The origins of railways in North Lanarkshire lay with the Glasgow & Garnkirk in 1831, but decline came early and Airdrie-Edinburgh closed to passengers in 1956, with freight also ceasing later between Airdrie and Bathgate where the trackbed was imaginatively turned into a cyclepath with distinctive artworks. The reopening of Bathgate-Edinburgh to passengers in 1986 proved a huge success, and the Central Scotland Transport Study recommended reconnecting Airdrie with Bathgate - to the surprise of some planners who hadn't known that there was a line.
Devolution made all the difference to obtaining the necessary powers, and the scheme as defined by the Scottish Parliament involved relocating the Drumgelloch terminus that had opened in 1989, building new stations at Caldercruix and Armadale while investigating others at Plains and Blackridge, enlarging Bathgate and redoubling the single-track sections from there through to Newbridge Jn. The Caldercruix site was to have been on the site of a paper mill west of the village until the discovery of ground contamination caused the new station to revert to the previous site.
Reinstating the line involved going through wet terrain, so it was effectively built on a causeway. Much waste had to be cut through with widespread use of membranes, and securing an 80 mph alignment involved dealing with deep peat, sticky clay and mining subsidence with extensive improvements to drainage. Bridges carrying roads such as Towers Road over the line had to be replaced, though cost-saving led to retention of the old alignment at Bedlormie Toll. Attention had to be paid to protecting Hillend Loch, built to supply water to the Forth & Clyde Canal (with which it passed into Caledonian Railway ownership) and now popular for angling and sailing.
Local quarries supplied stone, ballast came from one near Carstairs, troughing made out of old rubber tyres was used to hold cabling rails were dropped from a train topped and tailed by Class 66s, with sleepers automatically laid and fitted with pandrol clips, and a profiling machine then came along to profile the ballast. Fears of disturbance never materialised as people stayed up at night to enjoy the spectacle. Completion was marked by the ceremonial fitting of a "golden spike", and a few specials ran during the crew-training period: the opening event had to be deferred due to the big freeze which delayed opening of all but one of the new stations, but the line was completed on cost and on time, carrying its first public trains as scheduled on Sunday 12 December 2010.
The cycle-path was relocated alongside and dressed using spoil which was thus cleared from temporary dumps, but awaits proper integration into the local transport network. Inevitably there were temporary speed restrictions while issues arising from the line's bedding-in were addressed. Double-arrow signs indicate gradients, and the name Holmes Summit commemorates Derek Holmes who at the time of his early death was Network Rail production director and chairman of the Institution of Railway Operators.
A station at Plains did not make it into the scheme because of lack of support in the community, and the issue remains unfinished business with local politicians. In property developments associated with the reopening, a new Morrisons Store at Bathgate occupies the site of the Edgar Allen switches and crossings works which had to relocate to Queensferry due to reinstatement of a rail overbridge, and a large new mixed-use development is now under way at Armadale Station. Passenger volumes may take several years to reach their full potential - after deregulation there had ceased to be any buses linking Airdrie with Bathgate - but usage of station carparks is encouraging and capacity has been provided with future growth in mind as lifestyles change and people come to realise that households can locate along the route secure in the knowledge that they need no longer up sticks should the principal wage-earner's place of work relocate from Glasgow to Edinburgh or vice versa.
Ann's fully-illustrated 112-page book "Airdrie-Bathgate Rail Link : Reconnecting Communities" published by Lily Publications is a labour of love whose printing costs were borne by Network Rail, and retails for £16.
The Scottish region would like to thank Glasgow City Council for hosting this event.
Report by John Yellowlees.
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