FIFTY years since it should have been axed, the Ayr-Stranraer railway is still rolling on. But it is also still struggling.
The Carrick and Galloway rail links fell foul of “the Beeching report”, published fifty years ago today by British Railways chairman Dr Richard Beeching, recommending the closure of more than 2000 stations and axeing of over 250 services.
Beeching intended ceasing all railways south of Ayr and west of Dumfries – more than 30 rail stations, and meaning 1000 railwayman redundancies.
And the struggle facing the service now, since ferry passenger traffic was removed from Stranraer and instead began being bussed from Ayr to Cairnryan, is remarkably similar to concerns raised half a decade ago.
Around 40 per cent of the freight and passengers conveyed on the Caledonian Princess, which operated the Stranraer-Larne route in 1963, travelled by rail, and the line from Dumfries actually made a surplus on its operating costs.
Secretary of Dumfries Chamber of Trade and Commerce – who were at the forefront of trying to save the lines from closure – Stuart Callum said in 1963 that the country would soon realise the folly of Dr Beeching’s plans when chaos reigned on roads struggling to carry existing traffic.
But nonethless within 27 months Beeching made good on his promise and the line through Galloway was closed completely, with hundreds of rail workers made redundant.
Between Ayr and Stranraer six stations were shut, plus a further 11 between Glenluce and Dumfries. Only the line to Ayr was saved in a compromise deal, and traffic to England was re-routed via Mauchline and later Kilmarnock.
Richard Carr, development manager of Carrick community rail partnership Saylsa, has raised concerns about the future of the Ayr-Stranraer rail line on more than one occasion.
“There is ongoing frustration, particularly in Stranraer, that the Scottish Government appears to be following a policy of deliberately running the line down by failing totally to provide a service that meets the marketplace, and as a consequence effectively doubling the passenger subsidy south of Girvan,” he told the Carrick Gazette earlier this year.