Anniversary of North Fife closure

‘The Scottish Rambler’ railtour at Lindores station in 1962 hauled by a Gresley Class J39 No 64786.
Published Mon, 2016-02-15 13:14

February 12 marked the 65th anniversary of the official closure to passenger services of the ex-North British Railway line from St Fort to Newburgh in Fife.


‘The Scottish Rambler’ railtour at Lindores station in 1962 hauled by a Gresley Class J39 No 64786. © Stuart Sellar and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons License

Although perhaps not the most important closure of that particular year — the same day also witnessed the closure of the ex-GWR branch line from Lampeter to Aberayron, for example — the withdrawal of services over the erstwhile Newburgh & North Fife Railway was one of the first where local residents too action to try and prevent closure. In the event, as the Dundee Courier of 26 January 1951 reported ‘Court no say in North Fife rail dispute: Judge decides Fife County Council, Cupar District Council, the town of Newburgh and eight residents of North Fife have failed in their Court of Session Action against the Railway Executive.’ The argument put forward by the opponents of closure was that the original act creating the railway had stipulated ‘operation in perpetuity’ when the line was transferred to the NBR but this was rejected by the court.

The Railway Executive had originally signalled its intention to close the line on 5 June 1950 but this had led to the plaintiffs taking out an interdict to prevent the closure. It was this interdict that the Court of Session withdrew in January 1951, arguing that a civil court had no jurisdiction over the matter. Although the report in The Railway Magazine of the time commented ‘There has thus ended, at least for the time being, a long legal battle that has continued since the Railway Executive intimated its intention to withdraw the services’ the line was condemned.

The opening of the ill-fated first Tay Bridge in 1879 and its successor in 1887 had stimulated the development of lines feeding into Dundee, most notably the line to Newport and Tayport. The first proposals for a line linking the North Fife coast with Dundee emerged in the 1880s but it was not until the incorporation of the Newburgh & North Fife Railway on 6 August 1897 that things seemed to be about to happen. However, little happened and powers for the line’s construction had to be renewed in acts passed in 1900, 1902, 1904 and 1906; it was only after the last that contracts were let on 11 June 1906 and work commenced. The 13¼-mile long line opened throughout to freight traffic on 22 January 1909 and to passenger traffic on the 25th of the same month. Between St Fort, where there was a triangular junction, and Newburgh, there were three intermediate stations — Kilmany, Luthrie and Lindores — with a freight only station — Rathillet — situated between Kilmany and Luthrie. Aside from the passenger traffic, much of the line’s business was agricultural, reflecting the agrarian nature of the area. Services were operated, under agreement, by the North British Railway.

In 1910 there were three return workings over the branch, each service starting or terminating at Dundee Tay Bridge station. Departures from Dundee were at 7.20am, 10.10am and 4.22pm. In the reverse direction, services departed from Newburgh at 8.15am, 11.25am and 6.35pm. Some 45 minutes were allowed between Dundee and Newburgh with the return journey taking 46. There was no service on Sundays.

Right from the start there were complaints about the quality of service and the connections. It was not only the passengers that complained; the still independent Newburgh & North Fife Railway was concerned about its income and took the North British to court — the first occasion on which the terms of the NBR’s agreement was subject to legal action. Despite the NBR demonstrating the considerable losses that the line incurred, the court found in favour of the smaller company and the NBR lost on appeal as well, although the financial burden was reduced (with the NBR now having to pay 4% on the capital of £137,965 rather than the previous £240,000). With the court’s judgment against it, the NBR sought to boost revenue along the line; one of these was to extend services through to Perth in direct competition with the Caledonian Railway, although the latter’s shorter route always put the NBR at a disadvantage.

During World War 1, the branch saw a temporary suspension of passenger services as a result of manpower shortages; they were resumed on 22 July 1916. The south to west curve at St Fort had been closed as early as 1912. The Newburgh & North Fife Railway remained notionally independent until the Grouping of the railways in 1923 at which stage it was incorporated into the LNER. At Nationalisation in 1948 it was to pass to British Railways (Scottish Region).

In 1939 the service pattern was more complicated, with most services now running through to Perth beyond Newburgh and with connections through to St Andrews. There remained two through service from Dundee Tay Bridge to Perth on Mondays to Fridays; these departed from Dundee at 9.17am and 4.58pm (5.14pm on Saturdays); there was an additional through service on Saturdays Only, departing Dundee at 9.45pm. In the reverse direction the only through service from Perth to Dundee departed at 7.54am. On Saturdays, the 3.40pm service was extended from St Fort to Dundee with the Saturdays Only 6.50pm also operating through from Perth to Dundee. In addition there was a 2pm service from Dundee that connected with the 2pm departure from St Andrews to permit travel westwards with the 1.15pm departure from Perth allowing passengers to change at St Fort for a connection through to Dundee. There was now a Sunday service as far as Newburgh, with departures at 10.40am and 8.40pm; return workings departed from Newburgh at 11.45am and 9.25pm. The Sunday service was for the summer only and ceased at the end of August.

By the summer of 1947 the service had reverted to two return workings per weekday, departing from Dundee at 9.7am and 5.4pm and at 7.52am and 3.40pm from Perth. There was an additional 1.53pm departure from Perth to Dundee. By this stage, there was also again no Sunday service.

The final passenger services on Saturday 10 February 1950 — as usual the official date of closure was the subsequent Monday (the 12th) — were operated by an ex-Caledonian Railway ‘Dunalastair IV’ class 4-4-0 No 14447 (BR No 54447) hauling a rake of four ex-NBR carriages. Although there were no great farewell scenes, the passing of the last passenger train was marked by a considerable number of detonators being set off. The railway service was replaced by a bus service that operated between St Fort and Newburgh.

Although this was the end of passenger services over the line, the North Fife line continued as a freight route through until the section between Glenburnie Junction, at Newburgh, and Lindores closed on 4 April 1960. The final closure came with the withdrawal of freight services over the section from St Fort to Lindores on 5 October 1964. Since closure much of the line has been reclaimed although it is still possible to identify certain sections and a two-mile stretch at Kilmany has been converted into a footpath.