There is very often a sense of nostalgia tinged with sadness around dismantled railway lines and their associated buildings, with their reminders of human activity and community involvement often still clearly visible. Abernethy Station closed to passengers in 1955 but one can still see some remains of the platforms on the bridge over Station Road and the site of the steps going up from road level to the platform. On the north side of the bridge the road up to the small goods yard is still clearly visible. That road must have seen so much goods traffic trundling up and down, all vital to the local economy, everything from coal and fruit to ladies’ nightwear and more. At this point I cannot do better than refer you to the wonderful and comprehensive article in the Crier recently by Ian Bett, entitled ‘Abernethy Station and Other Memories’.
The line through Abernethy was a product of the frenzy of railway building in the 1840’s. Many new companies were formed at that time to build specific railways. Each company attempted to raise its own capital and then sought an Act of Parliament before it could proceed. Parliament was not necessarily sympathetic to all applications and there was much conflict and fighting of corners between competing companies at that stage. Even if it approved the plans, Parliament could still impose conditions. For example it insisted that the proposed line across Fife should be two track, thus putting an unwelcome financial burden on the new company who had originally budgeted for a single track. The line that eventually passed through Abernethy was proposed by a company known as the Edinburgh and Northern Railway, who in 1849 changed its name to the Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee Railway. The line opened in 1848 and the company’s name indicates its objective, to carry passengers and freight as directly as possible from Edinburgh to Dundee and Perth, thus avoiding a long overland journey or a coastal sea passage. Another aim was to profit from the lucrative West Fife Coalfield, hence the branch line from Thornton Junction to Dunfermline. North of the Forth the route through Fife started at the Burntisland ferry terminal, which received goods and passenger traffic by ferry from Granton, and headed for Ladybank where the line split. One branch went to Cupar, and eventually through to Ferry-Port-on-Craig, renamed Tayport, where passengers and goods transferred to the ferry for Broughty Ferry and thence to Dundee.The other branch curved westwards towards Newburgh and Perth – and Abernethy, but don’t take the station for granted yet!
The line opened in stages, and for a short time the terminus was at Abernethy Road, east of the later Abernethy Station. In late July 1848 the final stretch to Perth opened, joining the Scottish Central Railway’s line from Stirling just south of Moncrieff Tunnel (Hilton Junction). The sharing of this last stretch of line through the tunnel to Perth was not ideal but the two companies came to a financial compromise in the end. There was, however, a period when the Scottish Central Railway, who owned the tunnel, would stop other companies’ trains and demand a tunnel charge in cash from passengers – including accompanied dogs! – before proceeding. It may look straightforward now but the route from Newburgh to Perth had been the subject of much indecision, involving at least four different railway companies. The company’s first plan had been to cross the Tay just west of Newburgh using Mugdrum Island, with a swing bridge across the main southern channel. The line would then have joined the route of the proposed Dundee and Perth Railway (opened in 1847) somewhere near St. Madoes, giving access to both Perth and Dundee. In this case, Abernethy might have missed out on the railway altogether, but that was not to be. In 1845 both the Admiralty and Perth Magistrates objected that the bridge would restrict navigation on the Tay – Perth was worried that it would lose out on seaborne business potential – so the company had to look for another route to Perth without crossing the Tay.
One obvious route lay through Abernethy and Bridge of Earn, to join the Scottish Central Railway’s line south of Moncrieff Tunnel. It soon emerged that a new company, not yet incorporated but called the Strathearn Junction Railway, was proposing a line on virtually the same route. To avoid a costly contest in Parliament, the infant company agreed to be taken over by the Edinburgh and Northern Railway. This company undertook to build the line as originally proposed by their new acquisition, thus reaching Perth south of the Tay - and passing through Abernethy!
One other Abernethy related twist is worth mentioning. In the Stevenson Archive of the National Library of Scotland (maps) there is a plan produced by Robert Stevenson and Sons, dated 1845, that proposes a bridge over the Tay at Carpow. This bridge would have carried the Perth and Dundee Railway from Dundee over to the south side of the river, crossing Carpow Bank before coming ashore and swinging west to cross the Earn just north of Ferryfield. The line is shown joining a proposed route of the Edinburgh and Northern Railway coming from Newburgh and heading westwards towards Easter Rhynd. This may have been an attempt by the Perth and Dundee Railway to get access to Perth from the south thus avoiding strong local opposition to a bridge in the area of Moncrieffe Island and the use of South Inch for the company’s Perth station. Stevenson’s proposed route on the plan misses Abernethy by a mile and there would have been a long walk to any station! It obviously didn’t come to anything as the Dundee line did eventually cross the Tay at Moncrieffe Island and a joint Perth station was ultimately sited west of South Inch. In any case the idea of a bridge at Carpow would surely have fallen foul of the Admiralty and Perth magistrates!
Since these early days the railway companies have changed names and ownership many times. Some lines have been extended, some dismantled and many stations closed, all of which brings us back to where we began at the poignant remains of Abernethy Station.
One last point; the success of this whole railway project through Fife depended heavily on the ferry crossings on the Forth and Tay but these were weak links in many ways and a liability to the whole business enterprise. The company was also facing competition for access to Dundee by the land route on new lines via Stirling and Perth. It is no surprise therefore that thoughts turned towards bridging both stretches of water. But that, as they say, is another story…
1, Ivy Cottage, Back Dykes, Abernethy. PH2 9JU