Full steam ahead for Bo’ness & Kinneil heritage rail expansion

Birkhill station on the Bo'ness and Kinneil line. Picture: Peter Backhouse
Birkhill station on the Bo'ness and Kinneil line. Picture: Peter Backhouse
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Scotland’s leading heritage railway is planning to develop its stations into destinations in their own right to attract more passengers and increase the frequency of trains.

The Bo’ness & Kinneil line, which has been featured in many films and TV dramas, wants to upgrade platforms and add new ones so visitors linger for longer.

It hopes to emulate the success of other steam railways such the Severn Valley which have opened pubs, cafes and buffets at its stations.

The Scottish Railway Preservation Society (SRPS), which operates the Bo’ness line, is building a second platform at Birkhill Station and intends to add a signal box to enable trains to pass each other so they can run more frequently. The current station building, from 1838, was originally at Monifieth, near Dundee.

At Manuel Station, at the southern end of the five-mile line, the bare platform would see buildings added to provide shelter to passengers.

There is even a scheme for road access to the station so coach tours could drop off or pick up passengers.

However, an interchange with the Edinburgh-Glasgow main line, parallel to the station, like that at Aviemore with the Strathspey Railway, is not seen as feasible.

Up to 75,000 people a year have been carried on the line, which has been the SRPS’s base for 40 years since moving from Falkirk and its origins at Murrayfield Station in Edinburgh.

The SRPS’s vision comes as it was awarded £741,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund for a new engine shed to boost the restoration of historic steam locomotives.

The engineering centre will train apprentices, and many of the SRPS’s 400 volunteers, to pass on steam skills to a new generation.

A viewing gallery will be created for visitors and access improved to the adjacent Museum of Scottish Railways.

The Bo’ness site is also the base for SRPS Railtours, which runs trips across Britain, including excursions hauled by the Flying Scotsman locomotive, and over the Forth Bridge and on the Borders Railway every Sunday in August.

SRPS chairman Steve Humphreys said it was in the business of “making memories” for visitors.

He said: “The SRPS was formed in 1961 by far-sighted people who saw the railways were changing rapidly. We want more people to become engaged with Scottish rail history, which was central to the country’s industrial development.

“At Birkhill, we would like to create a Caledonian Railway branch line station so people can see what it was like, and to have it as a place where they get off the train and linger. The big thing we want to do there is raise money for a signal box and allow more trains to pass.

“There is just a platform at Manuel, so it would be good if that was a place where people could join the railway, with covered accommodation.

“It could enable coach parties to be dropped there and be collected at the other end of the line in Bo’ness.”

Stefan Kay, an SRPS director and past chairman, added: “The Severn Valley Railway has lovely stations that you want to get off at and hang about in – they are a delight.

“That’s where we would like to get to – encourage people to stop off and take a walk, then get the next train.”

Professor John Lennon, director of the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development at Glasgow Caledonian University, applauded the move.

He said: “This is a logical development – extending the experience, providing more products and services and reasons to visit.

“Growth has been greatest where such creativity has been evident.”