Aberdeen was reached by rail from the south through what became the Scottish North Eastern Railway in 1850, from Deeside in 1853 running into a station at Guild Street in 1854 and from the North also in 1854 with the Great North of Scotland Railway running into its Waterloo Quay terminus, which was open to passengers for only eleven years but lasted until the 1960s.
Aberdeen Railway Station.
© John G. Fender 2011
There were three proposals to link the North line with the route of Guild Street - a route that would have bypassed the city altogether, the so-called circumbendibus and the alignment eventually adopted from Kittybrewster down the Denburn Valley. By the time the new Joint Station opened on 4 November 1867, the Scottish North Eastern Railway had merged into the Caledonian Railway.
The Tay and Forth Bridges gave Aberdeen a direct link along the East Coast. In the 1890s the GNSR bought the Palace Hotel on the corner of Bridge Street which was destroyed by fire in 1941. They also developed for the rich and famous the remote Cruden Bay Hotel, but - Donald Trump beware - due to haar the season was very short, the branch passenger train service ceased in 1932 and the Hotel did not reopen after the Second World War. The GNSR offices at Aberdeen became the Station Hotel, which alone survives.
The Joint Station now played host to twice-weekly Speyside excursions, but its cramped layout was proving difficult to operate - and following complaints also about undesirables and about water pouring from fishboxes, it was rebuilt with scant regard for health and safety from 1912 with a new roof and a ticket office for the Suburban platforms which now houses a hairdresser. Completed in 1915, the new Joint Station was one of the last built by the pregrouping companies.
The 1930s saw acceleration of the Kings Cross expresses, but the worn-out Subbie trains to Culter and Dyce were withdrawn in 1937, unable to compete with road competition, and the closed station at Schoolhill became a cafe and bus terminal. By this time railway buses were competing with trains, with a bus hourly to Banchory but only three trains a day to Ballater in the 1950s, and Fraserburgh/Peterhead saw only four or five trains a day that joined and split at Maud Junction.
After a resurgence with modern traction, the Deeside line closed in 1966, a year after the Buchan lines, and the surviving route north to Keith was reduced to single track.. Steam ended in 1967, when the Strathmore route to Glasgow also went, and the Kittybrewster freight yard which had seen 20 trains a day gave way to retail units.
The main concourse of Aberdeen railway station.
© John G. Fender 2011
The north end of the Joint Station was cleared in 1970/1 to make way for Atholl House. Resignalling in the early 1980s saw a new signalling centre replace the GNSR box at Aberdeen North, the very narrow Aberdeen Centre box on Platforms 7/8, Ferryhill Junction, Craiginches North and South. Dyce Station reopened in 1984, and the 1980s also saw removal of ticket barriers in favour of the open station concept that placed great faith in the honesty of all passengers. The traditional departure-board and bookstall also lasted until this time. High Speed Trains took over the daytime service to London, and their depot at Clayhills survives surprisingly without any effort by developers to cover it up.
In 1992 Lord Provost Wyness unveiled a plaque to mark the Joint Station's 125th anniversary. An electronic departure-board was replaced by hard-to-read television screens, and the Denburn became home to a dual carriageway alongside the surviving single-track line, but the GNSR war memorial found a home by the new Travel Centre.
Demolition of the former Caledonian Railway goods shed in 2002 presaged the Union Square development which is now seeing new railfreight facilities being developed at Raiths Farm and Craiginches to replace the Guild Street yard so that it can become shops, a cinema, flats and a new bus station.
In this its 140th year the Joint Station has acquired automatic ticket gates and has enjoyed its best-ever but temporary car parking, soon to be replaced by provision at the South College Street multi-storey. Red structures put up seemingly to protect buildings have instead been themselves demolished, but the colour of a new lift to Platform 7 nicely blends in with the rest of the station. Things in the privatised railway have turned full circle as First ScotRail replaced National Express ScotRail and GNER has launched its Mallard refurbished HST months before the operator hands over to National Express East Coast, just as Virgin gives way to Arriva CrossCountry. The Waterloo branch is due for a revival with mud deliveries for the oil industry joining slurry traffic, but only time will tell as to the oft-forecast return of the Subbies as the Aberdeen CrossRail.
Report by John Yellowlees.
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