The Ayr to Stranraer Line was built to serve the ferry port to Ireland
The route between Ayr and Stranraer comprises five railways and, like so many lines, was born out of competition.
The railway had reached Ayr in 1840, but it was further to the south that the reason for the Stranraer to Ayr line can be found: the link to Ireland.
The first railway of the five was the Ayr and Dalmellington Railway opened in 1854 and built to serve the iron works and coal mines in the Doon Valley.
South of Dalmellington Junction, formerly called Maybole Junction, was the five-and-a-quarter mile Ayr & Maybole Junction Railway, opening in 1856.
This terminated just to the north of the existing station at Maybole.
Four years later, the Maybole and Girvan Railway extended the line to a small terminus close to the harbour at Girvan.
From the outset, both railways were worked by the Glasgow and South Western Railway (G&SWR) which took over the former company in 1871, having absorbed the latter six years earlier.
In 1862, a railway opened between Castle Douglas and Portpatrick, built as part of a deal between the Government and the Royal Mail. This was to restore a ferry link that had operated between 1662 and 1849 across the short channel crossing from Scotland to Donaghadee in County Down. In the event, it was nearby Stranraer and Larne, rather than Portpatrick and Donaghadee, that became the terminal points of the North Channel ferry crossing.
The harbour branch at Stranraer opened in October 1862. This line, the Portpatrick Railway, colloquially known as the ‘Port Road,’ provided the only railway link between Glasgow and Belfast.
Within Scotland, this involved a journey down either the modern-day West Coast Main Line, then owned by the Caledonian Railway, to Lockerbie and on to Dumfries, or the Glasgow and South Western Railway via Cumnock to Dumfries, a distance of at least 155 miles depending on the route chosen.
It was actually quicker to board a steamer at Ardrossan and sail to Belfast, than to follow the circuitous route via Dumfries.
Finally, in 1877, the missing link was opened.
This was the Girvan and Portpatrick Junction Railway. Joining the Maybole and Girvan Railway about half a mile short of the Girvan terminus, this line ran through the villages of Pinmore, Pinwherry and Barrhill to join the Portpatrick Railway at Challoch Junction.
At one time, an alternative route along the coast was considered through Ballantrae and Cairnryan, but the cost associated with rock blasting led to the current alignment.
As with the lines to Maybole and Girvan, G&SWR operated the line, but its relationship with the owners was not easy.
The G&SWR eventually acquired it in 1892. The London, Midland & Scottish Railway took control in 1923 before nationalisation under the British Transport Commission in 1948. British Rail took charge in 1963 until privatisation in 1994.
Under franchising, the line became part of the Scotrail franchise won by National Express in 1997. First Group won the right to operate the Scotrail franchise in 2004 and the line is now currently operated by Abellio First ScotRail.
However, the story doesn’t end there - under the Beeching proposals, all lines south of Ayr and west of Dumfries were to be axed.
Fortunately, a concerted attempt was made to retain a link to Stranraer. The Ayr route earned a reprieve and this is the line we have today.
If you would like any further information about this line, please email the Partnership.
© South West Scotland Community Rail Partnership, Girvan Railway Station, Vicarton Street, Girvan, KA26 9JF
Company No: SC460916 | Scottish Charity No: SC039478