Founded 1953

Military Railways

On 29th October 2002 Mike Walshaw gave an interesting talk on Military Railways illustrated by slides of contemporary and recent photographs, many of the latter having been taken last year. It was in two parts

Part 1 - Faslane

Due to German air raids on existing docks during WW2, the War Office decided that they needed deep-water berths out of range of the Luftwaffe. They narrowed the search for a suitable site down to Oban, Cairn Ryan and Faslane. In November 1940 Faslane was chosen to be Port No 1 and Cairn Ryan to be Port No 2. The advantage of Faslane was that Gare Loch was deep enough to take large ships, and the LNER’s West Highland Line ran very close. The Faslane Branch was agreed with the LNER in April 1941 and construction of the branch began, together with provision of additional passing loops on the main line. The line was 3 miles long and dropped 180ft with gradients of 1/52 and 1/49. The 7 road exchange sidings were on a 1/148 gradient adjacent to the main line, and beyond them traffic to the port was operated by the Military.

Belmore House at Faslane, built in the 1880’s, was commandeered to be the ports HQ. There were seven groups of sidings with capacity for over 1500 wagons. There were loco facilities and Faslane Bay platform could accommodate a loco and 14 coaches. The port opened on 8th August 1942, with 6 deep-sea berths, facilities for lighterage and a 5 road quay with several crossovers, allowing wagons from one ship to pass those being loaded from another.

There were a variety of locomotives used by the WD, most obtained from the railway companies, mainly the LNER, which provided J50, J68 & J69 0-6-0 locos. The GWR provided a Dean Goods and 2 ‘Z’ class locos were borrowed from the Southern. Later WD Austerity 2-8-0 and an American S160 were to feature on the line.

After the war the port was no longer required and it closed on 31st March 1946, when part of it was leased by Metal Industries for ship breaking purposes. They retained 5 of the J69s, which remained in service till the mid 60’s. The company later became Ship Breaking Industries employing many Polish refugees in breaking-up redundant warships. The line down to the yard was then operated by the LNER.

In 1954 a submarine base was built at the top end of the port area. This was later used for the Polaris Fleet and the whole site was reacquired by the MOD. Belmore House still stands and is now HQ for the Royal Submarine Squadron.

Part 2

This opened with a number of slides of war-time railway posters, mainly discouraging the public from travelling.

Military Railway Permanent Way

This was used for the recovery of continental railways destroyed by the Germans after the invasion of Europe. It used flat bottom rail laid on bearing plates and secured by dog spikes to the 8’6" timber sleepers. The rail came in 75 lb (per yard) and 90 lb sizes. Ballast was anything available such as sand or ash. Concrete sleepers were tried, but were disliked because the white colour stood out as a ready target for enemy aircraft. There were three standard sizes of turnout No.6, No. 8 and No.12.

Military Railway Signalling

The Army had its own railway rule book. High safety features such as interlocking signals was not practical, but notes were prepared on the use of Belgian and Dutch signalling systems, should any of these be found in serviceable condition. A flag and board system was described for use where semaphore signalling was not available and was used on several UK Military Railway systems. There was a Telephone and Ticket system for working single line tracks in lieu of an electric token system. There was a Signal School at Longmoor.

Much of the Military Railway equipment can be seen at the Museum of Army Transport at Beverley in East Yorkshire.

Mike Walshaw is a former member of the REC (1954 to 1977). He was initially employed by the MoD at the RAE and in 1986 was transferred to Glasgow, where he stayed until he retired in 1995. He moved to Swanage in 2001, where he is active as a volunteer on the Swanage Railway as a Signalman and in the Signal and Telegraph Department.