South Alloa Branch Railway

At the same time as the 1846 Act authorised the Scottish Central Railway to construct the Stirlingshire Midland Junction Railway it was also granted permission for a branch from the mainline at or near Glenbervie Tile Works to a point at or near the Pier on the south side of the River Forth at Alloa Ferry; and from a point at or near the Pier on the north side of said River to a point at or near the Village of Tillicoultry, where it was proposed to join an intended railway called the Glasgow and Dundee Junction Railway.  The point on the south shore of the Forth was near Kersie opposite Alloa.  This made the South Alloa Branch Railway about 4¼ miles long.  Prior to that, journeys to Alloa and Dunfermline had to be by way of Stirling which not only added to the distance but also meant using the services of the North British Railway Company.  The new railway also provided potential for the development of port facilities at Kersie.

Illus 1: Map showing the South Alloa Branch Railway from Alloa Junction to South Alloa Station.
A – Railway cottages; B – Pleanmill Quarry, c1900; C – Moss Wood Siding, c1950; D – Bandeath Munitions Depot; E – South Alloa Station.

The branch railway was initially opposed by Lord Dunmore because it crossed his moss which, like many extensive peat mosses in central Scotland, was being “improved” at that time.  The usual method of clearing the land from moss was by collecting water in dams on the surface and then allowing it to penetrate to the underlying clay causing the peat to float off and be driven into the Forth.  Making the railway would interfere materially with the reclaiming of these waste lands as it would hinder the proper erection of dams and interrupt the free flow of the water through the channels for carrying off the moss.  The moss lands before they were cleared were never leased, but after the moss had been floated the ground let from £50 to £70 per acre.  Despite this, the Parliamentary Bill was passed in June 1846.

The district from Glenbervie to Kersie is relatively level and presented few difficulties other than Dunmore Moss.  Construction work began in August 1848 and to 3l July 1849 a sum of £20,098 15s 5d was expended on the South Alloa Branch, with a farther sum of £30,000 required to complete the work (Perthshire Advertiser 11 October 1849, 3).  There was a bridge at Pows Wood (NS 8537 8640) to carry the Plean Road over the railway where it ran in a cutting, but at Pow Mill (NS 8680 8677) and Carnock Station (NS 8715 8725) the roads crossed on the level, as did the A905 coast road from Airth to Stirling at Kersie (NS 8752 9040).  In 1851 James Harlow was the gatekeeper at the Kersie Crossing and he lived in the adjacent house.

At this point the work seems to have stalled.  During the lull two serious accidents happened.  In the first week of November 1849 a young man employed on the railway was run over by a waggon and had to have a leg amputated (Falkirk Herald 8 November 1849, 2).  Then, on 28 December that year, Wilkie Robb, land surveyor, was standing in one of the wagons to get a better view of the surrounding area when an engine shunting wagons ran into it with such force that Robb was thrown out of the vehicle and three of the wagons went over him, severely mangling his limbs.  He was immediately conveyed to Stirling for medical help but died later that day (Stirling Observer 3 January 1850, 4).

Part of the reason for the delay seems to have been the realisation that with other railway developments the line would not be as profitable as originally thought.  A dispute arose between the Scottish Central Railway Company and the contractor, who was also building the line up to Tillicoultry, and in early 1850 this was taken to arbitration.  The problem lay mostly on the northern leg of the railway to the north of the Forth from Alloa to Tillicoultry.  In April 1850 it was reported that there was still 90,000 yards of earthworks remaining to be executed there, but that most of the bridges had been completed.  The station at Alloa was practically finished.  The contractor decided to complete the works upon his own responsibility and risk, and without any authority from the directors of the Scottish Central Railway.

The work on the single track line was all completed by the end of July and on 10 August 1850 the Alloa Branch Railway opened to goods traffic.  It opened to passengers on 2 September 1850 as far as a terminal station which was known as “Alloa Station” – there being no station in that town at that time.  In 1854 it became “South Alloa Station.”   The ferry, which belonged to the Earl of Mar, was leased for onward movement.  Initially it was served by a single passenger train.  At the south end, near Glenbervie Brick and Tile Works, the train stopped to await the arrival of trains on the mainline to and from Stirling, and passengers were able to transfer at a temporary station.  This done, the train them proceeded to Greenhill Junction to await the trains to and from Edinburgh and Glasgow.  There were, inevitably, teething problems.

“NOTICE TO THE PUBLIC. As Passengers by the Alloa Branch of the Scottish Central Railway have of late been frequently disappointed of their passage in consequence of the difference of time upon the different Clocks, the Company beg hereby to intimate that all the boats in connection with Passenger trains leave the north side of the Ferry precisely at the hours marked in the Company’s Bills, as indicated by their clock at the Station on the south side of the Ferry, and will not be responsible for any disappointments arising from time taken from any other source…”

(Alloa Advertiser 8 March 1851, 1).
Illus 2: Advert from the Stirling Observer 28 October 1852, 1.

As anticipated, the opening of the railway led to a rapid expansion of commerce at South Alloa.  By the end of 1850 some 16 coke ovens had been built there to supply railway coke.  The coal was brought in by sea.  Extensive wharves were constructed to the west of the ferry pier.  Ironically, the railway also created a peat extraction industry, the material being sold to distilleries throughout the Central Belt.  Unfortunately, there was a problem with the compatibility of a steam railway and a peat moss, and this soon surfaced.  In April 1852 there was a drought and it appears that a spark from the passing engine smouldered until fanned into flames by a strong east wind.  The dry surface and the wind meant that the fire soon covered some hundred or so acres and it took some time for the railway staff to bring it under control (Stirling Observer 29 April 1852, 4).

Towards the end of 1852 negotiations began for James Fishaw, civil engineer of Perth, to take over the lease of the ferry and to supply a steamboat for the crossing.  He started his service on 30 March 1852 using a new steamer which he called “Jane” in honour of Mrs Bruce of Kennet.  She was specifically adapted to the route so that it was possible for carriages from the railway, with all their cargo, to be placed on board on the one side and, in the course of five minutes, landed and placed on the railway on the other.  The inauguration of the ferry was reported in the Stirling Observer of 31 March 1853:

A train, which had previously brought a number of the directors of the Scottish Central from Perth, started from Stirling at 11.30 and proceeded to Alloa, where on the south shore the boat was waiting.  The company was considerable, being composed of many of the most influential men of Alloa and the Hill Foots… After receiving a number of ladies and children, the boat crossed to the north side, and having embarked a still greater number of people, she afterwards gave a trial trip of about half-an-hour’s continuance, and gave every satisfaction.  All this was accomplished amid the constant firing of cannon, alike in the boat, on shore, and in other vessels, not forgetting the Stirling steamer, Prince of Wales, which was lying at the quay at Alloa.” 

The vessel provided a new level of reliability and so more trains were put on.  Fares for the crossing were reduced and a season ticket was introduced.  Soon there was talk about the wealthier merchants from Alloa setting up homes on the more picturesque south side of the river.  This did not happen, though there was a significant increase in day trippers.

Industry did, however, take hold on the south shore.  This was noted far and wide:

A few years since a slip of land of comparatively little value bordered the bank of the Forth. On the formation of the Alloa branch of the Scottish Central Railway its value was self-evident, and wharfs being erected, and the harbour being put in direct communication by railway with Glasgow and Greenock, it assumed the sounding title of South Alloa.  Larger vessels can lie here than in any other part of the river – even ships of 800 tons can approach with safety; it is a free harbour, no charge being made on shipping, and will probably form in a short period the nucleus of the Baltic and the continental trade to and from Glasgow.  Grain has already found its way from the Baltic via South Alloa, and the facilities have been found so great that large importations are expected during the summer; iron, cotton, and other staple produce will follow, and as the traffic increases extended accommodation will be required.  It is said that no better place exists for the formation of docks, nature having done half the work; and it appears probable that in a few years South Alloa will become a first rate port.”

(Cardiff & c 23 April 1853, 1).
Illus 3: 1860/65 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

Whilst the port was well situated to serve the country to the west and south, it clearly could not compete with better placed ports on the north side of the Forth for goods to and from the north.  Indeed, the ferry was too cumbersome even for material from the productive town of Alloa.  When the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Company took over the running of the Stirling Dunfermline Line in 1853, it was decided to divert traffic via Stirling.  That Company also acquired the ferry at Alloa and withdrew the steamer.  This was all part of the disastrous cut-throat competition between railway companies which reduced customer choice and preserved monopolies.

Suddenly the local population found that the railway era had issued in a worsening of public transport for them.  The situation was explained in the Stirling Observer of 8 May 1856:

A petition is at present in course of signature, to the Chairman and Directors of the Scottish Central Railway Company, from parties residing in Airth, Dunmore, Carnock, Kersie, &c., for the departure of a train from the terminus of the Alloa Branch Railway at a stated hour in the morning, and likewise for a regular return train in the evening. For some time back the irregularity has been shameful – only one train-a-day, and that one at no fixed hour.  Passengers of late have been put to the greatest inconvenience, having often to walk four or five miles to other stations, and then be subjected to the annoyance of waiting sometimes an hour or two for the next train.  Previous to the opening of this line, the people here were well accommodated by a coach running between Alloa and Falkirk Station four times a day.” 

The response of the Railway Company was to put on a passenger train that left Airth Road Station (the new name for Carnock Station) at 7.15am which was inconvenient for all concerned and was described as “little better than useless.”

Goods traffic continued to use the South Alloa Branch.  In 1856 Carnock Station had been renamed “Airth Road Station” and after 1867 it was to become simply “Airth Station.”  Patrick Hughes, a railway station agent, absconded from the station in March 1858 taking with him a considerable sum of money, the property of a merchant in Stirling.  A warrant was issued for his apprehension.

The Scottish Central Railway was absorbed by the Caledonian Railway in 1865.  That September rumours circulated that surveyors from the Company were taking bearings in the neighbourhood of the Alloa Ferry Pier for the purpose of fixing upon a good site of a bridge.  The reason given by the Dunfermline Saturday Express (9 September 1865) was that:

It was pretty generally anticipated in this quarter that the Caledonian Company would sooner or later attempt a bridge here in connection with their South Alloa Branch, the goods traffic from Alloa being well worth their competing for.  We are informed that there is now a heavier goods traffic between Glasgow and Alloa than between Glasgow and any other town north of the Forth, with the single exception of Dundee.” 

Illus 4: Railway Timetable for the South Alloa Branch – Alloa Advertiser 13 June 1863, 4.

The Directors of the Caledonian Company resolved not to take the project any further at their October meeting.  Instead, that November the Caledonian Railway Company took the lease of the Alloa Ferry from Mr Pearson, the former lessee, with the intention of reintroducing a steamer.  Additional trains were put on from South Alloa to Larbert in April 1866.

The steamer does not appear to have appeared.  In the vacuum thus created the Earl of Kellie promoted a new railway bridge to be paid for by public subscription (with a capital of £55,000) and operated by the North British Railway Company.  The 1868 proposed line would have left the Stirling and Dunfermline section of the North British Railway a little to the west of Alloa, and after crossing the river on an iron bridge with a central span of 200ft wide, opening at certain states of the tide to admit the passage of vessels to and from Stirling, would have joined the South Alloa Branch of the Caledonian, over which the North British possessed running powers to Larbert Junction.  The North British Company guaranteed traffic to the extent of giving shareholders a dividend of 5¼ percent.  £34,000 had been subscribed by March of 1868.  The necessary Parliamentary Bill for the line was opposed by the traders and businessmen of Dunfermline and Stirling.  The Forth Navigation Commissioners also objected to the obstruction to the free passage of ships and required a much more costly bridge – despite the paltry nature of the shipping thus far up the Forth.  The main objection, not surprisingly, came from the Caledonian Rail Company and the Bill was rejected.

Illus 5: Timetable printed in the Alloa Advertiser of 19 August 1871.

The new service ran smoothly until 4 December 1873 when the 5.40pm train from Larbert was coming into South Alloa and collided with a goods train which was shunting.  The passenger train being within 200yds of the terminus, its momentum was comparatively slow, while those in charge of the goods engine, having become aware of the danger, had brought it to a standstill.  The passengers were considerably shaken, and one man was so much injured that he had to be taken home in a cart.  The guard of the passenger train was much cut about the face but fortunately there were no major injuries (North British Daily Mail 5 December 1873, 3).  The accident is said to have arisen from the fact that the signals had been broken either that day or the day before, so that the driver of the passenger train could not be made to pull up his train in time to avert the collision.  It being the Fast-day, there was a larger number of passengers than usual. 

Undeterred, passengers continued to use the line.  In February 1876 there was a minor alteration in the timetable – the 8.46am boat from North Alloa and 8.55am train from South Alloa were to leave at 8.30 and 8.40am respectively.  The 8.25am boat from South Alloa to North Alloa to leave at 8.45am.

“A project was authorised in 1873, on a proposed capital of £300,000 in shares of £10, to construct a dock at South Alloa, with an entrance lock 126 yards long, and with all quays, jetties, wharves, roads, and warehouses, requisite for a good harbour: and a bill was promoted in Dec. 1875 to extend the time for the works till 1880.”

(Groome 1884). 

The wet dock was never built.

In 1878 there was a great drive by the businessmen in Alloa to revive the idea of a railway bridge over the Forth, the Earl of Kellie still to the fore.  This time they had a fair wind.  The line was authorised by a Parliamentary Act on 11 August 1879 and the Alloa Railway Company was incorporated by special Act in 1880.  By agreements entered into between the promoters and the Caledonian Railway Company, and confirmed by the Alloa Railway Company under seal, the Caledonian Railway Company become bound to work and manage the traffic and maintain the railway in perpetuity.  £60,000 was raised in shares.

The memorial stone was laid on the first pier of the bridge from the south bank by the chairman of the Alloa Railway Company, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, Kennet House, Clackmannan, on 5 April 1880.  A special train of saloon carriages was run through to South Alloa, and another contingent to the company crossed the ferry from the north side of the river in the “inelegant” steamboat, the Countess of Kellie.  The difficulty of the navigation and the encounter with sandbanks gave a practical illustration to those on board, including the chairman of the new company, of the necessity of a surer and more expeditious mode of transit.  The vessels on the south bank were gay with bunting, and on the other side strings of streamers directed public attention to the proceedings (Daily Review 6 April 1882, 6).  Already, a service line of rails had been laid down from the South Alloa Branch, the massive south abutment built, and one of the piers, with a depth of 40ft, brought up to the surface and carried up several courses in ashlar above high-water mark.  In this a cavity received the time capsule while the large assemblage gathered round to witness the laying of the memorial-stone, a large block weighing about a ton.  The Masonic lodges represented were those of Stirling, Alloa, Bannockburn, and Falkirk.  Lord Balfour was presented with a silver trowel, bearing an inscription having reference to the occasion.  It was dexterously made use of and, the cavity having been sealed up, a libation of oil and wine was poured out upon the stone, which was then covered by the block already mentioned and the memorial-stone squared with “grand honours” and cheers from the onlookers.

When completed, the structure was comprised, from the south, 13 spans (one span of 100ft, one of 80 ft, and eleven of 68ft) on a curve of about 43 chains radius, climbing at 1:410.  Two more spans on the level (both of 68ft) were following by a swing bridge of 143ft, controlled from a cabin erected above the track and driven by a stationary steam engine.  This provided two clear openings for river craft of 61ft either side of a pier which was protected by a timber cutwater projecting 47yds both up and down the river.  Four further spans (one span of 100ft, one of 80ft, and two of 68ft) created a connection to the abutment on the north bank, making 21 in total.  The substantial rubble masonry abutments were faced with courses, having solid ashlar corners and droved ashlar imposts and parapets. 

The ordinary piers consisted of cast-iron cylinders, varying from 6 to 8ft in diameter, sunk about 40ft into the bed of the river, or to such depth as secured a solid foundation.  These were filled with concrete up to the level of low water, and surmounted by solid hammer-dressed ashlar columns, with droved copes and cast-iron bed plates for the girders.  The swing pier consisted of a group of six cast-iron columns or cylinders 5ft in diameter, placed hexagonally and sunk as the other piers, but in this case the cylinders and concrete were carried up to the full height of the piers.  The upper lengths of the columns were given ornamental cast-iron caps and solid stone blocks.  Cast iron bed plates placed on the concrete acted as rests for the circular box girder to carry the roller path, rollers and machinery of the opening spans.

Illus : The Alloa Railway Bridge looking north.

The superstructure included lattice main girders with curved tops beams to give more effective depth at the centre where the strain on the beams was greatest, imparting a more graceful outline to the bridge.  On these rested the cross girders of simple plates and angle irons, which in turn carried the rail bearers and buckle plates forming the roadway of the bridge.  The butting ends of the girders were covered by semi-circular cast-iron pilasters of an ornamental nature sitting on the ashlar columns.  The deck was raised 24ft above high water level.  The bridge engineers were Crouch & Hogg, Glasgow with Joseph Wilson as the resident engineer. 

Work on site was contracted to Watt & Wilson of Glasgow and the ironwork was entrusted to P & W MacLellan.  The bridge cost around £40,000.

The new line from Alloa to the Dunmore Junction was called the Alloa Railway and was a double track, except where it crossed the bridge which therefore had signal boxes located at both ends.  In 1884 the Caledonian Railway Company absorbed the Alloa Railway before the line had been completed.  It opened on 1 October 1885 and passenger traffic between Dunmore Junction and South Alloa came to an end.  Four years later a connection was made to the North British network at Alloa West Junction, allowing through running.  On 27 April 1883 the North British Railway was given running powers over the Alloa Railway and the South Alloa Branch from Alloa to Greenhill Junction on the guarantee of a minimum of traffic worth £3,000 annually.  The bridge had been a long time in the planning:

  • 1865 – Caledonian Railway surveyors at the Alloa Ferry.
  • 1869 – Earl of Kellie & NBR proposal.
  • 1879 – Act of Parliament passed. 
  • 1885 – Line opened 1 October 1885.

With the opening of the Alloa Railway Bridge the ferry ceased to be of any value to the Caledonian Railway and it gave notice of termination from Whitsunday 1886.  £246 10s was paid to the Earl of Mar and Kellie as settlement and the Countess of Kellie was sold to David MacBrayne and was converted to a screw steamer to carry coal to the West Highlands (Brodie 1976, 51). 

The track south of Dunmore Junction to Glenbervie was also doubled and road bridges placed over it at Pow Mill and Airth Station.  The latter seems to have been something of an accident hotspot.  On 10 June 1885 a railway porter named Gilchrist was crossing the line there when he was knocked down by a passenger train.  Fortunately, it threw him clear of the line and he was not killed (Edinburgh Evening News 10 June 1885, 3).  Then on 7 May 1891 a North British passenger train collided with a Caledonian passenger train standing at the station.  Only one person was injured – Margaret Laing of Alloa.  A Board of Trade enquiry conducted by Major Marindin found that when the North British driver first came within sight of the distant and home signals they were set at danger. 

Illus 7: Airth Road Station photographed by W. Russel

The distance signal was at danger when he passed it, and he failed to see the home signal as soon as he should have done.  The responsibility for the collision was therefore divided between Peter Bell, the Caledonian signalman at Alloa Junction, and David Doig, the driver of the North British 7.30pm down train, who had at the time been on duty for 6½ hours and 5½ hours respectively.  The former was not justified in lowering the branch down home signals for the North British train to go on to the Alloa branch, when he had not received the ‘line clear’ signal from Airth Road, because the proceeding Caledonian train was still at that station.  He suggested certain alterations on the position of the signal-box, with a view to prevent the recurrence of such mishaps, and these were subsequently carried out.  Doig was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment for culpable neglect of duty.

The railway bridge over the Forth was well to the west of the ferry and did not interfere with the operation of the wharves at South Alloa.  However, the currents in this general vicinity were quite strong and on several occasions vessels collided with the piers of the bridge.  These currents would also have made it difficult to steer ships into the proposed wet dock at South Alloa and were one of the reasons why that project was abandoned.  The master of a vessel from Hamburg was scathing:

“Sir, South Alloa Railway Quay is not a safe Port for steamers to lay. The spring tide is so strong (from four to six knots), that all hawsers and cables must be used to hold the ship, and they often break, as also the hawse-pipes and mooring bitts.  There is hardly anything to make fast to except piles.  The discharging is very slow, as there is only one crane at the pier for steamers, and therefore only one hatch can be worked at a time.  It took me (after three days waiting for a berth) three days and nights to discharge a cargo of 750 loads of sleepers.  The Lay-days never run out on consequence of the clause inserted in Charters “to be discharged as customary.”  A.F. Heeckt, Master of the Titus of Hamburg”

(Shipping & Mercantile Gazette 6 October 1880, 6).
Illus 8: The Wharves at South Alloa, c1910.

Brodie noted that ships passing under the Alloa Bridge also had a hard time of it (Brodie 1976, 9-11).  The nature of the tide and the 5-6 knot cross currents meant that the vessels would “shoot” the bridge.  The 60ft gap left for these ships was little more than the beam of the larger ones when account was taken of the boxes for the paddle wheels.  The only way that a ship could steer a steady course was to maintain full engine speed.  With a tide behind it this meant that it could be approaching the structure at speeds up to 25mph.  The bridge lay on a bend in the river and was no higher than the surrounding countryside and so the operator of the swing bridge had little visibility. 

If a train was crossing he might not hear the siren of a rapidly approaching steam vessel and might have as little as a minute’s visual warning.  These circumstances led the Galloway Company to fit hinged masts and telescopic funnels to its boats so that they did not rely on the opening of the bridge.

When the ship approached there was activity on the foredeck as the mast was lowered and brought down over the bows, where it projected like a bowsprit.  At the same time, the engine-room staff were telescoping the funnel by means of a rack and pinion controlled by a chain from a handle or winch in the boiler room.  When elevated the funnel tended to wobble and four taut stays, which sagged as the funnel was lowered, held it in position.  The process of getting ready to “shoot” the bridge took about five minutes.  Once the funnel was down, the ship’s bridge and after-deck were smothered in choking smoke and it must have been difficult for the captain to see where his ship was going”.

(ibid, 10).

Damage to the bridge was occasioned during autumnal gales in 1899 when the sailing ship Stephanie, carrying salt from Hamburg to Bo’ness, was driven against a pier by the high tide.  This prompted much consternation amongst the local shipping community who had long considered the structure to be a barrier to trade, located on part of the river afflicted by treacherous currents. The bridge’s “evil reputation” had extended to Continental ports and several tugboat owners prohibited their vessels from passing beneath it. A committee was appointed to make strong representations to the Caledonian Railway.  The difficulties escalated on 12th October 1904 when the schooner Stirling collided with one of the piers as it passed through the swing span, displacing some of the girders.  Trains were not running again until 1st June 1905.  A second period of enforced inactivity began on 15th August 1920 when a surrendered German warship broke from her moorings and crashed into the bridge, causing serious damage. Reopening came on 1st March 1921. As a consequence of all of this, piers 9, 10 and 17 (from the south) were replaced in cast iron whilst considerable additional cross-bracing was installed on all the piers.

The extensive timber yards at South Alloa continued in use for a considerable length of time and were still being used during the Second World War.  Fire-watchers were paid to keep a wary eye on the stores at night in case the German bombers dropped incendiary devices.  Landing craft were made in Alloa for the D-Day landings and Susan Ross of Kersie Mains Cottage got a job as an electric welder in the Kelliebank Yard there.  She got permission from the signalman at the Alloa Bridge to use it to get to work.  The sleepers on the bridge had been laid flush which enabled her to cycle over it.  The signalman would wave her on if there were no trains.  Early one morning, however, she did not see the man and continued on.  Part of the way over she heard a whooshing sound behind her and looking back saw a train coming.  She just managed to get off her bike and pull it to one side when the engine rushed past (Bailey 2013, 389).

The peat of Dunmore Moss was worked on a small scale over almost a century.  A windmill was erected to control the water levels and rails were laid down on banks left for the purpose of removing the peat to a siding at Dunmore Junction.  By 1960 the working area had moved to the east side of the railway and the internal rail network was set out with easier curves.  The railway to the north of Dunmore Junction was closed in 1950, but a headshunt was left to serve these works.

Illus 9: Ordnance Survey Map of c1950 (National Library of Scotland) showing the peat workings with the old windmill and the mineral lines.
Illus 10: 1964/67 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland) showing the later peat workings.

The peat was used in the thriving whisky industry.  Problems with fires during dry spells remained, as is shown by the following reported incidents:

July 1869Over 200 acres on both sides of the railway.Morning Post 23.7.1869, 6
April 1929LMS platelayers fought sporadic outbreaks of fire on the dry moss.Falkirk Herald 20.4.1929, 8
June 1932Every surfaceman on the Alloa Branch fighting the fire; train brought in men from the Larbert Fire Brigade.Edinburgh Evening News 21.6.1932, 12
June 1935Extensive fire.Sunday Post 26.6.1935, 9
April 1938Fire covered a large area on both sides of the railway.Scotsman 18.4.1938, 15
Table: Reported extensive fires on Dunmore Moss.

Fuel of another sort was exploited in the area.  Coal was mined at Plean and Carnock Collieries which had their own branch lines further to the north, but in 1958 the National Coal Board started to sink a shaft for a “super pit” near Airth Station which would have been worked from the South Alloa line.  There was a splurge of publicity for this high-profile project but the scheme was abandoned before completion.  Small oil tankers used the wharves at South Alloa in the 1960s and large storage tanks were constructed there.  However, the onward distribution by road was found to be inconvenient.  Goods of another type were transported along the line with rather less public awareness.  Munitions were stored at RNAD Bandeath and a spur ran into the depot from just south of the Alloa Bridge.

During the line’s final years, the passenger service was operated by a four-wheeled railbus but this ceased on 29 January 1968 and all passenger travel on the Alloa and South Alloa branches came to an end.  Regular freight traffic over the bridge ended on 6 May but trains continued to bring coal to the engine house on the swing span until this was fixed in the open position on 18 May 1970.  Work to lift the track got underway on 8 February 1971; thereafter the deck sections and bridge superstructure were dismantled.  On 1 April 1978, the remaining goods traffic from Alloa Junction to Dunmore Junction, being basically the Bandeath trade, also ended.


The route of the railway is now in private hands and the best way to see it is by using the local road network which criss-crosses it in several places.  The cutting for the railway to the east of the M9 motorway is still a conspicuous part of the landscape, though it is now partially filled with water and overgrown by stunted trees.  The bridge at Pows Wood (NS 8537 8640) is in good condition and can be enjoyed by users of the road which now constitutes part of a cycle network.   As the line approaches the Sauchinford Burn there is a low embankment which continues for several hundred yards.  The burn passes under the track by a neat culvert. 

Illus 12: Pow Mill Bridge looking west.

There is another tidy stream crossing for the Pow Burn beside the site of the old Dunmore Pottery.  This has a narrow stone-lined channel crossed by steel girders and decked with wooden planks, flanked by steel handrails (NS 8717 8840).  Just beyond this it crosses the moss in a prominent cutting – made all the more obvious by the lowering of the ground to the west by the subsequent extraction of the peat – leaving a high spine of old land in place along the side of the railway.  In places the cutting has been filled in using rubble from demolished buildings. 

Illus 14: The Bridge for the Stream at the Dunmore Pottery.
Illus 11: Pows Wood Bridge looking north-west.

The splendid road bridge at Pow Mill (NS 8680 8677) still has its steel girders in place resting on the rock-faced coursed masonry abutments.  Parts of the station buildings at Airth remain and the site is now used by a cattery and kennels.  The adjacent road bridge (NS 8715 8725) is still in place but the span is now supported by a bank of earth which blocks access.

Illus 13: Airth Station on the right with the Bridge on the left.

After Dunmore Junction the line to South Alloa continues on the level to the A905 road from Airth to Stirling at Kersie (NS 8752 9040) where the culverted streams may still be seen.  It then descends as a wooded field boundary to the river where a small embankment was used to ease the gradient.  The abutments of a bridge for a farm road can be found in this section.  Nothing remains of the station or the numerous sidings that fanned out to the woodyards and wharves.  The branch leading to the site of Alloa Bridge may still be discerned as farm tracks.

Illus 15: The track of the Alloa Branch heading towards the Forth with the Wallace Monument visible on the skyline.
Illus 16: The Alloa Bridge.

Sites and Monuments Record

South Alloa Branch RailwaySMR 2314NS 8520 8595 – NS 8784 9191
South Alloa Wet Dock(SMR 1278)NS 8804 9107
South Alloa Piers & WharfsSMR 1967NS 8751 9143
South Alloa Ferry PierSMR 780NS 8784 9193
Airth (Carnock) Station(SMR 1968)NS 8711 8722


Bailey, G.B.2013The Forth Front; Falkirk District’s Maritime Contribution to World War II.
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G.B. Bailey, 2023