalled wearing odd mixtures of the two uniforms and being paid alternately by each of the companies.
The Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway Company was absorbed into the North British Railway Company and then the London North Eastern Railway before nationalisation while the Scottish Central Railway amalgamated with the Caledonian Railway before becoming part of the London Midland Scottish Railway. Joint running arrangements operated on the Grahamston Branch allowing both major companies access to Grangemouth.
While the main lines still flourish in the area, carrying both passengers and freight, most of the branch lines no longer exist. Some of these were declining in use during the twentieth century such as the Kilsyth and Bonnybridge Railway. Opened in 1882 primarily to service the coal mines along its length it ceased carrying passengers in 1935 and was finally closed in 1964. Similarly, the Slamannan Railway gradually reduced its operations. Passenger traffic between Manuel Station and Coatbridge ended in 1930 and between Manuel and Bo’ness in 1933. Freight traffic was reduced over the years between 1940 and the complete closure of the line in 1964. South Alloa Branch, opened in 1853, stopped carrying passengers in 1968 and closed in 1978. The Denny Branch, opened in 1858, did not carry passengers after 1930 and was entirely closed in 1967. A little publicised use of that branch line in its final years was to hold the royal train during the night in the quietness of the countryside on its journey to the north. Bonnybridge Canal branch was the only line in the area where slip coaches were used prior to the closure of the line to passengers in 1930. One of the final uses to which the yard was put was the distribution of motor cars brought in there by rail in the early 1960’s. It was finally closed in 1964. Of the two lines that connected the Grahamston Branch with Grangemouth only one remains open. From Grangemouth Junction on the east side of Grahamston Station it descends via Fouldubs Junction into Grangemouth Docks and the petro-chemical complex. Orchardhall Branch ran from Swing Bridge West Junction and ran through Bainsford to join the Grangemouth Branch at Fouldubs Junction. It serviced the British Aluminium rolling mills for a number of years after it ceased to connect with Grangemouth but finally closed in 1969. A branch also ran from this line into Carron Iron Works where some 50 miles of railway lines and sidings operated.
A number of small engine sheds were situated in the district such as those at Greenhill, Bonnybridge Central and Denny but the principal sheds were at Grangemouth and Polmont. Originally, Grangemouth was a Caledonian Railway facility with Polmont being North British Railway. Polmont shed closed in 1964 and the locomotives based there were transferred to Grangemouth which continued to operate until 1993. On a more positive note, the land on which it stood is now the site of a huge rail-road depot where hundreds of containers are handled every day. It was also heartening to see the re-opening of Camelon Station a few years ago. Another loss, albeit less noticeable was the discontinuation of the automatic pickup and drop of mail at the Three Bridges west of Camelon. Here, at high speed, the Royal Mail dropped the post in the morning on its northwards journey and picked it up in the early evening as it sped southwards. It was the configuration of the rails here with the lines from Denny, Larbert and Grahamston converging on Carmuirs West Junction that required each line to be carried over the road there on individual bridges. Despite the loss of the one that carried the Denny Branch the name persists in the name of the Three Bridges Roundabout.
John Reid (2005)