The Campbeltown & Machrihanish Light Railway Company

The Campbeltown & Machrihanish Light Railway Company.

The Life and Times of the Canal and Railway:
1773 – Campbeltown and Machrihanish Canal Canal surveyed between Machrihanish Colliery and Campbeltown.
1783 – Campbeltown and Machrihanish Canal Under construction.
1794 – Campbeltown and Machrihanish Canal Opened.
1875 – Campbeltown and Machrihanish Canal Taken over by the Argyll Coal and Canal Company who intend replacing the canal with a railway.
1881 – Campbeltown and Machrihanish Canal Kilkivan pit nearly worked out.

The 'Wee Train' on Hall Street, Campbeltown
The ‘Wee Train’ on Hall Street, Campbeltown


A passenger train arriving at Machrihanish Terminus
A passenger train arriving at the Machrihanish Terminus.

1887 – 23rd May – Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway Opened as a coal line which would later become the Campbeltown and Machrihanish Railway.
1901 – Campbeltown Turbine steamer introduced on route.
1902 – Campbeltown Second turbine steam introduced on route.
1905 – Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway authorised
1906 – 4th August first trial passenger run with a party of miners. 25th August – Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway officially opened for passenger traffic
Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light RailwayCompany 1926 Timetable

1926 – Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway Mining more or less ceases.
1929 – Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway Pits closed.
1931 – November – Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway closed to all traffic
1932 – January – Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway Line re-opened.
1932 – May – Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway Line closed again.
1933 – Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway Company formally closed
1945 – Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway Pit formerly served by railway re-opens. Served by road instead.


Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway Company Timetable
Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway Company Timetable.
  • 1896 Map Machrihanish - Campbeltown
    1896 Map Machrihanish - Campbeltown

Coal mining once took place in the vicinity of Machrihanish, Trodigal and Drumlemble and the Railway replaced the canal (which took a more northerly course than the railway) The canal used to run all the way to Campbeltown.

The line was a 2 foot 3 inches gauge railway. Initially it ran from Machrihanish Colliery (Kilkivan, Drumlemble, Argyll Colliery) to a coal depot and pier in Campbeltown. It was extended westwards to Machrihanish. The line did not have stations per se, but rather places where the train halted to pick up passengers. Many of the passengers were day trippers from Glasgow as a turbine steamer would bring passengers to Campbeltown early enough to catch a train to Machrihanish and allow a return journey all in one day.

Operating in an area remote from other railways, and independent for all of its life, the C&M acquired a distinctive character all of its own. Its Barclay 0-6-2T locomotives were large, fast and powerful, its bogie carriages opulent and comfortable.
Much pride was taken in the running of ‘boat trains’ connecting with the steamers and Golfing Specials taking the visiting golfers to the links at Machrihanish, but at the same time the railway never forgot its ‘local’, customers or neglected its staple coal traffic.

Colourised Argyll of the Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway Company - Built by Andrew Barclay in 1906
Colourised image of the Argyll – Campbeltown & Machrihanish Light Railway Company – Built by Andrew Barclay in 1906

The Campbeltown & Machrihanish Light Railway Company.

The old coal canal, running from the colliery to the Mill Dam and operated with three small barges, had opened in 1794 but had fallen into disuse and was eventually abandoned about 1856.
The colliery changed hands in 1875 and the new owners, The Argyll Coal and Canal Company, needed a better way of sending coal to the town and set to build a 2’ 3” narrow gauge railway from the pit at Kilkivan to their coal depot at the east end of Argyll Street in Campbeltown, a distance of about 4¼ miles. Although not directly related to these matters, it is of passing interest that other eyes were on Machrihanish at this time, eight local businessmen having met together in Campbeltown’s Argyll Arms Hotel on Saturday, March 11, 1876, to resolve the establishment of a local golf club, Machrihanish being their eventual choice of ground. Later that year, during the laying out of the original 10-hole course on the machair, the bones and skulls of many of the Danes and Scots who had fought in The Battle of Machair Innean, fought in the ninth-century, were discovered on the site.

Machrihanish Terminus Building
Machrihanish Terminus Building

Two more holes were added to the new golf course before the year was out and, in 1879, notable alterations were made to the course on the advice of veteran St. Andrews’ golfer Tom Morris who had commented on his first visit “The Almichty had gowff in his e’e when he made this place”. In 1889, the course made up to a full 18-holes and the course was redesigned in 1914 by three-times Open Championship winner J. H. Taylor and again, thirty years later, after World War II, by Sir Guy Campbell to give us the course layout of today. Work on the new railway commenced, at Trodigal and elsewhere along the route of the line, on Monday, July 24, 1876. The schooner “W.M.J.” under the command of Captain Lloyd, arrived from Briton Ferry, in Wales, with 21foot lengths of rails on Tuesday, August 15, 1876. Three weeks later, on Saturday, September 2, 1876, the “Levonia” arrived from St. Malo with the sleepers. On Tuesday, November 7, 1876, the Campbeltown Company’s “Kintyre” unloaded the first locomotive, named “P i o n e e r” and built by Andrew Barclay & Company of Kilmarnock.

Andrew Barclay Advert
Andrew Barclay Advert

“P i o n e e r” made her first outing on Christmas Day 1876, this was of course an ordinary working day in Scotland till 1958 and construction of the line was completed on Saturday, April 21, 1877. On Saturday, May 19, 1877, the “Gael” unloaded the first wagons which were quickly checked over and initiated the line’s opening to goods traffic on Wednesday, May 23, 1877. The line, excluding the cost of embankments, cuttings and bridges, cost about £900 per mile to lay – 63 tons of rails at 40 lb per yard weight; 2 tons 8 cwt of fish plates; 17 cwt of bolts; 2,200 sleepers at 3-foot intervals; 2 tons of spikes; 3,520 fencing stabs at 4 pence each; fence wire and staples at £12; forming and ballasting (6’ x 1’ = 2/3 cub. yd. per lin. yd.) at 3/- per yard.

The only other narrow-gauge line to be built in Scotland was Glasgow’s “Subway”. The line would be extended a further half-mile to Drumlemble in 1881 when the Kilkivan pit became exhausted and then would have further extensions added in 1906 to take the line on to Machrihanish and to Campbeltown’s New Quay and, for passenger traffic, along Hall Street to the top of The Old Quay giving the line a final authorised length of 6 miles and 649 yards.


The “C. M. L. R.” Passenger Trains
The arrival of the new high speed turbines “King Edward” and “Queen Alexandra (I)” revolutionised the Clyde tourist trade and began bringing upwards of 400 trippers a day to Campbeltown, many being persuaded to visit ‘the shores of The Atlantic’ at Machrihanish. Early in the spring of 1904, talks took place between Galloways, the colliery owners; Denny’s, the shipbuilders and other parties who might support proposals to upgrade the railway for the carriage of tourists and, equally importantly, extend the line not only to Machrihanish but too to The New Quay so that coal could be loaded directly on to the ships instead of being transferred by carts from the coal yard at the (now) Highland Church and then down to the quay.

A new company, “The Argyll Railway Company” was formed to make an application for the necessary Light Railway Order, made in May 1904. An official enquiry on behalf of The Light Railway Commissioners was held on September 28, 1904 and the scheme submitted to The Board of Trade on December 28, 1904. On May 8, 1905, “The Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway Order 1905” was duly approved by The Board of Trade and the company then becoming “The Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway Company” – the “C. & M. L. Ry.”. The 2’ 3” narrow gauge railway between Campbeltown and Machrihanish, having an authorised length of 6 miles 649 yards, allowing the line to be worked by steam or electric power.

Old advert for the Campbeltown & Machrihanish Light Railway Company
Old advert for the Campbeltown & Machrihanish Light Railway Company,

Timetable in 1912

The new company had powers to compulsorily purchase land and buildings in the way of the extension to The New Quay but were forbidden to purchase ten or more houses belonging to the ‘labouring classes’, these defined as persons having an income of less than £1.10/- (£1.50p) per week. The building works, contracted to James Young & Company, were begun in November 1905 and the first big engine, “Atlantic”, arrived in June 1906. She – all railway engines are called ‘s h e’ until they are coupled up to a train whereupon they immediately change sex and become ‘h e’ – was taken by road, on a trailer hauled by a steam traction engine, to Plantation Crossing, set on the rails and almost immediately fired up to begin work.
By Saturday, July 21, 1906, the line was completed and, the four new 64-seat carriages having arrived from Wishaw, the first trial trip, with a party of miners, was made over the completed line on Saturday, August 4, 1906. The line was given its official inspection on Friday, August 17, 1906, by The Board of Trade officer Lt. Col. E. Druitt, accompanied by various others including Captain John Williamson, he who had been instrumental in bringing the first turbine steamer, the “King Edward”, to Campbeltown and, the return trip from Machrihanish being made at full speed, the inspection party were able to return home that same day on the regular sailing of the “Queen Alexandra (I)”. Several fare-paying steamer passengers travelled on the train next day and the line was officially opened on the following Saturday, August 25, 1906. Within three weeks some 10,000 passengers, nearly all of the turbine steamer’s day trippers to Campbeltown, had travelled on the new train.

Argyll. on Hall Street, Campbeltown. Built in 1906 by Andrew Barclay for the Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway Company
Argyll. on Hall Street, Campbeltown. Built in 1906 by Andrew Barclay for the Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway Company.

A second, sister, locomotive, “Argyll” (pictured above) and two more passenger carriages, one a ‘composite’ for passengers and luggage, arrived in time for the start of the 1907 summer season – The line also then operated some eighteen, rather elderly, coal wagons but by its closure owned about 150 4ton coal wagons. The line’s first locomotive ”Pioneer”, in store at the colliery, was not taken out again and was seemingly broken up for scrap in July 1911. The 1883 “Chevalier”, never much used for passenger working, would work alongside “Atlantic” and “Argyll” till the line closed and “Princess”, built in 1900 and fitted with vacuum brakes for working passenger trains, more often the single-coach winter trains, was withdrawn in 1926 and cannibalised to keep “Chevalier” going till the final demise of the railway.

The locomotives, like those of The North British Railway, were painted olive green – ‘dark gamboge’ – and lined out in black, yellow and vermilion. Coaches were olive green with white roofs and the coal wagons painted grey. Both “Atlantic” and “Argyll” were given the Campbeltown coat of arms surrounded by a white ring lettered with the full company name.

The passenger timetable, three returns on weekdays, six on Saturdays and no services at all on Sundays, would vary timings little over the years, request stops being made as required at Plantation, Moss Road, Lintmill, Drumlemble, Machrihanish and Trodigal.

The timetable for July and August 1922, provided that the colliery too was working, is fairly typical.
The first train left The Old Quay about 6 a.m. and then returned from Machrihanish at 8.10 a.m. on schooldays, otherwise it returned ‘light’ to Campbeltown. Next, the 10.20 a.m., returning from Machrihanish at 11 a.m.. In summertime, the turbine steamer would leave Prince’s Pier, Greenock at 8.45 a.m., Gourock 9.05 a.m., Wemyss Bay 9.50 a.m., Fairlie 10.30 a.m., Lochranza 11.25 a.m., Pirnmill at 11.45 a.m., the passengers being ferried ashore and then arrive in Campbeltown at 12.40 p.m. where the train, now an ‘express’ would leave at 1.10 p.m. for Machrihanish, arriving at 1.40 p.m.. The train would then leave thirty-five minutes later, at 2.15 p.m., arriving back in Campbeltown in time for the turbine steamer’s departure at 2.50 p.m.. The ordinary Campbeltown service steamer, carrying passengers and cargo, made calls at Lochranza 11.30 a.m., Pirnmill 12 noon, Carradale 12.25 p.m. and, if required, at Saddell to reach Campbeltown at about 1.30 p.m., the train passengers then getting the 3 p.m. to Machrihanish which left there again at 3.45 p.m.. Next, the school run, the 4.20 p.m. which, leaving Machrihanish at 5.45 p.m., brought the coal miners back home. The final run weekday run was the 6.30 p.m., it leaving on the return at 7.30 p.m. On Saturdays too, there was a late run to Machrihanish at 9.45 p.m. and it was not unknown, for those who missed it, to appropriate the linemen’s trolley, push it to the summit of the line at Tomaig, freewheel out to Plantation Crossing and then use a long pole to ‘punt’ themselves home to Drumlemble.

The Glasgow and South Western Railway Company, successful in their connecting arrangements with the turbine steamers to Campbeltown, had an idea of taking over the Campbeltown to Machrihanish railway and building a line up the west side of Kintyre from Dunaverty to Cour. The line would have run up Conie Glen to a crossing junction at Drumlemble, on to Bellochantuy where a new ‘Turnberry-style’ hotel would be built and a new golf course at Killean and then, from Tayinloan ferry, via the Narachan Burn and Sunadale to Cour. The idea being not only for a through passenger route between Ireland and Scotland but too a line which would have run coal out for shipment, via Dunaverty, to Ireland or, via Cour, to Glasgow.
The ‘Sou’ West’ also proposed running a second, unconnected, line from Ronachan Bay, via Clachan and Glenrisdell, to the new pier at Skipness so as to better connect Jura and Islay with Fairlie and of course Glasgow. A monument to another unexecuted scheme of the Glasgow and South Western Railway is to be seen at Carrick Castle, at the mouth of Loch Goil where the company built ‘a railway station’, the curious looking building beside the pier, for a line to connect into the Oban and Callander Railway.


The End of The Railway
Though the railway carried more than 21,000 tons of coal in 1923, the end was in sight for the pit, its coal never of particularly good quality. In the 1920’s, with labour disputes, coal strikes and ‘The Depression’ looming, coal buyers could be selective and little coal was mined at Machrihanish after 1926, the mine struggling on till being closed in September 1929. In 1931, Maisels Petroleum Company was floated to re-open the pit and distil oil from the coal but the scheme foundered and the railway’s passenger services were withdrawn in November that year. The mine would open again in 1946 but then again finally close in 1967. Nobody can now be quite certain when the final passenger train ran for services were restarted a couple of months later in anticipation of the new season’s tourist traffic but, by the time the “Queen Alexandra (II)” made her first sailing of the 1932 season, the railway had already closed again, this time for good. With the appointment of a company liquidator in November 1933, men had began dismantling the track at the colliery in December and then, in May 1934, the scrap men from James N. Connel Ltd. in Coatbridge moved in with a vengeance. Within the fortnight, “Chevalier” and “Argyll” were dismantled and, by the middle of August, “Atlantic”, used to work the demolition train, had also finally arrived at the New Quay to be dismantled and be loaded with her sister engines and the rest of the scrap in the puffer “Norman”, bound for Irvine and the smelters. The six carriages were sold off for use as holiday huts at Trench Point, beside the old shipyard, the first reluctantly hauled there on Wednesday, July 11, 1934 and resisting all attempts to site it until 4 o’clock next morning ! There they remained, still looking like proper trains, until well into the 1950’s. By 1958, they too had disappeared, victims of weather and time.

Today the Campbeltown & Machrihanish Light Railway Company is popular with modellers, just a couple of videos featuring the line: