Balerno line

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The Balerno Line
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge
Route map
Up arrow  Glasgow to Edinburgh via Carstairs Line
Hailes Halt
Juniper Green
Down arrowGlasgow to Edinburgh via Carstairs Line
Locomotive 78046 calls at Colinton station with Scottish Rambler No4 in April 1965

The Balerno line was a short loop railway in Scotland. It was some 6 miles in length leaving the main Caledonian Edinburgh to Carstairs line at Slateford in Edinburgh. It was built by the Caledonian Railway (CR) mainly to service the many enterprises situated along the upper Water of Leith. However, passenger trains also ran. Most trains terminated at Balerno, though they had to travel to Ravelrig to turn round. Other stations were constructed at Colinton, Juniper Green and Currie. In 1923, with the grouping, the CR amalgamated with several other companies to form the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) which, following nationalisation in 1947, became part of British Railways.


Several local landowners objected to the building of the railway fearing they would lose some of their land. Others were in favour as they believed it would make the transportation of animals and goods easier. The mill owners were strongly in favour. The Balerno line received final Royal Assent in 1870 and opened in 1874. There were many problems in construction requiring 28 bridges, one long tunnel and many cuttings and embankments. The line followed the Water of Leith, crossing it several times. It was built entirely with manual labour at a final cost of a little over £134,000. It was a single track railway with the only passing place at Currie station. Initially a speed limit of 15 m.p.h. was imposed, this being later raised to 20 m.p.h. A maximum of 18 trucks were allowed.


Four bogie engines were built for the opening which could cope with the steep gradients and curves. This type of engine was normally used in factories and other confined spaces. Special four wheeled, two wheelset, carriages were also built. In 1899 12 locomotives were specially built for the line. These became known as Balerno Pugs. From 1934 standard tank engines were gradually brought into service replacing the pug engines. Engine number CR419 was one of those used and is now in the possession of The Scottish Railway Preservation Society having been restored by them in 1971 and again in 2009. Railway enthusiasts were enthralled to see these little trains weaving along in such delightful rural surroundings yet so close to the heart of Edinburgh.

A freight train hauled by locomotive 47163 approaches Juniper Green from Colinton
Locomotive No419 in the possession of The Scottish Railway Preservation Society


This rural railway, within a few minutes from the centre of Edinburgh, was very popular with picnickers especially on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.[1] The line played a key role in attracting people to the area. It gave easy access to the countryside and encouraged city dwellers to come and live there and commute to work. Colinton and Juniper Green expanded rapidly in the late 19th century due, in a large part, to the railway. Expansion in Currie and Balerno was not so great as they were further away. Up to 1920s the train had a monopoly of passenger traffic in the area. After that date buses carried more and more people and passenger trains ceased in 1943 though one or two special excursions were made, the last one being in 1965. The 24 mills along the line made good use of it. They were engaged in the manufacture of textiles, paper, and snuff. There were five or six snuff mills in the area, possibly the greatest concentration of snuff mills in the world. One of these was owned by Edinburgh tobacconist James Gillespie, who went on to found what is now James Gillespie's High School.There were also two stone quarries, a salt works and a tannery.[2] Freight trains continued till 1967 when the line was closed following the closure of the Kinleith paper mill.

Current use[edit]

The rails were lifted in 1968 and the stations and other infrastructure demolished. The track was converted into the Water of Leith Walkway. This is now well used by the public for walking, exercising dogs, cycling and horse riding. It is now possible to walk or cycle all the way from Balerno to Leith using footpaths. Balerno Community High School was built on the ground of the former Balerno station goods yard.

The Balerno line is now a walkway pictured here after a fall of snow

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thomas, John (1976). Forgotten Railways Scotland. David & Charles. p. 55. ISBN 0-7153-7185-1.
  2. ^ Thomas & Turnock, John & Thomas (1971). A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain. Volume 6 Scotland the Lowlands and the Borders. David & Charles. p. 249. ISBN 0-7153-5408-6.


Shaw, Donald (1989). The Balerno Branch and the Caley in Edinburgh. Oakwood. ISBN 085361-366-4

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°53′22″N 3°20′16″W / 55.88958°N 3.33769°W / 55.88958; -3.33769