Wick and Lybster Light Railway
|Wick and Lybster Light Railway|
|Continues as||London Midland and Scottish Railway|
|Opened||1 July 1903|
|Closed||31 December 1922|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|Wick & Lybster Light Railway|
The Wick and Lybster Light Railway was a light railway opened in 1903, with the intention of opening up the fishing port of Lybster, in Caithness, Scotland, to the railway network at Wick. Its construction was heavily supported financially by local government and the Treasury. It was worked by the Highland Railway.
The line was never heavily used and the anticipated expansion of the fishing trade did not take place. When a modern road to the south was built in the 1930s, transits from Lybster were considerably shorter and quicker by that means, and the railway closed completely in 1944.
The fishing village of Lybster lies 13 miles to the south of Wick, and up to the end of the nineteenth century was relatively inaccessible on land. As early as 1864 a railway from Wick through Lybster to Dunbeath had been proposed, but nothing came of the idea at that time.
The government passed the Light Railways Act 1896 with the intention of encouraging the construction of low-cost railways to serve such localities.
When a new light railway was proposed connecting Lybster to the main line railway network at Wick, considerable support was expressed locally. Wick was one of the northern termini of the Far North Line from Inverness, owned and operated at the time by the Highland Railway. An application was made for a Light Railway Order, Caithness County Council taking the lead in submitting it on 5 March 1896.
The order was granted on 27 November 1899. The capital of the railway company was £30,000, but the anticipated construction cost was considerably more; grants were anticipated from the County Council and the Treasury.
In the event the Duke of Portland, a substantial landowner in the district, subscribed £15,000, and the Highland Railway £1,000. Caithness County Council "advanced" £15,000, the Corporation of Wick £15,000 and the Corporation of Pultenytown (later absorbed into Wick) £1,000. The Treasury made a grant of £25,000.[note 1] In fact £8,000 of shares remained unsubscribed at 28 March 1900.
The fees of the Board of Trade in granting the Order were £1,311. A contract was let to Wiliam Kennedy of Partick, Glasgow, for the actual construction.
The Highland Railway agreed to take charge of the construction, but they were clearly unwilling to let any shortfall in funding fall to them. Willam Whitelaw, the vice chairman of the Highland Railway visited Wick and stated that he required personal guarantees from the local directors; those directors were reluctant to accept the commitment, but after reflection the gave the required undertakings. However negotiation was successful in persuading the Treasury to increase its loan by £5,000 in 1900. A working agreement with the Highland Railway was finalised on 27 February 1901. The wrangle had cost a year in the construction timescale.
Construction started on 1 April 1901. After an inspection by Major Druitt, the Board of Trade Inspector, the line opened on 1 July 1903. On the opening day, the first train left Wick at 11.00am. The engine, christened Lybster, was decorated with bunting, and flags were displayed throughout the town. Mrs. Miller, wife of the Chairman signalled the departure of the first train. She was presented with a gold whistle as a memento of the occasion. The inaugural train ran non-stop to Lybster in around 30 minutes.
Three trains ran each way every weekday, the journey occupying 40 minutes. The maximum permitted speed was 25 mph.
The financial performance of the line was always poor, with the dividend never exceeding 1.5%.
When the burgh of Wick voted to prohibit the sale of alcohol, some passenger traffic was generated by drinkers who travelled to Lybster to do so.
The Wick and Lybster Light Railway Company was simply a financial shell, receiving the working charge from the Highland Railway. The Railways Act 1921 was passed with the aim of grouping the railways of Great Britain; the Highland Railway was a constituent of the new London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) but the W&LLR was simply absorbed; the LMS exchanged £100 ordinary shares in the W&LLR for £12 10s cash; the company was valued at £42,515.
In 1903 an 0-4-4 tank locomotive that had been working on the Strathpeffer branch was transferred to work the Wick and Lybster Light Railway. It had been built in 1890 by David Jones as a saddle tank; it was given a second-hand boiler, and in 1901 it had been altered to a side-tank configuration.
The line was 13 miles 39 chains in length, and was single; there were no passing places.
A new bay platform for the branch trains was provided at Wick station, on the north side of the line. (The main Highland Railway line approaches from the west.) The Lybster line started at a junction just outside the station and curved to the south; it then ran south a mile or so inland, then curving west with the coast and converging with it at the terminus, Lybster. Intermediate stations were at Thrumster, Ulbster, Mid Clyth and Occumster.
The terrain is rocky and hilly, and gradients on the line were stiff. From Wick the line rose almost continuously, with a ruling gradient of 1 in 50, to a summit 328 feet above sea level just before the 7 milepost. Undulations followed with equally severe gradients, and the final mile descended into Lybster station, which was at a higher altitude (214 feet) than Wick (38 feet). The station was located at the north end of the main street and was some distance from the harbour.
There were numerous level crossings on the line.
The construction of a modern road over the Ord of Caithness in the 1930s was a boost to the area but it spelt the end of the railway; the distance from Lybster to Helmsdale by rail via Wick was 74 miles; by the new road it was just over 20 miles. The line closed completely on 1 April 1944.
- These figures from the contemporary report in the Railway Magazine; Ross says Wick subscribed £1,500, and Pulteneytown £1,500, and the Treasury grant was a loan.
- David Ross, The Highland Railway, Tempus Publishing, Stroud, 2005, ISBN 0 7524 3479 9
- Anonymous author in Railway Magazine, August 1903
- "The Wick and Lybster Light Railway. The Opening Ceremony". Aberdeen Journal. British Newspaper Archive. 2 July 1903. Retrieved 15 August 2016 – via British Newspaper Archive. (Subscription required (. ))
- H A Vallance, C R Clinker, Anthony J Lambert, The Highland Railway, David and Charles, Newton Abbot, 1985, ISBN 0 946537 24 0