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Railway Port Carlisle horse drawn railway

Port Carlisle The Old Dandy Horse Drawn Railway Carriage
Port Carlisle The Old Dandy horse drawn railway carriage. A canal from Carlisle to Port Carlisle operated from 1832 until 1853. The Maryport & Carlisle main line took the trade away. The canal was filled in to become a rail track. Although steam engines hauled goods up to 1898, the passenger coach was hauled between Drumbugh and Port Carlisle by a horse - The Old Dandy Service. From Bill Cameron collection

The Port Carlisle Railway branch

It was a common occurrence for canals to be bought up by railway companies, but rarely was the rail line actually laid in the bed of the canal as happened with this branch. The canal had been opened in 1823, linking Carlisle to the highest navigable point on the Solway Firth which could be reached by ships of up to 100 tons.

The canal was mostly for goods, but from 1833 a ferry operated between Port Carlisle and Liverpool, whose passengers included German and Polish emigrants bound for America. These had travelled on the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway, which opened a 11h-mile branch to the canal basin in Carlisle in 1837. Eight years later, the Maryport & Carlisle main line was completed, and Port Carlisle’s trade went into decline, leading to the closure of the canal in 1853.

As early as 1847 conversion to a railway had been discussed, and once the canal shut the Port Carlisle Dock & Railway Company was swiftly formed and only ten months later the first passenger train ran on 22nd June 1854, with no opening ceremony at all. ‘Scarcely more than a dozen’ people travelled on the first train, watched by a few spectators. Over thirty years earlier an estimated crowd of 26,400 had watched the first vessel arrive in Carlisle’s canal basin.

The new railway’s trains took 35 minutes for the 11 mile journey, starting at a short-lived Canal station at the Carlisle end, followed by Kirkandrews, Burgh (Burgh-by-Sands from 1923), Drumburgh and Glasson (which was always a request stop) before the terminus at Port Carlisle. However, the conversion did not mean the port was any more able to compete with Maryport, Workington and Whitehaven, and its owners were already looking at an alternative site at Silloth. This was to be reached by a new line from Drumburgh, and when this was speedily constructed and opened in 1856, the Drumburgh-Port Carlisle section became a backwater, though with rails instead of its former canal!

Solway Rail route over the from crossingthemoss Ann Linegard jpg
Solway Rail route over the from crossingthemoss Ann Linegard
Port Carlisle remains of harbour canal and railway map
Port Carlisle remains of harbour canal and railway map.

The line’s reduced status was soon emphasised by the most famous feature of its workings, the ‘Dandy’ service. This was a passenger coach hauled along the track between Drumburgh and Port Carlisle by a horse, a system that stayed in use for well over fifty years. It was introduced in 1857, although steam engines continued to handle the branch’s goods traffic up to 1898. By then the track was in such poor condition that only special freight could be handled, again by horse traction. Four vehicles were used at various times on the passenger service, the most famous being ‘Dandy No I’, still in use in 1914 though built in 1861 and now at the National Railway Museum, York. Eventually the NBR, which finally absorbed the branch along with the Silloth line in 1880, decided to replace this anachronism. The first attempt to reintroduce steam traction in 1908 failed due to the poor standard of the track, but heavier rails were laid and six years later England’s last horse-hauled passenger service was at last replaced.

The final running of the ‘Dandy’ was on Saturday 4th April 1914, and two days later NBR class R 0-6-0T no 22 hauled the ‘first’ steam train of the new era. Crowds of people attended both events, and so many wanted to travel on the two-coach steam train that extra trips had to be made. During the First World War the service was suspended between January 1917 and February 1919. When it resumed passengers had been lost to the local buses, and despite attempts to attract trippers from Carlisle, the trains were soon cut back to only two weekday return trips from Drumburgh. The LNER made a last try at boosting traffic with Sentinel railcars from Carlisle in 1928, and one of these, Flower of Yarrow, was the last passenger working to Port Carlisle on 31st May 1932. Goods services finished on the same day, and the line beyond Drumburgh was abandoned, although the original line from there to Carlisle stayed in use for the Silloth trains for another 32 years. Little can be seen of the line in Carlisle, but its route through Kirkandrews and Burgh is marked by numerous cuttings, many denoting the line of the canal while from Dykesfield to Drumburgh the 2.5 mile embankment that carried both canal and railway can be walked. Kirkandrews and Burgh station buildings survive, though much altered, but nothing remains at the sites of Drumburgh and Glasson stations. Only a platform is left at Port Carlisle, and the lock entrance is all that remains of the harbour.

Railway over the Solway Solway Junction Railway Map
Railway over the Solway Solway Junction Railway Map