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Scottish Region visit to the Museum of Scottish Railways: 21 September 2023

The Scottish Railway Preservation Society was formed in 1961 to capture aspects of the Scottish railway scene which was rapidly changing in the face of modernisation and cost-cutting. From 1964 to 1969 it established a small museum on the former station at Murrayfield prior to moving to Falkirk where a warehouse was storing larger relics.

A Stanier 8F 2-8-0 Heavy Goods Engine (War Department 554) built by the North British Locomotive Company built in March 1942 and supplied to Turkish State Railways.d

A Stanier 8F 2-8-0 Heavy Goods Engine (War Department 554) built by the North British Locomotive Company built in March 1942 and supplied to Turkish State Railways and undergoing restoration.

© John Yellowlees.

Several locations were examined including Haddington and Dollar before deciding on Bo'ness where a single-track line for coal exports had carried passengers until 1956 and would convey coal from Kinneil Colliery until closure in 1981.

Everything about SRPS's Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway which carried its first passengers in that year is a reconstruction. Station buildings were relocated from Wormit in Fife to Bo'ness (not the original site) and from Monifieth in Angus to the intermediate station (new site) of Birkhill.

In 1984 the trainshed from Haymarket was brought to Bo'ness, where the footbridge arrived from Murthly, the signalbox from Garnqueen South Junction and the weighbridge from Dunfermline Upper, with signalling from a variety of sources including Coupar Angus and Stirling.

Undercover accommodation has been provided with funding from supporters including the National Lottery. Today volunteers work at restoring such unique specimens as compartment coaches from pre-grouping companies, the Big Four and BR, and the Museum provides space for iconic items ranging from ancient beauties like the NBR locomotive Maude, old Sleeper carriages, goods wagons and a Glasgow Subway car to modern items like a Blue Train, the last surviving BR inter-city diesel multiple-unit, a hydrogen test-train and a Class 91 locomotive from the East Coast electrification. Smaller artefacts include station totems and notices and Edmonson ticket machines - especially since CoVid, now most tickets for the thrice-daily operating days (currently weekends and Tuesdays) on the line are bought online. New items are always welcome, including the track diagram for Bowland presented at the start of our visit by Bill Roberton, and the collection is now the largest in Britain apart from the National Railway Museum at York.

Steam locomotives under active restoration in a new purpose-built shed include the Turkish 8F and a BR Class 4 tank locomotive 80105. Staple fare for the branch line which extended to Manuel in 2010 are cost-effective Austerity tank engines which will need new sources of coal if they are continue to provide an authentic experience. More volunteers will be required for the Railway to continue supporting commercial opportunities like murder mystery trains. Mainline railtours may not run again until a business case becomes forthcoming for investment in safety features on the carriages since while the public has an appetite for vintage experiences, it rightly expects twenty-first century safety standards.

The Scottish Region thanks our host, Mike Cairns, CILT member and SRPS volunteer, for a memorable opportunity to look behind the scenes and for wonderful encounters with the volunteers who are carrying out the restoration work needed to safeguard Scotland's railway heritage into the years ahead.

Report and photograph by John Yellowlees.

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