The Little-Known Route of Edinburgh’s Short-Lived Colinton Tramways Company

Colinton-Tramways-Company-map-6 (Image: Urban Ghosts)

In Malcolm Cant’s fascinating local history book Old Dalry in Edinburgh, published by Stenlake in 2002, a single sentence makes reference to an innocuous light railway built from Slateford to Colinton around 1909. Research reveals that the railway was an industrial tramway built to carry construction materials for the new Redford Cavalry and Infantry Barracks, which is home to the 3rd Battalion, The Rifles.

Colinton-Tramways-Company-map (Image: Google Earth; Redford Barracks parade ground to extreme south of the photo)

Eager to uncover another slice of hidden history from the Scots capital, and a fan of all things railway, we set about combing Google Earth (and Google) for evidence of its existence. It wasn’t long before we’d caught sight of a short dog-leg path culminating in a bridge (circled) leading to Allan Park Road, beyond which lies Slateford station.

What’s more, the bridge carried what looked suspiciously like old rails on the satellite photo. We knew this was probably too good to be true, but nevertheless set out to take a look.

Colinton-Tramways-Company-map-7 (Image: Urban Ghosts)

Not surprisingly, the ‘rails’ turned out to be conduit piping that had been retro-fitted, though the structure, which certainly looked like a railway bridge, was no less intriguing. For one thing, it appeared wide enough for two tracks, which was surprising since it’s unlikely a temporary contractor line would have more than one.

Colinton-Tramways-Company-map-8 (Image: Urban Ghosts)

To the south of the bridge, the footpath extended for a short distance before terminating at what is now Craiglockhart Road. Convinced that this was a good candidate for Cant’s railway reference, we set about researching it online. And as usual, the excellent EdinPhoto delivered the goods.

Colinton-Tramways-Company-map-9 (Image: Urban Ghosts)

Beginning with a question posed by former Colinton resident Bob Wyllie, a forum thread unfolded, bringing collective personal memories to bare on local history, and clarifying the short-lived existence of the Colinton Tramways Company.

Colinton-Tramways-Company-map-11 (Image: Urban Ghosts)

Several responses prevailed, one of which referenced Donald Shaw’s book The Balerno Branch. According to Shaw: “All that was built was a tramway from Slateford up to the site of the barracks, along which the War Office carried materials until the works were complete in 1913.

“This tramway, which crossed the Union Canal by a small bridge still in existence at the top of Allan Park Road (and over which a conduit now runs) then became disused.”

Colinton-Tramways-Company-map-5 (Image: via EdinPhoto)

Interestingly, the literature suggests plans were in place to upgrade the industrial tramway to a permanent, passenger-carrying route from 1915 once the Redford Barracks had been completed. Clearly, that never happened, but the map above, from W & A.K. Johnston’s Post Office plan of 1912-’13, shows the route of the tramway and proposed passenger line.

redford-barracks-edinburgh-light-railway (Image: Ldopa; Redford Infantry Barracks)

From the existing railway at Slateford, the tramway ran along Allan Park Road before crossing the Union Canal on the bridge that survives today. From there it followed what is now Craiglockhart Road, west of and parallel to Colinton Road (clearly visible on both maps, below), before terminating in the viscinity of Redford Barracks.

Colinton-Tramways-Company-map-4 (Images: via EdinPhoto; Google Earth)

In the context of Edinburgh‘s extensive 19th century railway network, much of which has now been converted into walking and cycle paths, the old contractor line, which almost became a passenger service operated by the Colinton Tramways Company, is perhaps the most obscure of them all.

But it reflects a fascinating age where industrial light railways were commonly built to carry the stone, timber and other materials required for large construction projects, and how visionary local entrepreneurs sort to reuse those lines for commercial purposes – even if, in this case, their plans didn’t come to fruition.

Colinton-Tramways-Company-map-10 (Images: Urban Ghosts)

Related – The Mysterious Abandoned Tunnel of the Marshall Meadows Seaweed Railway

 
 


 
 
 

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