Scotland's oldest miniature railway closes in Arbroath this weekend after passengers dwindle

Kerr’s Miniature Railway, a seaside holiday staple for generations of Scots, will shut down on Sunday after losing its appeal among today’s visitors to the Angus town.

Thursday, 8th October 2020, 10:00 pm
Updated Friday, 9th October 2020, 4:55 pm
The railway runs parallel to the Aberdeen-Dundee line. Picture: Kerr's Miniature Railway
The railway runs parallel to the Aberdeen-Dundee line. Picture: Kerr's Miniature Railway

Owner John Kerr, grandson of the line’s founder, said just 3,500 passengers travelled on the railway last year compared to 60,000 at its peak in 1955.

Mr Kerr, who runs it with his mother Jill, said the relocation of a play area away from the line in West Links Park had significantly reduced the allure of the trains for families with young children.

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A total of 2 million people have taken rides over the quarter-mile long track, which runs besides the Aberdeen-Dundee main line.

Visitors have included Mila Kunis, Craig Ferguson and Elaine C Smith.

Its closure will mean the loss of one of Scotland’s last miniature steam railways, since most locomotives on the others are powered by diesel or petrol.

The line is also the oldest ten-and-a-quarter inch gauge track in the world.

The end will be marked by a grand finale featuring visiting locomotives that used to run on the line, along with vintage buses and cars.

The railway hauling some of its last visitors last month. Picture: John Yellowlees

Mr Kerr said: “It will give the send off the railway deserves after all these years.

"Over the last five years, the numbers have dropped significantly, mainly because of the play area being relocated from 50m away from the railway to a new park 500m away.

"Since then, we have not been getting the trade.

"We are so far away from the hub in the West Links we have suffered a great deal.

The railway in the main line steam era. Picture: Kerr's Miniature Railway

"Visitors have dropped from 13-14,000 in 2010 to 3,500 last year.”

However, Mr Kerr admitted closure would be a “huge loss”.

He said he had no interest in selling the line or relocating it.

The railway has not been profitable for decades.

Owner John Kerr at the controls. Picture: Kerr's Miniature Railway

But the trains will be kept by the family for possible use elsewhere.

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Founder Matthew Kerr originally built a line at his father’s dairy farm in Dundee in 1934.

Relocating it to Arbroath in 1935, he expanded the operation the following year and installed a wider gauge in 1937, with further extensions after the Second World War.

The railway declined in the 1970s and suffered vandalism, but was rejuvenated by Mr Kerr’s son, Matthew junior, with a 40ft tunnel added in 1983 and steam returning two years later after a gap of 25 years.

Railway historian and television presenter Tim Dunn mourned its closure.

The railway carried 60,000 passengers a year at its peak. Picture: Kerr's Miniature Railway

He said: “Kerr’s Miniature Railway is one of Scotland’s few remaining miniature railways, so was a gem of an experience to be cherished.

"It provided not just a delight for the local community, but over the generations to many visitors too.

“Its loss will be felt beyond Arbroath.

"It was beloved by many miniature railway enthusiasts and students of their history - due much to the strong family connections - so I hope John Kerr will be able to take his experience, skills and enthusiasm to benefit other tourist railways in the future.

"Whilst we have seen the sad end of Kerr’s in Arbroath, perhaps something different may come of it elsewhere.”

An Angus Council spokesman said: “A new play park was created several years ago as part of wider regeneration of West Links, which continues to be a very popular go-to destination for locals and tourists alike.

“We are sad to see the closure of what has been a much-loved attraction on the Arbroath links for generations of locals and holidaymakers alike, but our officers remain in discussions with the owner about any proposals they have for the future.”

Remaining miniature railways in Scotland open to the public include the Ness Islands Railway in Inverness and others at Strathaven in South Lanarkshire, and at Craigtoun Country Park in St Andrews.

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Norrie Sneddon driving a diesel locomotive behind the The West Links Flyer steam train
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