The weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the closure of much of one of Scotland’s most scenic routes with passenger services between Dunblane and Crianlarich being officially withdrawn on 1 November 1965 (although services had been suspended on 28 September 1965 following a land slip near Glenoglehead).
The line’s origins lay with the Dunblane, Doune & Callandar Railway. This was authorised on 11 July 1846 to construct a 10½-mile from Dunblane, on the Scottish Central Railway, to Callandar along the valley of the River Teith. The line’s cost was estimated at £80,000 and the act authorised the line’s operation by the Scottish Central. However, the collapse in confidence following the ‘Railway Mania’ meant that funding the line was impossible and construction did not progress.
The plan was revived in 1856, new powers obtained on 21 July of that year, but with authorised capital reduced to £60,000, of which the Scottish Central contributed almost a quarter. Work started and the line, with its intermediate station at Doune, opened throughout on 1 July 1858. As anticipated, the line was operated from the outset by the Scottish Central Railway. The DD&CR was absorbed by the SCR following an act of 29 June 1865 and thus became part of the enlarged Caledonian Railway on 5 July 1865 when the CR and SCR amalgamated.
Beyond Callander lay some 71 miles of rugged terrain before the coast was reached, but the line was perceived as a useful starting point for the construction of a line to Oban. Backed by the SCR, which agreed to fund £200,000 of the estimated cost of £600,000 by an agreement of 17 December 1864, the new railway was authorised by an act of 8 July 1865.
With the amalgamation of the CR and the SCR, the newly-enlarged CR inherited the SCR’s commitment to the line. However, it was not as convinced on the scheme, particularly as the likelihood of raising the other £400,000 locally was doubtful. But failure to progress the line might result in the ambitious North British Railway taking over. As a result, on 6 November 1866, a contract for construction of the section from Callander to Glen Ogle was signed and construction started but relations between the boards of the CR and the Callandar & Oban Railway deteriorated.
Such was the parlous state of the scheme that the CR decided to terminate the line at Tyndrum; powers to curtail the route were approved by an act of May 1870. Parallel to the developments, construction had progressed slowly and, following inspections on 18 and 19 May 1870, the line from Callandar to Glen Ogle — with the station then named Killin (but known as Glenoglehead from 1 April 1886 and effectively closed — except by request — on 1 April 1889) — opened to passenger services on 1 June 1870. A new through station serving Callander was opened at the same time with the original DD&CR station becoming a goods yard. Intermediate stations were opened at Strathyre and Balquhidder; that at Kingshouse followed on 21 June 1871.
With relations between the C&OR and CR improving, the latter progressed the extension towards Tyndrum was progressed with the line opening on 1 August 1873; the intermediate stations at Luib and Crianlarich opened at the same time. The new extension did not improve the line’s finances and so the decision was taken to extend to Oban; this was approved by a further act, of 11 July 1874, with the CR contributing £20,000 to the cost of the work.
A minor deviation and relocated station at Tyndrum were required but the line opened through to Dalmally on 1 May 1877 and to Oban throughout on 1 July 1880. Initially there were two intermediate stations — Taynuilt and Connel Ferry — but Ach-na-Cloich followed in June 1881 with Loch Awe opening on 1 May 1885. The final intermediate station — Falls of Cruachan — was used for sightseeing trains from the early 1890s although was not listed in Bradshaw until 1908.
With the opening of the main line, three branches were opened. The first of these, promoted by the independent Killin Railway, ran from Killin Junction, a new intermediate station on the C&OR that opened with the branch on 1 August 1886, to Killin and Loch Tay. The section from Killin to Loch Tay closed on 9 September 1939 with the cessation of the steam services on the loch; it never reopened. Freight services over the branch were withdrawn on 7 November 1964 and passenger services ceased on 28 September, following the landslip, and were formally withdrawn on 1 November 1965.
The second branch linked Connel Ferry with Ballachulish. This was authorised on 7 August 1896, as was a North British scheme to link Ballachulish with Fort William although the latter was never progressed. The CR line opened on 24 August 1903. Freight services over the line ceased on 14 June 1965 and passenger services were withdrawn on 26 March 1966.
The third branch, from Balquhidder to Comrie, provided a 15-mile long link to the existing CR line at Comrie (thence to Crieff and Gleneagles). Promoted by the Lochearnead, St Fillans & Comrie Railway, the line was authorised on 6 August 1897 and opened from Comrie to St Fillans 0n 1 October 1901 and thence to Lochearnhead on 1 July 1904 and to Balquhidder on 1 July 1905. This line provided an alternative route for Oban to Glasgow services but the decline in passenger traffic saw it lose its passenger services on 1 October 1951 although the track was not lifted until 1959 as it was used in connection with the construction of the Glen Ladnock hydro-electric scheme.
At the Grouping in 1923, the notionally independent Callandar & Oban and Killin railways both became part of the LMS. In a portent for the future, on 10 June 1931, an excursion ran over the freight-only connection at Crianlarich between the LMS route to Oban and the ex-North British route to Fort William. The journey time was some 83 minutes less than that via the route through Dunblane.
The timetable for the summer of 1947 saw four weekday services to and from Oban with an additional three workings each way on Saturdays. There was only one working over the line on Sundays, which arrived at Oban at 12.15pm. The service between Dunblane and Callander was more intensive, but, apart from the one through service to Oban on Sundays, there were no other trains on the Sabbath.
In January 1948, all the lines— both ex-CR and ex-NBR — passed to British Railways (Scottish Region). As elsewhere, the 1950s witnessed a decline in traffic and, with the remote countryside through which these lines passed, there was little scope to generate revenue outside the summer holiday season. It was inevitable that these lines would, therefore, come under close scrutiny when Dr Beeching started his examination into the finances of the railway industry.
Utilising the connection at Crianlarich meant that the line from there to Dunblane could be closed whilst offering Oban a faster connection through to Glasgow. The line from Dunblane to Crianlarich, along with the branches to Killin and to Ballachulish were, therefore, listed for closure in Beeching’s final report. The anticipated closure date was 1 November 1965 but nature took over.
Prior to the line’s closure, Callandar had one claim to fame; the town featured as the fictional Tannochbrae in the original BBC television series of Dr Finlay’s Casebook.
The C&OR had suffered from rock falls and landslips in the past; however, in the early hours of 28 September 1965, a landslip at Glenoglehead resulted in the line being blocked. With closure already authorised, the costs involved in clearing the landslip and restoring the line for no more than a month’s operation were deemed prohibitive and, as a result, the service was suspended and never restored. It was a sad end to one of Scotland’s scenic lines. However, courtesy of the Crianlarich link, it is still possible to travel over the westernmost section of the line — a trip that is well worth doing.