The Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway was a narrow gauge railway in Kintyre, Scotland, between the towns of Campbeltown and Machrihanish. Because the C&MLR provided a shortcut through a narrow neck of land, it can be classed as a portage railway.
Coal has been mined on the Kintyre peninsula since at least 1498. Although not of the highest quality, the coal found there is abundant and relatively cheap to extract. In the middle of the eighteenth century the collieries of the area were kept busy supplying the many whisky distilleries in the Campbeltown area. In 1773 James Watt surveyed a canal to connect the coal mines to Campbeltown to reduce the costs of transportation. The three mile Campbeltown and Machrihanish Canal was opened in 1794.
This early transportation link fell into disuse and had been virtually abandoned by 1856. In 1875 the Argyll Coal and Canal Co. acquired the main colliery and found the canal in a state of disrepair. They decided a better transportation system was required and began to investigate the building of a railway to Campbeltown.
As rail transport developed in the 19th century, the colliery owners sought to build a tramway to replace the canal. In 1876 a lightly constructed industrial railway was built connecting Kilkivan Pit to Campbeltown, a distance of 4½ miles. For a short length the line ran on the formation of the canal before reaching Campbeltown, where it ended on a pier.
The colliery railway only ever carried coal traffic and used two locomotives, Princess and Chevalier to haul the trains of mine tubs.
The colliery railway's traffic was largely seasonal as most of the colliery output was consumed locally. Around the turn of the century the mine owners began to search for additional traffic for the summer season. At the same time, new steam ships began bringing tourists to the remote Kintyre peninsula. This led to the formation of the Association of Argyll Railway Co. Ltd. which applied for an order under the Light Railway Act to build a railway connecting Campbeltown with Machrihanish, on the west coast of the peninsula.
Construction of the Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway began in November 1905. The majority of the route of the new railway followed the colliery tramway, but with several of the steeper gradients and sharper curves eased. The colliery line was also extended west to the new terminus at Machrihanish.
The work was completed in 1906 and the railway opened on 18 August 1906. It was an immediate success, attracting 10,000 passengers in its first three weeks of operation and replacing the horse-drawn tourist charabanc traffic in Campbeltown.
In the years leading up to the First World War the railway thrived on a mixture of coal and passenger traffic. However, after the war, competition from new motor buses began to reduce the railway's profitable tourist trade. By 1931 the summer tourist trade had dwindled significantly. Although passenger trains did run in late spring of 1932, the railway was failing and it abandoned passenger services in early summer of that year. By November 1933 the railway had been wound up and in May 1934 the last trains ran, assisting in the scrapping of the line.
Macmillan gives a slightly different version:
"In June (1928) the Franco British Co. acquired the Argyll colliery and at a Campbeltown Town Council meeting on 13th August, Mr. Maisel, a director, said that gas could be got from a proposed coal distillation plant and bought by the town. A report to the shareholders stated that a testing plant of the Aicher low temperature carbonisation process had been in operation for a fortnight, under the supervision of Mr. Aicher. Tests gave yields of between 34½ and 74 gallons of crude oil per ton of coal. In addition 2350 cubic feet/ton of gas and the residual coke were available from the process. In June 1929 the Franco British Company re-emerged as the Coal Carbonisation Trust and their prospectus mentioned carbonising 1,000 tons of coal per day yielding 11 cwt of coke per ton. Almost immediately afterwards the pit at Kilkivan was abandoned and the whole project 'melted like snow aff (sic) a dyke'."It seems that there was some concern about the company's conduct and a question was asked about the matter in Parliament on 14 February 1933.
|Pioneer||Andrew Barclay & Co||0-4-0 WT (converted to 0-4-2 WT)||unknown||1876||Delivered for the original colliery railway; never ran on the C&MLR.|
|Chevalier||Andrew Barclay & Co||0-4-0 ST (converted to 0-4-2 ST)||269||1885||Rebuilt in 1926 using parts from Princess|
|Princess||Kerr Stuart||0-4-2 T||717||1900||Skylark class, scrapped before 1931|
|Argyll||Andrew Barclay & Co.||0-6-2 T||1049||1906|
|Atlantic||Andrew Barclay & Co.||0-6-2 T||1098||1907||Identical design to Argyll.|
The carriages survived the closure of the line and in 1934 were moved to Trench Point on the other side of Campbeltown Loch where they were used as holiday homes. During the Second World War they were used by the Admiralty. After the war they were left to deteriorate until the remaining underframes were finally scrapped in 1958.
There are six saloon coaches on the 15" gauge Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway in Cumbria which are based on the exterior designs of the Campbeltown passenger stock, built in 1989 and 1990 for the Gateshead Garden Festival.
With the rebuilding of the colliery line in 1906 the opportunity was taken to replace the hutch carrying wagons with more conventional stock. A set of 3¼ ton four-wheel open-sided coal wagons were purchased from Hurst Nelson Ltd. of Motherwell. Like the earlier colliery wagons, these had dumb buffers and centre couplings. Later batches of wagons were built to a 4½ ton design. In all the railway used approximately 150 coal wagons, all owned by the Campbeltown Coal Co. rather than the railway.
In addition to the coal wagons, the railway also had a small number of other freight stock, all owned by the railway company itself. A 7 ton brake van was supplied by R.Y. Pickering. The same company supplied an open-sided milk wagon based on the design for the 4½ ton wagon but with open spars extending above the sides to provide extra support for carrying milk churns. Finally the railway had a detachable snow plough and a small platelayer's trolley for maintenance work.