John Speller's Web Pages Solway Junction Railway

John Speller's Web Pages - Caledonian Railway

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The Solway Junction Railway was built to provide a route between the Maryport & Carlisle Railway at Brayton and the Caledonian Railway at Kirtlebridge without having to pass through Carlisle. There was also a junction with the Glasgow & South Western Railway at Annan. The Company obtained its Act on 30 June 1864, under which three of the seven Directors were to be appointed by the Caledonian Railway. Authorized capital was 320,000 with power to borrow an additional 106,600. Ground was broken at Annan on 28 March 1865 and the line was completed in 1869. The Engineer of the line was the Scotsman Sir James Brunlees (1816-1892). Brunlees was also the Engineer of the Clifton Extension Railway (Joint GWR/MR) and the Mersey Tunnel, for which he received his knighthood. It is something of an understatement to say that the major engineering work on the line was the Solway Viaduct between Bowness-on-Solway and Annan, since this cast iron viaduct, 1,930 yards long, made up quite a sizable proportion of both the length and the cost of the line.

The six-mile section of the line between Kirtlebridge and Annan was sold to the Caledonian Railway for 84,439 in 1873, leaving the Solway Junction Railway with the 17 miles of track south of Annan, including four miles of the Carlisle & Silloth Railway, an English outpost of the North British Railway, over which the Solway Junction Railway had running rights. The Caledonian takeover of the northern part of the line followed an accident at Kirtlebridge in 1873 when eleven passengers of a Caledonian express were killed when it plowed into some goods wagons from a Solway train that were being improperly shunted. One suspects the Caledonian thought things would be safer with the northern part of the Solway line under their own control. In 1881 part of the viaduct was carried away by melting ice, and traffic had to be suspended for three years until it was rebuilt. An agreement was reached in 1896 whereby the line was worked by the Caledonian Railway in return for 40% of the profits, though the Solway Company continued to be responsible for maintenance. In its heyday it was a very profitable line, but with the decline of the mineral trade on which it depended the line began to slip into the red in the early twentieth century. Passenger service was withdrawn in 1914. Goods traffic was withdrawn between Brayton and Annan in 1921, and between Annan and Kirtlebridge in 1931.

The Solway Junction Railway's two 0-6-0 locomotives, Nos. 1 & 2, built by Neilson & Co. in 1868, had a long life of sixty years. They had 5' 0" driving wheels and inside cylinders, and had originally been intended for the London, Chatham & Dover Railway. The LC&DR, however, canceled the contract when Neilson & Co. were late delivering them, and as a result the Solway Junction Railway got them at a bargain price. At the time of the Grouping of 1923 they were Caledonian Railway Nos. 381 & 382. They ran on the LMS for several years before being scrapped in 1927-28.

It was over a mile long, but with no fewer than 193 spans of a mere 10 yards each the Solway Viaduct was hardly a great feat of engineering like Stephenson's Britannia Tubular Bridge, Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge, or Fowler's Forth Bridge. This was a pity, since the 192 piers obstructing the river caused severe silting and had a highly adverse effect on navigation and fishing in the area. Furthermore, in the days when Sunday drinking was illegal in Scotland, Scotsmen were wont to cross the Solway Viaduct in search of alcoholic refreshment in the pubs of Bowness on Sundays, and a number of drunks lost their lives when they fell off the viaduct on the way home and drowned. This caused the LMS to demolish the bridge in 1934.

It is a shame, however, that the link was not exploited as part of a new shorter route from the Settle & Carlisle line to Dumfries, Kilmarnock and Glasgow, as well as on the joint line to Stranraer. Such a line could have speeded up service and reduced congestion on the Carlisle to Gretna line.
The north (Annan) end of the Solway Viaduct on a postcard of around 1910
A passenger train approaching Bowness on the Solway Viaduct in the early years of the twentieth century
Solway Junction Railway 0-6-0 No.1, built by Neilson & Co. in 1868, running on the Caledonian Railway as No. 381 in 1903, shortly after it had been fitted with a new McIntosh boiler
Map of the Solway Junction Railway [Courtesy Wikipedia Commons] To enlarge, right click and select "view image"
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