A History of Britain’s Railways

Muirkirk Branch

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Muirkirk Branch
(Glasgow and South Western Railway)

This line is closed. The line is to be re-opened from Auchinleck to Cronberry and then a section of the Gaswater branch for coal traffic from an opencast site.

Survey To be entered
Engineers To be entered
Act To be entered
Contractors To be entered
Opened 9 August 1848
Closed Yes, but to be partly re-opened
Clickable map of the Muirkirk Branch

Local area 


This area is scattered with closed coal mines and scarred with many coal bings. Many of the mines closed some considerable time ago and the waste-ground has returned to nature. The area around Gaswater is currently an opencast as is the Darnconner area.



Description of route


This line was originally single track, but later doubled due to heavy freight traffic. The line runs from Auchinleck to Muirkirk via the former mining town of Commondyke (housing mostly long gone) and the former iron-making town of Lugar (much of the housing gone, and the ironworks closed).

Auchinleck Junction 


This was a west facing junction. There was a locomotive shed in the 'v' of the junction with the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway.



Commondyke was a two platform station. There was a branch to the north, which ran from a very tight east to north curve, to a series of mines out by Darnconner. There was a village here with long rows of miners cottages, now gone. The eastbound platform remains along with a recess for a building. The line was formerly crossed to the east of the station by a waggonway from the Lugar ironworks running into the Darnconner area for coalmines. There was a line from a west facing junction to mines to the north, this was later re-aligned to run directly to the Lugar Ironworks under the main line.

To the north of the station is a memorial (a cross), by the road. The memorial reads "AT THE DISTANCE OF EIGHT FEET IN FRONT OF THIS SPOT THE REV SISTER LAURIENNE WAS ACCIDENTALLY KILLED ON THE 8TH DAY OF AUGUST 1888." The driver was Johnnie Goodfellow, a Presbyterian, who lived in fear of his being de-railed by the Catholics as revenge. The engine was No. 90 from Muirkirk, a 0-4-0.



This station was provided for the Lugar Ironworks. The view looks west, a siding ran off to the left by a quarry which is now water-filled. (To the north was a reservoir for the ironworks). This led to the Lugar Ironworks. The works were established in the 1840s. These works had a series of tramways to coalmines by Darnconner in the days before the railway. After closure as an ironworks (1926) the site was converted into workshops for the many local coalmines. Lines still ran north to various coalmines, the tracks crossing under the main line to approach the works. One of the lnes ran up the valley followed by the Muirkirk Branch, but on the opposite bank of the Bellow Water to a colliery by Boghead.



Cronberry was a two platform station with a signalbox at its east end to control the junction between the Auchinleck and Cumnock lines.

The line to Auchinleck came in from the west (over a viaduct by the village of Cronberry) and the line from Annbank (Ayr to Mauchline Branch and Associated lines) from the south west. The station was a little to the east of the junction. The station site was cleared before closure of the railway. There were coalmines on the Auchinleck route served by a couple of west facing junctions (two single track lines came off at two junction immediately after each other and then merged) just to the north of the houses shown. Level crossing gates remain where these lines crossed the road.

Gaswater Branch


This served a number of mines by the Gasswater burn including a Barytes mine also served by a aerial ropeway. The junction with the main line faced west and trailed in gradually due to a difference in heights between the two lines. There is an opencast in the area now and the line is due to open from Auchinleck to a loading pad.

Welltrees Branch


This branch served a pit by the Gasswater burn. The junction faced west. After closure of the pit, the branch was retained as a refuge siding for surfacemen's bogies. This led to an accident on 14 December 1867 (when the line was still single) when a mixed Muirkirk-bound train ran onto the branch and fell through the rotten bridge over the Welltrees Burn. The points at the junction had been left in the wrong direction. Driver John Hunter died as a result of his injuries and fireman Blythe was drowned as the water level rose, despite the best efforts of rescuers, as he was trapped in the cab.

Kames Colliery


This colliery was located to the west of Muirkirk and was approached by a line which ran from an east facing junction at Muirkirk. To the south of the main line in the same area were coal mines (some served by an earlier tramway) which were served by branched from the main line, including one with an inclined plane and engine house.

Muirkirk (Old)


This was the original station, located next to the locomotive shed. The shed was used by visiting Caledonian Railway engines as well as the Glasgow and South Western Railway engines. The shed had four roads, later reduced to two in its last days.

Muirkirk Ironworks


The Muirkirk Ironworks were located at the end of a branch from Muirkirk (Old) station. The blast furnaces were approached by a fan-out of rails.The junction with the main line faced west. There were a couple of associated lines running to coalmines to the south - these may have belonged to the ironworks or perhaps the Muirkirk Branch (GSW). The course of these were later used by the Caledonian Railway's Muirkirk Branch and the junction with these lines changed to face east.

The works were opened in 1788 (two years after the Muirkirk Tar Works where Tar McAdam was invented) as ore, limestone and coal were all mined locally. A canal ran east from the ironworks to a number of coalmines. This was later replaced by a private railway which ran east to Glenbuck. A tramway system appears to have run westwards from the works, replaced by the railway on its arrival. The works closed in the 1923 following a workers strike in which the blast furnaces cooled with the iron inside them. The blast furnaces were not reconditoned as ore had been worked out in the local area and was proving very expensive to import.

Muirkirk (New)


This station was immediately to the south of the Muirkirk Ironworks and immediately to the east of the original station - in fact just across the roadbridge from it. There were a couple of lines running to coalmines to the south - these may have belonged to the ironworks or perhaps the Muirkirk Branch (GSW). The course of these were later used by the Caledonian Railway's Muirkirk Branch and the junction with these lines changed to face east.

Page created on 20/01/1998
Page last edited on: 30/03/2012
Contact: Ewan Crawford