Bridge of Weir - The Railway.
It is quite apparent that the coming of the railway not only significantly enhanced the importance of Bridge of Weir, but also had a profound effect on the topography of the core of the village, as we shall see when we examine the construction work involved in creating the railway.
In this present - day, when railways over the whole of Europe and the UK are undergoing a renaissance, being increasingly seen as the answer to excessive use of car travel and juggernaut longdistance haulage, it is worth noting that the initiative for the first railway from Bridge of Weir came from within the community itself. This, if course was in the so-called "age of railway mania", when railways were springing up all over the place connecting adjacent communities and ones farther afield.
The earliest proposed scheme for a railway, dating from 1845, was aimed at linking Johnstone, Houston, Bridge of Weir and Port Glasgow. This ambitious scheme foundered through problems with finance and was subsequently abandoned. Not until 1861 did a group of local businessmen, landed gentry and men of letters get together and successfully promulgate the idea of a railway to connect Bridge of Weir with the "outside world". At that time, the gateway to the outside world was seen as Johnstone, where trains could be taken
for Glasgow (eastwards) and Carlisle and even London (westwards, via Dairy and Kilmamock). So it was that the "Bridge of Weir Railway Act" of 1862 was passed, with an arrangement for the G&SW Rly. To work the line. The construction was immediately commenced and the line opened by mid-1864. Trains on the single^rack line started from what was to be a short-lived station location within what was later to be the Goods Yard. The station buildings later became the "Railway Cottages", along from what is now the Doctor's Surgery. Only after the line had commenced operation under the independent company were negotiations entered into with the G&SW Rly, with the view to them taking it over. This occurred in the following year under the "Glasgow & south Western Railway (Amalgamations) Act" of 1965.
Changes Brought About By The Building Of The Railway.
During the G&SW Rly. Upgraging, the face of Bridge of Weir in the vicinity of the railway was changed considerably, emerging much as it is today. For instance, the Johnstone Road into Bridge of Weir which had hitherto run more or less in a straight line from east of the Episcopal Church to what is now the road outside the Doctor's Surgery, was diverted to the left and raised, with the aid of walled abutments, to make room for a new double-track railway and station (the ruined remains of which exist today), with a right-angled dog-leg to cross the line and drop to the original alignment near what is now Lintwhite Crescent. Years later (1939), the road was widened giving an angled crossing over the line, much as it exists today. Further to the east, the doubling of the line necessitated the construction of a new Locher Viaduct, and the remains of the old one can still be seen built into the abutments of the new. Likewise, the building of the G&A line to the west of Bridge of Weir Station changed the face of the village considerably, with houses having to be demolished and much excavation and fill needed. The source of much of the fill was the Powburn Quarry. The original Torr Road, from it's junction with Main Street to Damhead had had to be lowered an realigned, as part of the approaches to the imposing five-span viaduct with its distinctive skew arches, which now enjoys a Grade "B" listing status.
Changes Subsequent To The Arrival Of The Railway.
Up until the coming of the "through " railway, the village of Bridge of Weir was more or less confined to that area now definable as "north of the trackbed". The lands of Ranfurly, to the south of the railway remained virtually undeveloped. The G&A Rly. Was formally taken over by the G&SW Rly In 1876, and the latter company saw the advantage of marketing the village as a place for housing development, targeting the well-to-do merchant and business classes seeking a cleaner environment than the smoke and grime of Glasgow. Concessional rate season tickets for would-be householders and their spouses were amongst the incentives offered. So it was that the distinguished villas on the slopes leading to Ranfurly Hill and Horsewood came about. The Ranfurly Hotel In Ranfurly Castle Terrace was built by the Bonar family about this time. Housing developments, albeit of a more modest nature, continued throughout the early years of this century, right up to the second world war, attracted by the good, fast rail communication with Paisley and Glasgow.
The Decline Of The Railway.
In the years that followed the end of the second world war, the rising popularity of the motor car was beginning to take effect. The run-down condition of the railways after the war and the failure of the railways to adapt to the needs of the traveller, perhaps through no fault of their own, meant that rail travel was losing out to the motor car everywhere, but nowhere more than in this particular village.
In railway terms, the G&SW Rly. Route through Bridge of Weir had held its own against the rival Caledonian Rly. Route in the competative movement to capture Glasgow's "doon the watter" steamer traffic from Greenock to Argyle and Bute. They had countered the Caley's ambitious and highly successful project of extending their line to Gourock and opening up Gourock as a port (completed in 1889), by building an imposing waterside terminal at Greenock Princes Pier (opened in 1894). The amalgamation of both companies within the LMS Rly. At "grouping" in 1921 led, in time, to some rationalisation of services, but trains continued between Glasgow and Greenock using both routes. The falling off of traffic after the 1939-45 war meant that there was surplus infrastructure capacity and in this situation, the rail operator, then the nationalised British Railways, had a positive drive to eliminate route duplication. Thus they tended to favour the former Caledonian Rly. Route, as being the one with easier gradients, to serve the Greenock area. Hence the above average rate of decline in the use of the route through the village.
The decline in both the Clyde steamer services and the coal export traffic led to a steady decline in the use of the line. Nevertheless, local services continued to use the whole length of the line from Greenock right up until 1959, with occasional "ocean liner" express boat trains continuing to run into the early 1960's.
The line to the west of Kilmacolm was closed to ordinary passenger traffic in 1959 and the remaining line through the village became, in effect, a branch-line commuter service. Freight services were withdrawn from both Kilmacolm and Bridge of Weir in 1965 and, despite the introduction of short diesel-muhiple-unit trains and line-singling, the quality of service steadily declined. The line had a strong clientele of regular users, despite the fact passenger services had been cut back to the point where they were of limited attractiveness to many more potential users.
Nevertheless, in line with ruthless application of the Beeching-style management ethos prevalent at the time, the line was closed to all traffic in January 1983, the track being uplifted with indecent haste soon afterwards
An "Interlink" service, connecting with trains at Johnstone Station had been tried out, in anticipation of closure, whilst the trains to the village were still running but was presumably deemed unsuccessful, as it was not reinstated when closure actually took place. Instead, a subsidised replacement bus service, detouring to the railway station forecourt, was introduced for a limited period, being one of the conditions imposed when closure was authorised. This subsequently became unsubsidised, with fares rising accordingly, but buses have continued to use the route right up until July 2000, when the state of the road forced its abandonment.
The trackbed and ancillary areas were subsequently placed in the custody of Sustrans, the national charity charged with creating a nationwide network of recreational cycle tracks and rural walkways out of the disused railway system. Such a track now exists on the old trackbed through the village, and this is how rail less Bridge of Weir appears in the year 2000.
'Abridged and Unpublished Work by Brian Turner'.