Blackbraes Branch Railway

Illus 1: Map showing the Blackbraes Branch Railway and some of its industries.
A – Maddiston Brickworks (cranes);
B – Maddiston Quarry (cranes);
C – Maneulrig Colliery Pit No 1;
D – Manuelrig Colliery Pit No 2;
E – Whiterigg & Craigend Collieries (North Craigend Pit);
F – Whiterigg & Craigend Collieries (Whiterigg Pit No 1) later Craigend Brickworks;
G – Whiterigg & Craigend Collieries (Wetser Craigend Pit);
H – Whiterigg & Craigened Collieries (Easter Blackrig Pit);
I – Blackbraes Brickworks and coke oven;
J – Blackbraes Pit No 1 (Baldie);
K – Blackbraes Pit;
L – Craigend Pit;
M – Greyrigg & Blackbraes Collieries Pit No 1;
N – Greyrigg & Blackbraes Collieries Pit No 2;
O – Redding Colliery Pit No 22;
P – Redding Colliery Pit No 17;
Q – Redding Colliery Pit No 19;
R – Redding Colliery Pit No 21;
S – Shieldhill Colliery Pit No 1;
T – Shieldhill Colliery Pit No 6.

The Blackbraes Branch was a mineral line which ran west from the Slamannan Railway near Causewayend to coal mines in the Blackbraes and Shieldhill area.  It was authorised by “The Edinburgh and Glasgow and Branches Act (No. 1.), 1848,” whereby the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Company were permitted to complete and maintain a Branch Railway from the Slamannan Junction Railway to Blackbraes.  It opened from Almond Junction on the Slamannan Railway to Blackbraes Siding in 1850.

One of the largest landowners in the area through which the Blackbraes Branch was to pass was William Forbes of Callendar.  During the progress of the Act through Parliament he corresponded with James Russel of Russel and Aitken, solicitors, about how his lands could benefit from the new line. 

“Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Bill No.1 Additional clause A. Page 8. Near the bottom. And be it farther Enacted that the Proprietors of the Land thro’ which the said Railway Blackbraes is formed and their Tenants, but none else, shall be entitled to a stopping place and Depot at the Union Canal near the Kirk Bridge for the use of their traffic. Additional clause B. Page 11. End of Section 22. And be it farther Enacted that the charges for the Conveyance of Goods by the said Blackbraes Branch Railway as well as from thence along the Slamannan Junction Railway to or from the Main Line of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway and the charges for the use of the Waggons haulage &c required for such traffic shall in all time coming be the same as are charged for the transit and haulage of the same description of traffic on the Main Line of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway; and the traffic on the said Blackbraes Branch shall in all respects be treated as if it formed a portion of the Main Line and the Traders thereon shall in every respect receive the same facilities as on the Main Line of the said Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway.

Falkirk 14 Feby. 1848

Dear Sirs, I received yours accompanying the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Bill No.1 of the present session and feel obliged by your courtesy in sending it. You will possibly remember that in the Agreement under which the Blackbraes Branch was formed it was stipulated that the special conditions therein contained should so far as practicable be introduced into the Act of Parliament authorising the Line. Now with submission I think it necessary (and perfectly practicable) that the two clauses which I enclose should be inserted in the Act either at the places marked by me on the Bill or at such other places as you deem more suitable. I have not had an opportunity of consulting with the other Proprietors on the Line and of course cannot say whether they consider it necessary to have any of the other Conditions in the Agreement between the Company and them included in the Act but if they should do so, you will of course hear from themselves. You are of course aware that the principal part of this Land thro’ which the Blackbraes Branch passed are entailed property and of course it is for you to consider whether the Bill is so framed as to give authority to the parties in such circumstances to do the needful. The copy of the Bill which you sent is enclosed. Have the goodness to return it as I have none. The proposed clauses you may keep. Your early answer advising whether you consent to the clauses being introduced and stating whether you will get this done will oblige. Yours faithfully, (signed) James Russel.”

[Forbes Papers 1325/4]

As it happened James Russel was to be one of the main beneficiaries as it enabled him to work the valuable minerals on his own estate at Blackbraes.  The Blackbraes Branch was managed as part of the Monklands Railways and in 1850 it was leased James Russel & Son to export the coal.  Russel also established the Almond Ironworks in 1854 and the coal from Blackbraes fed the blast furnaces there.

Illus 2: The Bridge over the Manuel Burn east of Parkhall, looking south in 2023.

Illus 3: Detail of the side Girder.

In 1852 it was reported that there were only two traders using the line and the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Company was content to renew the lease.  John Wilson of Dundyvan started to sink pits at Gardrum in 1851 and asked for special rates on the Blackbraes Line to get the coal to his blast furnaces at Kinneil (he already had an agreement covering the Slamannan and Borrowstounness line).  This was refused and a long dispute ensued. In 1865 the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway was absorbed by the North British Railway.  In 1874 the branchline was extended westward to Wilson’s Shieldhill Colliery, but this was cut back to its former length around 1922.  On 1 January 1923 the North British Railway was one of the seven companies that formed the London and North Eastern railway (LNER) which then owned the Blackbraes Branch.  Further truncation occurred in 1945 when it ended at Craigend Colliery near Maddiston.  Final closure of the branch came in 1951

During its life it linked to a nebulous network of further mineral lines serving the Shieldhill Colliery to the south of Shieldhill; the Blackbraes Colliery to the south-west of Blackbraes; the Craigend Colliery near Standburn; and the Redding Colliery through California and Reddingmuirhead.  Sheds for the engines working the line were located at the Blackbraes Siding.  Locomotives operating on the line as far west as the sheds used a train staff – a brass token unique to that line which when possessed by the driver gave him the right to take his train along the single-line sections.  Beyond the sheds the rails were worked as a yard.  Pits further south were catered for by the Bowhouse Branch Railway which also linked to the Slamannan Railway at its eastern end.

Illus 4: 1896/97 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland) showing the Parkhall Sidings and the bridge over the Manuel Burn.

This long and sinuous branchline railway served coking ovens, quarries and brickworks as well as the numerous collieries. and left the Slamannan Junction Railway at Almond Junction (NS 9611 7643) and proceeded west as far as Easter Jaw Colliery at NS 8721 7497 via the Manuelrigg Colliery (NS 9358 7659), Whiterigg & Craigend Colliery (NS 9217 7589) and Gardrum Colliery (NS 8816 7556) – a distance of 10km. In 1890 it terminated after 7.6km but was extended.  It passed just to the north of Blackbraes (at NS 9067 7572) – hence its name – with the Blackbraes Sheds for locomotives at NS 9156 7576. From Almond Junction to Blackbraes Station is 5km. It was called the Shieldhill Railway on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey, and the Sheds were then known as Blackbraes Station.

Illus 5; Bridge and Bridge Abutments at Maddiston.

The running of the Blackbraes Line was relatively mundane and it was rarely mentioned in the local newspapers.  Most reports refer to the theft of coal from wagons.  One of the last of these, in 1931, was at a place called “Betty’s Box Siding” at Maddiston.  This was probably the same siding where in 1923 the Carron Company advertised that it had transferred its sales of coal to from Craigend Colliery.  This was far more convenient for local customers and house coal was priced at 29s per ton.  In 1900 Hunter’s Depot at the Maddiston Siding was selling “soft household coal” at a mere 17s 6d per ton.

Locomotives on the line were restricted to 10mph and this safety measure meant that some local people hitched lifts on the moving trains.  In April 1864 a farmer’s sons attempted to jump onto a railway engine which was in motion and slipped.  A number of trucks passed over him and death was instantaneous (Falkirk Herald 23 April 1864, 2).  Despite this fatal incident, in July of that year a local blacksmith and his son who were returning one evening from Blackbraes to the Almond Ironworks, procured an empty wagon and, getting in it, let if free-wheel down the incline to the east.  Just to the west of Maddiston they observed a stationary truck on the line.  The son jumped clear, but his father sustained broken ribs when the violent collision took place (Falkirk Herald 12 July 1864, 2).  Presumably this practice of letting the wagons roll down the hill was common, and the pair knew that their conveyance would come to a halt on the lower flatter section of the line.  Crossing the roads would have been interesting!


1.  Canal Siding – North British Railway siding located on the south bank of the Union Canal near to the Almond Ironworks.  It possessed a weighing machine and a crane (NS 9590 7655).

2.  Parkhall Siding – private siding serving Parkhall Farm (NS 9463 7693).  In 1917 650 felled trees on the estate were taken out from here (Falkirk Herald 21 November 1917, 12).

3.  Maddiston Siding – several sidings occurred to the west of the Main Road at Maddiston to serve Maddiston Brickworks, Maddiston Quarry and Manuelrig Colliery (NS 938 766).

4.  Blackbraes Siding  – served a brickworks and coke ovens; closed by January 1937 (NS 9115 7573).


The section of the railway from Vellore Road to Almond Iron Works is now a public footpath running along the south side of the Union Canal.  It can be picked up again from Parkhall Farm to Maddiston, a distance of 590m, where the public footpath has a good quality asphalt surface.  West of the Main Road at Maddiston it continues at first as an asphalt path but after 250m the surface changes to aggregate.  It forms a fine 3.0km walk as far west as the B8028 south of California.  To the south the fields display broad parallel furrows running down the north-facing hill as part of the late 18th century agricultural improvements; a pattern disrupted by the turbines of the wind farm of 2001.  Crossing the B8028 a path follows the branchline for a further 2.75km to the New Road between Shieldhill and Snowhill/Slamannan.  Thereafter it is lost in private forestry, though glimpses of embankments may be seen from the road.  Here it divides several times to serve the numerous collieries.

Sites and Monuments Record

Blackbraes Branch RailwaySMR 1965


Martin, D.1995The Monkland & Kirkintilloch Railway and Associated Railways.
Railscot – website.
Maund, R.Corrections to goods station closure details in “Clinker’s Register of closed passenger “stations and goods depots in England, Scotland and Wales 1830-1977 ” by C R Clinker.
Simpson, An.d.The Blackbraes Branch: some notes.

G.B.Bailey, 2023