KDVCS: The closure of the Victorian railway lines in Scotland

by Givey Team

19 October 2022

Listen to our podcast on KDVCS

What would you do if you lived in a transport desert? Listen to this episode of The Givey Community and you’ll be able to hear about how a local community is trying to tackle that exact problem. KDVCS, the Killin and District Volunteer Car Scheme, based in the Scottish Highlands, help residence of Killin and District who struggle with accessing public transport and coping with long journeys by driving passengers to and from appointments at hospitals (most about 60 miles away), health centres & clinics, and to activities that help boost well-being and combat isolation. To donate click here.

What is a transport desert?

You may call an area a ‘transport desert’ when it lacks public transport options for residents to be able to travel comfortably on a day-to-day basis without driving.

Killin wasn’t always a transport desert

It had Victorian railways:

Ben a volunteer from KDVCS has written about the Victorian railways that used to run through the Scottish-highlands and why they are no longer in use today:

The Victorians built railway lines all through the Scottish Highlands. Look at a map of Scotland and you will see that, northwest of Stirling the A84 trunk road connects the lowland town of Callander with the highland villages of Strathyre, Balquhidder, Lochearnhead and Killin.

A84 road towns mapped out on Google maps

In the railway boom of the 1860s new railways linked these communities with the towns and cities further south. This enabled villagers to travel more easily than ever before. It brought in visitors eager to experience the romance of the Highlands, created by Victorian writers and artists. Wealthy people built villas in outlying towns and commuted to work in the cities by rail. Hotels, pubs, cafes and shops were built near stations to cater for the tourists. Goods could be sold elsewhere and materials brought in, so communities served by the railway thrived.

The short branch from Killin Junction to the town of Killin on the shores of Loch Tay
Taken 1958

The routes

The Callander and Oban railway ran north from Callander, climbed into the Highlands though the Leny gorge and thence up the east side of Loch Lubnaig to Strathyre. Then Balquhidder station, which was a couple of miles east of Balquhidder village. After Balquhidder at Lochearnhead the line divided. One branch heading east along the north shore of Loch Earn to St Fillans and Comrie then Crieff.

East branch route mapped out on Google maps

The other climbing spectacularly up Glen Ogle and over into Glen Dochart. Then through Killin station west to Crianlarich, then northwards to Oban, a major seaport for the Hebridean islands. From Killin Station a short branch line chuffed off to Killin a few miles east at the head of Loch Tay where it terminated at the steamer pier.

West branch route mapped out on Google maps

From there goods were distributed by boat up and down the loch. Passengers could also sail right down to Kenmore at the easterly end. So, it was part of a network, which served most valley communities with frequent trains, lake steamers, easy connections, and well-staffed stations.

A screen grab of a map of the old railway lines, see the full map on www.maps.nls.uk
Ordnance Survey – Quarter Inch to the Mile Maps of Scotland, 3rd edition – 1921-1923.
Sheet 4 – Glasgow, Oban and the Southern Islands
From the National Library of Scotland maps archives

The closure

Edwardian steam trains and boats were elegant and picturesque. We view the era with nostalgia, but over short distances railways are not competitive with roads. A car or a lorry can carry people or goods more quickly from door to door. It was also ruinously expensive. It was estimated that the least-used stations contributed only 2% of passenger revenue, while one third of the network carried only 1% of the passengers.

A Edwardian steam train travelling from Edinburgh to Tweedbank on 9/9/15 by Walter Baxter

After World War 2 the nationalised railways were in a state of neglect. It was decided that the solution was to axe unprofitable and duplicated lines. The job was given to Dr Beeching who has been vilified for his 1963 report ever since. His report led to the closure of 2,363 stations and 5,000 miles of track. The closures coincided with a boom in road building and private car ownership. So Britain slipped from a railway-using to a road-using nation.

The line over Glen Oglehead was closed by a rockfall in 1965. It never properly reopened and the residents of the towns and villages of rural Scotland now rely entirely on road transport.

Rockfall, Glen Oglehead by Richard

How KDVCS helps with the transport crisis

KDVCS was set up as a response to a need raised by the Killin Patient Participation Group to drive patients to appointments at the hospitals in Stirling, Falkirk, Larbert, Oban, Perth, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Ben assisting a passenger

Most country residents have their own cars or can rely on a friend, neighbour or relative to take them to hospital, but others are too unwell or have no car. In these cases KDVCS door-to-door service is invaluable to them. Buses are scarce so the trip would be impossible by bus.

KDVCS charges according to the HMRC standards which is 45p per mile for fuel. The passenger is charged 20p per mile, and the charity finds the funds to cover the remaining 25p per mile to pay the drivers. This makes fares to hospitals from as little as £10.00, which is considerably cheaper than a taxi. If the passenger cannot afford the fees then KDVCS pays for the whole journey cost.

A trip to hospital can be stressful, especially for an anxious, elderly person. So it’s a relief to be picked up right on time by a nice warm clean car with a friendly driver. And to have some pleasant conversation, which may be especially valued by passengers who are widowed and live alone. The trips give pleasure to the drivers as well, as they are retired and time-rich. And may even enjoy driving on Scotland’s empty, scenic roads.

If you found this article interesting to read, here are a few our other podcast blogs:
Welcome to The Givey Community Podcast

Reflections on My Emotions Activity Book

How WaterHarvest is Combating Water Poverty in Northern India

3 Responses

  1. Maggie Hunter says:

    It was a great shame that Beeching was able to almost ruin the existing rail
    service. Where I live in Downton Wilts, we have many miles of lost railways and in fact I often walk on the downs over the submerged tunnel.
    Presumably retired folk like Ben, enjoy providing transport for folk, but the journeys must take a long time.
    Locally we have a Park and ride service, but Brexit and Covid have thrown it into frequent unreliability….I got stuck in Salisbury recently when my car was parked at Britford about 5 miles away, as no further buses were running, I had to get a taxi, which charged me £18!

  2. Paul Chitty says:

    Such an excellent resource – thank you

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