Portpatrick and Wigtownshire Joint Railway

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Portpatrick and Wigtownshire Joint Railway
Castle Douglas and Dumfries Railway
Castle Douglas
Portpatrick Line Junction
Kirkcudbright Railway
New Galloway
Loch Skerrow Halt
Water of Fleet Viaduct
Gatehouse of Fleet
Newton Stewart
Newton Stewart Junction
Causeway End
Millisle Junction
Girvan and Portpatrick Junction Railway
Challoch Junction
Castle Kennedy
Cairnryan Junction
Cairnryan Military Railway
Stranraer Harbour Junction
Stranraer Harbour
Stranraer Town
Portpatrick Harbour

The Portpatrick and Wigtownshire Joint Railway, often known as the Port Road, was a railway in south-west Scotland] which linked Dumfries, via Castle Douglas, with the port towns of Portpatrick and Stranraer. It also formed part of an England-Scotland railway and sea route to the north of Ireland.

The Joint Railway was formed from the earlier Portpatrick Railway and the Wigtownshire Railway, and the story of those Companies is described here. The Joint Railway was owned by four other Companies, and was formed by Act of Parliament on 6 August 1885.[1]

The line was single track throughout, serving a region of very low population density, but it achieved significance by carrying heavy traffic, both passenger and goods, to and from northern Irish destinations through Portpatrick and Stranraer. The line closed in 1965 apart from the short section from Stranraer Harbour to Challoch Junction.[2]



As early as 1620 Portpatrick had been established as the port for the short sea route between south-west Scotland and the north of Ireland, at Donaghadee in County Down. Irish cattle and horses were a dominant traffic early on, and Post Office mails developed later: by 1838 8,000 to 10,000 letters passed through the port daily, brought by road coach from Dumfries, and from Glasgow. A barracks was erected in the town to facilitate troop movements. However the limitations of the little harbour became serious disadvantages as other more efficient rail-connected routes, via Liverpool, and later Holyhead became dominant. Portpatrick's nearest railhead was Ayr, 60 miles (96 km) away, and the Post Office discontinued use of Portpatrick for mails from 30 September 1849; much of the livestock traffic had already moved to other routes.[3][4]

The Castle Douglas and Dumfries Railway[edit]

The Glasgow and South Western Railway (G&SWR) was formed by amalgamation in 1850, on the opening of the main line which ran from Glasgow via Kilmarnock and Dumfries to Carlisle. When local interests promoted a railway branching from it at Dumfries and running to Castle Douglas, the G&SWR actively supported it, in fact subscribing £60,000 towards the little Company's capital. The G&SWR motives appear to have been a desire to secure the territory from their rival, the Caledonian Railway, as well as the formation of a first section of a route to Portpatrick. The Castle Douglas and Dumfries Railway (CD&DR) opened on 7 November 1859 and was worked from the outset by the G&SWR.

The larger Company soon made advances to take over the CD&DR, and did so (formally on the basis of an amalgamation) on 1 August 1865.[3]

Plans for a railway in Wigtownshire and Kirkcudbright[edit]

On 30 April 1856, before the CD&DR obtained its authorising Act of Parliament, a meeting was held in Wigtown at which it was agreed that Wigtownshire and Kirkcudbrightshire[note 1] needed a railway connection, and on 26 May 1856 it was decided to build a railway to Dumfries; the intention included connecting Portpatrick to the national railway network, with a view to reviving the Donaghadee route. The Government indicated tentative support for such a sea connection, and for improving the harbour at Portpatrick, so the Committee proceeded ; on 19 September 1856 plans for the route of the British and Irish Grand Junction Railway were tabled. By now the CD&DR had obtained its authorising Act and the Portpatrick line would join it at Castle Douglas instead of going independently to Dumfries. The route east of Newton Stewart took a markedly northerly course through bleak terrain, and this may have been to avoid competing with coastal steamers on a more southerly alignment.[3]

The Portpatrick Railway[edit]

The Bill for the new line went to Parliament in the 1857 session, but the grand title was changed to the more modest Portpatrick Railway (PPR). With little opposition it obtained its authorising Act on 10 August 1857. Capital was to be £460,000 with borrowing powers of £150,000, and three railways were required[note 2] to subscribe funds: the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway (£40,000), the G&SWR (£60,000), and the Belfast and County Down Railway (£15,000). The main line was to be 60 miles 60 chains (98 km) in length from Castle Douglas to Portpatrick, with two short branches: to the west quay at Stranraer, and to the north pier at Portpatrick.

The construction process was put in hand, but the available funds were not sufficient to complete the line, and the PPR approached the other railways for further financial support; the Lancaster and Carlisle was reluctant but was urged by its sponsoring company, the London and North Western Railway to do so. The G&SWR subscribed an additional £40,000.

Towards the end of the construction period the PR gave consideration to the working arrangements. The G&SWR were authorised to work the line by the original Act, and had offered to do so for 72% of gross receipts. This charge was considered excessive and negotiations took place which the PPR board considered unsatisfactory. On 28 March 1860 they decided that "the board should retain the working of the line under their own management" Evidently this had been foreseen, and provisional arrangements for the supply of locomotives had already been made, and this was quickly followed by contracts for rolling stock and for signalling equipment. The G&SWR had been confident that its terms for working the line would have to be accepted, and it was now angry at the emerging decision. It had subscribed £60,000 to the PPR on the assumption that the little Company would effectively belong to it, and had promised a further £40,000: it now made that sum conditional on an impossible contribution by the Belfast and County Down Railway. The breach was irreconcilable, made more so by the fact that the acid correspondence between the two companies was published as a pamphlet.[5]

So the PPR made its own arrangements, and early in 1861 Captain H W Tyler made the formal inspection of the line over a three day period. His only significant adverse comment was that the rail joints were not fished.[note 3] The line was single throughout, worked by telegraph order; crossing stations were at Castle Douglas, New Galloway, Creetown, Newton Stewart, Glenluce and Stranraer. A shareholders' special train ran on 11 March 1861 and a full public service started the following day, consisting of two passenger trains each way between Stranraer and Castle Douglas, and probably one goods train. The line had not yet opened to Portpatrick itself. The passenger trains conveyed three classes of passenger. In November the passenger service was augmented to three trains each way, possibly by converting the goods train to mixed operation. At this time the motive power fleet consisted of three 0-4-2 mixed traffic tender locomotives and an 0-6-0 locomotive loaned by the LNWR.

In the Parliamentary Act authorising the PPR, a clause had been entered penalising the Company if the short branch to the north pier at Portpatrick was not completed by August 1862. The Company had accepted this obligation on the understanding that the Government would improve the little harbour to enable efficient working of mail and other shipping. This work was essential also to railway operation, as the available land for a terminal was very cramped. A change of Government policy began to suggest that the harbour improvement works might not be funded, and the PPR, with limited funds for building its line, was alarmed that their obligation might be to build an unusable branch line; accordingly they had not built any of the main line from Stranraer. However in 1861 the Government did in fact put the work in hand, and the PPR now accelerated completion of their lines, and the line opened on 28 August 1862. The line ran to a terminus at Portpatrick, from which a back shunt led to the north pier; due to the cramped site the shunting neck was only sufficient for an engine and two coaches. The harbour improvement works seemed to have been suspended and there was no sign of the transfer of the Post Office mail traffic—the original motivation for the entire PPR—to the route.

There were two daily trains in each direction between Stranraer and Portpatrick, one each way conveying goods also, but in October an express, not conveying Parliamentary (third class) passengers between Castle Douglas and Stranraer, making connection there with an Irish ferry. The burgh of Stranraer had constructed a "north landing place" and the PPR had built a deviation to the original Stranraer Pier branch to serve it. Although the sea passage from Stranraer to Irish destinations was longer, Stranraer was naturally sheltered and there was much more space for pier and railway accommodation than there could be at Portpatrick. The Belfast and County Down Railway was extending its line to Larne on the north side of Belfast Lough and it appeared likely that a Stranraer - Larne ferry service would be more advantageous than a Portpatrick - Donaghadee one.

The "north landing place" became known as the East Pier and rail connection with it was established, boat trains to and from Castle Douglas (with connections for Carlisle) started on 1 October 1862. This was in advance of the Board of Trade inspection by Captain Tyler, on 2 December 1862, when he reported "that the opening of this branch would be attended with danger to the public using it by reason of the incompleteness of the works". The PPR continued to operate the short branch nonetheless. However the ferry service was loss-making, and was discontinued (together with the boat trains) from 31 December 1863.

The PPR itself was losing money too; the 1862 - 1863 revenue account showed a loss of £1,073 on turnover of £9,464.[3]

The Kirkcudbright Railway[edit]

The town of Kirkcudbright was some way from the growing railway network, and in 1861 local interests presented a bill to Parliament for a line from Castle Douglas; the Kirkcudbright Railway was authorised by Act of 1 August 1861. It was to run from Castle Douglas to Kirkcudbright. It opened for goods traffic on 17 February 1864, and to passengers on 15 August 1864. It was absorbed by the G&SWR the following year, on 1 August 1865.[1]

Finding a sponsor for the Portpatrick Railway[edit]

The PPR was now (in 1863) in the position of having expended all its capital on building the line (and having been deprived of some promised funds from the G&SWR); losing money on revenue account; finding that the promised boom in mail traffic through Portpatrick was illusory; and observing that the Stranraer - Larne ferry was on the point of closing down. Moreover the business of operating the railway directly had proven more complex and expensive than had been anticipated.

At this time the G&SWR approached the PPR, offering to subscribe the denied £40,000 after all. It did so on 15 December 1863. Its motivation for this change of heart was alarm that the Dumfries, Lochmaben and Lockerbie Railway had opened (on 1 September); that company was worked by the Caledonian Railway (CR), which therefore had access to Dumfries, and the PPR had asked the G&SWR for running powers over the CD&DR line, clearly intending to link with the CR. (The facility had been refused.) The G&SWR now hoped to acquire the PPR to fend off its rival. The PPR Directors were aggrieved at the bad faith of the G&SWR over the £40,000 subscription, and negotiated with the CR, who offered generous terms including the subscription of £40,000, matching the G&SWR offer. Provisional agreement to the working arrangement with the CR was finalised, and a Parliamentary Bill was prepared by the PPR, seeking running powers over the CD&DR line (and the short section of G&SWR at Dumfries); the Bill also sought to regularise the Stranraer East Pier, and to substantially increase authorised share capital. The Bill was passed by Parliament and became the Portpatrick Railway Act (No. 1) on 29 July 1864. The running powers had been secured. The working arrangement with the CR took effect on 4 December 1864.[note 4][3]

Worked by the Caledonian[edit]

The Caledonian Railway lost no time in imposing its presence; through traffic to Glasgow and Edinburgh was routed via Lockerbie and the CR. The CR was responsible for maintaining the PPR line, but soon requested additional facilities, such as siding accommodation at Stranraer and additional crossing places. The PPR had imagined that signing the Working Agreement would release it from expenses like this, and in any case hardly had any money to extend its facilities.

Ferry services[edit]

Convinced that Irish traffic would be profitable, the CR acquired two small paddle steamers and operated a service between Stranraer and Belfast from 4 December 1865. The PPR was prevailed upon to support this venture financially; but Irish traffic suffered a severe decline at this time and when one of the steamers suffered damage during a crossing on 21 January 1868, the decision was taken to suspend the ferry operation. Once again the purpose of the PPR—to connect with Ireland—was frustrated. An independent company, the Donaghadee and Portpatrick Steam Packet Company now started a service, with a single vessel making at first two round trips daily from 13 July 1868, cut back to one daily round trip from 21 September, but then discontinued from 31 October 1868. It appears likely that connecting trains used the ordinary Portpatrick station, not the Harbour terminal.

During this period the Government's intentions regarding the use of Portpatrick as a mail terminal clarified: there was now no prospect of this happening, and when the Government offered compensation of £20,000 and the transfer of ownership of the harbour at Portpatrick to the PPR, these terms were accepted as the best that could be obtained. The Caledonian Railway proposed that this be regarded as income of the line, to which they would be entitled. As they had accepted the commercial risk of revenue income which was now lacking, this might seem reasonable; but the PPR successfully argued that this was not provided for in the Working Agreement, and they refused to share the money.

From 18 August 1871 another independent operator started a service between Donaghadee and Portpatrick. On 29 August the vessel, named Aber, was rammed in thick fog by an Atlantic steamer and sank in five minutes; the new service had lasted 12 days.

As a visible indication of the decline of the port, the Portpatrick lighthouse was dismantled in 1871 and shipped to, and erected in Colombo in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

A final attempt at a regular service started on 7 June 1873, but there was little patronage and it ceased five days later, on 12 July 1873. £500,000 had been expended on the harbour.

If the Post Office was unwilling to support Portpatrick, they were not opposed to taking advantage of a route that did not need massive capital expenditure, and from March 1871 they agreed to pay £1,500 annually for the carriage of mail over the PPR, on the basis of trains running in direct connection with night mail trains on the main line. This encouraged the PPR to support a Larne and Stranraer Steamboat Company in running a daily return crossing on that route, from 1 July 1872; the vessel was the Princess Louise. This improved the finances of the PPR considerably, and the Company agreed to the use of a small shunting engine to take passenger coaches on to the East Pier at Stranraer; the flimsy structure had not previously been used and passengers had to walk along the unsheltered jetty to the ships.

Late in 1875 a second, similar, steamer was commisioned, named Princess Beatrice.

The East Pier at Stranraer was owned and maintained by the Town Council. It had never been robust, and subsidence and other difficulties demanded urgent repairs in May 1876. The Council was unwilling to execute the work, costed at £6,000, and after considerable wrangling, the PPR obtained Parliamentary authorisation to take over the pier, by Act of 28 June 1877.[3]

Portpatrick and Wigtownshire Joint Railway[edit]

The Portpatrick and Wigtownshire Joint Railway was formed from the amalgamation of two railway companies: The Portpatrick Railway and the Wigtownshire Railway, which got into financial difficulties; they merged and were taken over.[2]

In the 1921 grouping it became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS).

The Portpatrick Railway in later years[edit]

Portpatrick's importance as a port declined almost before the Portpatrick branch was completed. Portpatrick Harbour railway station both opened and closed permanently in 1868: opening on 11 September and closing in November.[6] However Portpatrick railway station, which opened on 28 August 1862, remained open until 6 February 1950.[6]

The section from Colfin to Portpatrick also closed in 1950; although Colfin to Stranraer remained open until 1959 for milk traffic.[2] After that trains ran only to the north-western termini: Stranraer Town and Stranraer Harbour.

Loch Ken Viaduct
Glenluce Viaduct

Major structures on the route include the Loch Ken viaduct, across the Dee, the Gatehouse viaduct across the Fleet, and the Glenluce viaduct, over the Water of Luce.

Places and towns served by the Portpatrick Railway[edit]

In Kirkcudbrightshire:

and in Wigtownshire:

The Wigtownshire Railway[edit]

The Wigtownshire Railway was authorised on 18 July 1872.[1] It ran for 19 miles from Newton Stewart to Whithorn.[1] Whilst it was independent, it had its own locomotives.[2]

There was a branch from Millisle to Garlieston station which opened on 3 August 1878.[1] Regular passenger services ceased on this branch on 1 March 1903; Millisle was then renamed as Millisle for Garlieston.[1][6] However, Garlieston had a good harbour from which there were occasional boat excursions to the Isle of Man,[2] (as indeed there still are (2012)). These were well patronised, so the railway continued to provide excursion trains to Garlieston until 1935.[2]

Goods services ran from Newton Stewart to Whithorn until the line closed on 5 October 1964. By the 1960s, these services ran three days per week; with conditional working on the Garlieston branch, when required.[7]

The line today[edit]

The former Wigtownshire Railway closed completely to passengers on 29 September 1950;[1] and the Portpatrick to Stranraer Town section closed in stages in the 1950s.

The whole of the Castle Douglas and Dumfries Railway and majority of the remaining Portpatrick Railway was closed by the Beeching Axe in 1965. Only the Stranraer Harbour to Challoch Junction section is open; and is now served by services on the Glasgow South Western Line.

Connections to other lines[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Awdry, Christopher, Encyclopaedia of British Railway Companies, Patrick Stephens Limited, Wellingborough, 1990, ISBN 1 85260 049 7
  2. ^ a b c d e f Casserley
  3. ^ a b c d e f Smith, David L, The Little Railways of South West Scotland, David and Charles, Newton Abbot, 1969, ISBN 7153 4652 0
  4. ^ Cunningham, R R, Portpatrick Through the Ages, Wigtown Free Press, Stranraer, 1977
  5. ^ Correspondence between Viscount Dalrymple, Chairman of the Portpatrick Railway Company, and Sir Andrew Orr, Chairman, and James White Esq., Deputy Chairman, of the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company, published at Stranraer, 1861.
  6. ^ a b c Butt (1995).
  7. ^ Gammell, C.J. (1978). Scottish Branch Lines 1955 - 1965. Oxford: Oxford Publishing Co. ISBN 0-86093-005-X.


  1. ^ Formally the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.
  2. ^ Smith says "required" on page 21, but on page 22 and page 28 it seems that this was negotiated.
  3. ^ Normally the butted ends of the rails are kept in alignment by fishplates.
  4. ^ Date implied, but not stated, by Smith on page 59.


  • Butt, R. V. J. (1995). The Directory of Railway Stations. Patrick Stephens Ltd, Sparkford. ISBN 1-85260-508-1.
  • Casserley, H.C.(1968). Britain's Joint Lines. Shepperton: Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-0024-7.
  • Jowett, Alan. (1989). Jowett's Railway Atlas of Great Britain & Ireland. Sparkford: Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-85260-086-1.
  • Thomas, John (1976). Forgotten Railways: Scotland. Newton Abbott: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-8193-8.

External links[edit]