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Kilmarnock & Troon Railway
Kilmarnock in East Ayrshire to Troon in South Aryshire, Scotland, UK
Kilmarnock & Troon Railway
associated engineer
William Jessop
John Miller
date  1808 - 1811, opened 6th July 1812
era  Georgian  |  category  Railway  |  reference  NS307314
ICE reference number  HEW 1469
photo  courtesy Roland Paxton
The original Kilmarnock & Troon Railway was Scotland's earliest public rail line and was intially powered by horse traction. Under the terms of its enabling Act of Parliament, the railway was supposed to carry only freight, so in the early days passengers were charged freight rates according to their weight!
The route of the Kilmarnock & Troon Railway ran partly along the course of the River Irvine and along the East Aryshire-South Ayrshire border — the present-day line follows much the same route.
The railway company that built it was incorporated by an Act of Parliament passed on 27th May 1808. It was paid for by William Bentinck (1768-1854), fourth Duke of Portland, mainly for transporting coal from his collieries near Kilmarnock to his new harbour at Troon (see map) on the Forth of Clyde.
The engineer for the railway and the harbour was William Jessop (1745-1814). Both were set out by the railway company's surveyor John Wilson (d.1840), who was the Duke’s agent from 1812 onwards. Together, the two projects cost around £150,000 of which about £42,000 was for work on the rail line.
The 16km long railway was designed as an inclined plane from Kilmarnock to Troon, with an almost uniform downwards slope of about 1 in 660. It was a cast iron plateway line with double tracks of 1.22m gauge. The 910mm long L-shaped rails were joined using iron spikes driven into wooden plugs set in stone blocks — there were no sleepers. Horses pulled the wagons along the tracks.
The two main engineering challenges during construction were the Laigh Milton Viaduct (NS383369) near Gatehead — possibly the oldest surviving public railway viaduct in the world — and the straight section of track that crossed Shewalton Moss (NS346349), a peat bog 1.6km wide and about 9m deep. The soft peat had to be covered with a layer of sand followed by broom, gorse and timber so that the spongy ground would bear the weight of the railway. Extensive cuttings and embankments were also required to achieve the inclined plane. Most of the construction was done by direct labour.
The railway was operational in 1811 and also carried its first passengers in that year, though the official opening wasn't until 6th July 1812. There were stations at Kilmarnock, Gatehead, Barassie and Troon.
In 1818, a 4km branch line was completed for Sir William Cunningham to the collieries at Drybridge and Fairle. It had iron fish-bellied edge rails set in iron chairs spiked to stone blocks, set at a gauge of 1.02m.
In 1816, the Duke of Portland conducted a trial, probably on Wilson’s initiative, using a travelling steam engine to haul the wagons. The engine was The Duke, made by George Stephenson (1781-1848) at Killingworth colliery on Tyneside.
Unfortunately, the trial was a failure because the engine’s weight and its thumping action fractured many of the cast iron plate rails, which were designed for lighter loads. Nevertheless, it was probably the first time steam had powered a regular passenger railway (albeit unsuccessfully) — nine years before Stephenson’s locomotive Locomotion No.1 successfully made its historic journey along the Stockton & Darlington Railway, on 27th September 1825.
Horse traction was resumed, and in 1824 the engine was sold for £70 to Thomas Bruce (1766-1841), seventh Earl of Elgin — famous (or infamous) for removing the marble sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens. By 1839 the railway was carrying 233,700 tonnes of freight annually, which included 152,400 tonnes of coal per year. Passenger usage in 1837-8 amounted to about 320,000 passenger km each year.
Another Act of Parliament was passed in 1837 allowing the line to be converted for locomotive use. Locomotive power began on 27th September 1841, though horses were used until 1846.
The Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock & Ayr Railway leased the Kilmarnock & Troon Railway on 16th July 1846 and had its curves and track upgraded by Scottish railway engineer John Miller (1805-83) in 1846-7. This included some re-alignment and the Laigh Milton Viaduct was abandoned in favour of a timber bridge, which was superseded by the present viaduct (NS382365) further upstream in 1865. The branch to Drybridge was closed around this time.
The railway company was a commercial success and existed until 16th July 1899, when it was bought by the Glasgow & South Western Railway. This became part of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway in 1923. The line was closed on 3rd March 1969 but re-opened from 1975. It is now part of the Scottish railway network, with stops at Kilmarnock, Barassie and Troon.
Surveyor: John Wilson
Resident engineer: T. Hollis
Research: ECPK
"The Origins of the Scottish Railway System 1722-1844" by C.J.A. Robertson,
John Donald Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh, 1983
reference sources   CEH SLB

Kilmarnock & Troon Railway