South Scotland

Leadhills to Wanlockhead railway extension work starts

Railway extension Image copyright Daren Welch
Image caption Work is under way to extend the narrow gauge railway all the way to Wanlockhead

Work has started to extend a tiny narrow gauge railway to Scotland's highest village.

The line from Leadhills in South Lanarkshire is about 0.6 miles (1km) long and stops short of Wanlockhead in Dumfries and Galloway at Glengonnar.

Volunteers have now started work to take the line all the way to Wanlockhead to boost tourism.

Last year the railway offered a "replacement" train service when a road between the two villages was shut.

Image copyright Daren Welch
Image caption The extension of the service is seen as a way to boost tourism in Wanlockhead

The B797 between Leadhills and Wanlockhead was shut last July and a 50-mile diversion put in place.

The rail service helped people get to work and to the doctor's surgery.

The railway, which follows the route of a line that closed more than 70 years ago, won a heritage award for providing that service.

The trains are usually run at weekends during the summer months on what has been described as "Britain's highest narrow gauge adhesion railway", reaching 1,498ft (456m) above sea level.

They run from Leadhills to a terminus at Glengonnar which is less than a mile from Wanlockhead.

Image copyright Daren Welch
Image caption The site of a new station in Wanlockhead should be levelled by August next year

The volunteers hope that extending the line to the village will boost tourism in Wanlockhead, which boasts a lead mining museum and Europe's second oldest subscription library - after Leadhills. Both were founded for miners.

Alan Mackie, chairman of the Lowthers Railway Society, which operates the line, said: "Thanks to an agreement we concluded with Buccleuch Estates last year, we are now able to access the track bed and are digging test pits to find out where the track drains need to be dug.

"We're following the track bed of the former Caledonian Railway line, which linked Elvanfoot with Leadhills and Wanlockhead and closed in 1938.

"We're using our railway's digger, which we brought up by rail from our base at Leadhills, to dig the pits. We've found the original ballast still intact below the surface of the ground."

Image copyright Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway
Image caption It is hoped trains could be running all the way to Scotland's highest village by 2020

Mr Mackie said he hoped the track bed would be cleared and the site of the new station levelled by next August.

Trains are expected to start running in 2020 - 82 years after the last one operated.

Mr Mackie said: "Once we can run right through to Wanlockhead, it will boost passenger numbers as well as being good for tourism and attractions such as the Museum of Lead Mining and one of the world's oldest lending libraries in the village.

"There's a great deal of work to be done, but we're confident our experience running trains on the line for the last 30 years will allow us to complete the extension on time."

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