Paisley’s Lost Railways

Paisley’s Lost Railways

(tales from our bygone industrial age).

Public transport played an important part in people’s lives in the past and old photographs and stories can often trigger distant memories. This article was originally inspired by James Tervit’s vivid account of his life growing up in Paisley before emigrating to Canada. This was from a time he lived in Cartha Crescent, Hunterhill (during the 1950s).

Going to school in the spring and autumn meant going the long way, down the Jenny’s Well Lane, and catch the bus that would take us to Lacy Street. Because we lived across the street from the old railway, (one train a day during the winter) it was easier for us to go down the tracks and into the school although we were not supposed to do this. Our excuse was that we were getting coal for the fires at home. The coal fell off the train (if you can believe that?).

That was Paisley’s famous Dummy Railway, so called because it was built as a passenger railway but no scheduled train services ever ran on it. The plans for the Paisley and Barrhead District Railway were drawn up in 1897 and were almost complete when the company was taken over by Scotland’s biggest rail operator, the Caledonian Railway in 1902. It represented a massive investment to build a commuter railway from the centre of Paisley (including Gilmour Street) joining the main Glasgow to Paisley line at Greenlaw in the east end then making it’s way to Dykebar. In the west, it met the Paisley to Gourock line at St James then to Ferguslie, through what is now Foxbar up to the edge of the braes at the Stanely dam, Glenfield and from there through two stations in Barrhead all the way to Lyoncross near Newton Mearns.

It was a complete disaster for the investors and it was brought about by the introduction of the electric tram in 1903. Trams could go almost anywhere, pick up passengers in more places and were a lot cheaper to run. The incredible solution to the problem was to stop a few yards short of the main line at Greenlaw and use it as a freight only railway. The reason was that under Board of Trade regulations, the company had agreed to run a certain minimum number of trains per day if the linewas completed and every one of them would have made a loss. It meant that a train delivering coal to the Paisley East Cecil Street goods depot near Glasgow Road had to go several miles round the outskirts of the town from St. James to Blackbyres in Barrhead then back to the east end instead of the short distance from Greenlaw on the main line from Glasgow!

So the railway became a legend. This article from the Canadian National Railway’s magazine in 1955 puts it very well

It would be difficult for the original designers of Paisley East station to recognize their handiwork. No phantom trains draw into its platforms, no ghostly passengers stand waiting for the shrill whistle that should be heard at midnight, no spectral porters call the last train. The Paisley-Barrhead line is that last of all abandoned things, a human work that has never been used.

The name ‘dummy railway’ comes from the practice of building fake, decoy objects during wartime to take the enemy’s fire away from real assets. During WWII, dummy railways, marshalling yards, docks, airfields and towns were built in England and the Germans even dropped dummy paratroopers in Belgium.

The railway then became two branches – St James (same station as today) , Ferguslie (next to what is now the Aldi shop at Linwood Road end in the west end) , Stanely (behind Stanely Firs pub and on the shore of Stanely dam), and Glenfield (Glenburn Road opposite Knockside Avenue) stations were on the west branch. The east branch went from Paisley East station (on Glasgow Road at Kelburne retirement flats) to Dykebar station (at Hawkhead Road near the roundabout at Barrhead Road where there are still the remains of a bridge) . The branches met up at Blackbyres in Barrhead near where the fire station is today. Amazingly all the stations were rented out as private houses which must have been very disturbing when large coal trains rumbled past your bedroom window first thing in the morning. Paisley East station was the exception being used a a garage before being demolished to make way for the Kelburne Cinema.

Here is a photograph of Glenfield station showing the tenant’s vegetable garden at the end of the platform !

Local historian David Rowand relates some stories on the subject in his book ‘Paisley’. Trains he writes were used to transport wounded soldiers in world war I to Paisley East then by bus to Ralston hospital, thousands of American GI helmets were dumped in the scrap yard near Lacy Street and also passes on a local legend that one of the trains carried an anti aircraft gun on board during WWII. The railway was used for the occasional Sunday school trip and excursion including a 1951 railway enthusiast’s outing and at least one from Glasgow University. The line closed in stages from 1954 to 1984 when the Linwood branch was no longer required.

The railway was of course a symbol of the success of local industry. There were sidings to Roots car plant at Linwood , the brick works at Fulbar Road, Chain Road Goods Yard, Meikleriggs Goods Yard and Glenfield bleach works on the west branch. The east branch had Paisley East Goods at Cecil Street, Jenny’s Well laundry, Hawkhead hospital, Dykebar hospital and there were many factories served in Barrhead.

In all, there have been thirteen railway stations in Paisley over the years and three rail lines that are now closed. The Paisley and Barrhead District Railway just discussed, the Barrhead Branch of the Glasgow & South Western Railway and the Paisley and Renfrew Railway. In addition, the Canal line which now stops near Neilston Road previously went under it and trains ran to Kilmacolm up to 1986 and at one time through to Greenock.

The Potterhill Line

This railway ran from Paisley West station which was in Maxwellton Street (also on the Canal line) to Barrhead Central. The remains of the station are just visible today beside the cycle track. The line went round the back of Meikleriggs cricket ground, across Corsebar Road (remains of the bridge can still be seen near the RAH), beneath Stanely Road to the strip of land between Bushes Avenue and Stanely Drive, behind the houses on the south side of Falside Road then to the former Cadbury’s depot (now houses) on Neilston Road and the adjacent Potterhill station.

In the 1950’s, a coal train ran mid morning, usually about eight to ten wagons hauled by an old Caledonian 0-6-0 goods engine. One or two days a week it continued beyond Potterhill to Glenfield and came back an hour or so later. After the coal depot closed, Cadburys built their distribution warehouse on the site. Potterhill Station opened on 1 June 1886 and closed on 1 January 1917, services between Barrhead and Potterhill having ended in 1913. Freight traffic continued to Cadburys until 1970. The station is still there in perfect condition and is now used as an office.

The railway went under Neilston Road at the top of the hill at Thornley Park Avenue. There is a large stone bridge perhaps 50 feet high close to the bottom of Stoney Brae at the end and to the right of the culdesac of new houses. Apparently scouts used it for abseiling at one time. The track can be followed further south in the fields between Caplethill Road at Brownside Farm (opposite the university halls of residence) and the new estate at Newburgh Drive, formerly the site of Fulton’s Glenfield works. This works was founded in the 1820s as a bleachworks, and largely rebuilt in 1879 and later. It was latterly owned by William Fulton & Sons Ltd, scourers, dyers and finishers, who used soft water from the Gleniffer Braes in their processing.

There are also the remains of a very high bridge over the Paisley and Barrhead District Railway in the fields and the ends of the bridge over Caplethill Road near the University halls of residence are still very clearly visible.

Paisley to Renfrew Railway

The original terminus station in Paisley was at Hamilton Street where the Arnold Clark car showroom opposite Halfords is now, but was replaced by Abercorn station on Renfrew Road when the railway was connected to the Paisley to Glasgow line at Arkleston junction. Abercorn was right beneath the junction of Renfrew Road and Gallowhill Road next to Reid Kerr College and the goods yard was where the Focus DIY is now.

It ran to Renfrew Wharf at the River Clyde through Sandyford, Renfrew South, Porterfield, Fulbar Street and King’s Inch. A freight branch led off to the Cart Harbour in Paisley.

The line was closed to passengers on the 5 June 1967 as part of the Beeching Axe, and was officially closed to freight traffic in 1981, but the line wasn’t lifted until 1986. It’s amazing that not enough Renfrew people wanted to travel to Paisley or Glasgow by train, it must have been those bone shaking ‘luxury’ Patons and Cunningham’s buses that used to run from Renfrew Ferry to Paisley Cross !!

Some anecdotes about old Paisley railways.

Thanks to everyone at the forum.

Michael Campbell

The Fereneze bus used to terminus at a roundabout next to the Mormon Church, and from there you could walk under a bridge and through what we called the ‘old mills’. Next to the bridge and joined by a steep ash embankment was what we called the ‘dummy railway’ which was a concrete platform with a sort of concrete supports for an angled roof. There were tall trees on the embankment which we could tie tree swing to. The pigeon lofts were just along from this, and also looked down on the road from the embankment


If I remember correctly the Glenfield, Stanely, Foxbar, Ferguslie,(Fulbar Rd) carried on into Roots We had our Coal Bricks delivered to Fulbar Rd there 1954/55. Then there was the Hawkhead Station I was very young at the time,late 39s, early 40s a young boy was killed on the line, his father in trying to reach him impaled himself on the fence. The other line at the top of Hawkhead Rd did the Jenny Wells Laundry Hawkhead, Dykebar, and I think Darnley Hospital.


I used to live next to the old railway track that went under Neilson Road near Potterhill Station. Fascinating! There was a tale about a man who was fatally injured near the station and was found staggering along the track bleeding profusely……..SO THE STORY GOES that every time the blood was washed away from the track, it returned-spooky!


The dummy railway still had a scheduled run in the early fifties,some schoolmates and I used to get the tram from Lochfield road to the terminus,walk down to the railway,and “hudgie”a ride to the station at Braehead. The driver and fireman always stopped there for a cuppa with the station master,at that time there was still a pedestrian bridge across the rail line to Fereneze drive,the driver also sometimes gave us a lift if we were going bramble picking,and once to the castle,I think it was around 1951,there was a bit of a drought,and it was possible to walk out to it. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that the train ran out to the munition works at Bishopton. Perhaps that was the reason for keeping it quiet.


My hubby moved to Glenburn cres when he was twelve,right on corner of Knockside ave,Glenburn Rd end,almost facing railway station house!That would be around 1953. Knockside Ave had still to be built. You could see from Glenburn cr to Barrhead Rd where tramcars stopped at Glenfield Rd.
If train was at station,boys would have a hudgy down as far as Glenfield Rd,then get 1p tram down to Canal St,then trek up BIG HILL to old Camphill school . The trains did not carry passengers,although there was a couple still living in the house! I on the other hand remember Abercorn Station,as I moved to Abercorn St in 1956,when I was twelve.Our backdoor was right next to siding,I think went to Babcocks,from Hamilton St.You can see back of my tenement,on left side of pic, facing Reid Kerr!


I used to live at the bottom of potterhill and as a kid myself and brothers spent a lot of time on the old railway and used to go along under the bridge on Nielston road as far as the Cadbury factory until we got chased by the Moorfoot Boys ( Bad Lot!) Our party piece was to scale the bridge wall and then jump onto Neilston Road to drivers bewilderment. The track runs parallel with the back of the houses at Stoney Brae and crosses a bridge opposite Thornlipark Tennis Club and then up hill past the old Thornlipark School at the top of the brae. In the 70’s used to teach the Glennifer Scouts to abseil off we used take leaps of faith off the top of the bridge landing in the tree branches below – but please don,t tell ma mother she would have a canary if she knew.


I also have a good memory of where the railway went after glenburn and foxbar into lower foxbar and the old bridges near that mad bone factory that was once down at red road.


It reminds me of when we lived in Findhorn Ave.Foxbar on the opposite side of the railway from the Morar Drive terminus and had to shimmy down the embankment to cross the dummy railway to the catch the bus. I fell down on to the track one morning when hurrying to catch the bus and ended up in the Alexandra Infirmary.


The Fereneze bus used to terminus at a roundabout next to the Mormon Church, and from there you could walk under a bridge and through what we called the ‘old mills’. Next to the bridge and joined by a steep ash embankment was what we called the ‘dummy railway’ which was a concrete platform with a sort of concrete supports for an angled roof. There were tall trees on the embankment which we could tie tree swing to. The pigeon lofts were just along from this, and also looked down on the road from the embankment.

Taken from a Barrhead history website

“I certainly can remember a goods train which came from Paisley and delivered coal to Dykebar Hospital, Barrhead Gasworks and finally to Barrhead South Station where it delivered wagons of coal to Thos. Mcdonald Ltd and tankers of tar to the Dussick & Bitumen Co. Ltd. It also made the odd delivery of draff to West Arthurlie farm. This was used as cattle feed.”


The Dummy Railway and the other lines mentioned here with lots of photographs.

Many thanks to Eric who kindly donated this article to the Paisley website, please visit his website it is very much worth your time.