The history of the Deeside railway line begins in 1845, when the idea of a railway line to connect the towns and villages of the region with Aberdeen was first discussed.
After obtaining the consent of Parliament and funding from interested donors, the line began construction in 1852 and officially opened on September 7, 1853.
Initially, the line was a single track link that ran three trains a day from Ferryhill in central Aberdeen to the riverside town of Banchory about 20 miles west of the city. Improvements in service during this period included extending the terminus to Guild Street in 1854 and doubling the lines between Ferryhill, Culter and Park stations to carry large commuter trains.
The initial proposal to end the line at Braemar was never successful, as the Queen felt it would be too intrusive for her family’s privacy on the royal estate. Instead, the line terminated some 43 and a quarter miles later from Aberdeen in the market town of Ballater; a popular hiking town.
Throughout her life, the Queen has used the line to travel to and from her royal domain in Braemar. Royal trains never entered Aberdeen station, instead reversing at Ferryhill station where a hub and sidings still exist to this day. Stations were closed and level crossings locked at least fifteen minutes before the royal carriages passed.
Journey times for the royal service took around 75 minutes, as the Queen apparently disliked fast travel on the route. From 1865 to 1938, a Messenger Train operated when the Royal Family were in residence, leaving Aberdeen in the early hours to make the journey west. Royal passengers on the route included George VI and the Queen Mother, as well as Queen Elizabeth II and children Charles and Anne.
The original service operators, the Great North of Scotland Railway (GNSR), were incorporated into the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) in the 1920s. Things continued like this until after World War II, when British Railways took the Deeside Line in 1948.
Services on the line doubled in April 1958, with Sunday rail service reestablished to meet demand. Nonetheless, despite the prestige of carrying two reigning queens and various foreign dignitaries such as the Shah of Persia in 1899 and the Tsar of Russia in 1896, the Deeside Line saw stations at Pitfodels, Murtle and Culter, among others, shut all down. long 1900s due to competition. of buses and the decrease in the number of passengers.
With the changes in ownership of the line, steam locomotives were replaced by diesel and even electric engines. The railway achieved industry fame in the 1950s when it was selected to test a British Rail multi-unit battery electric train converted from a Derby light diesel chassis. The lead-acid battery-powered machine was used to explore the possibility of electric train travel until 1962, when a series of electric fires rendered it unusable.
Ultimately, the Royal Deeside Line fell victim to the 1963 Beeching Report which recommended the closure of thousands of miles of track across Britain as part of an economic overhaul of the rail network. As a result, the last service on the line was at Culter, when a steam locomotive made the trip on December 30, 1966.
The electric train, nicknamed “Sputnik”, was later restored and, after a period at the Derby Railway Engineering Center, has now been reinstated on the Royal Deeside Railway. Railroad enthusiasts can pay to travel the restored 1-mile track between Milton of Crathes and Birkenbaud Crossing in an old locomotive wagon, the first steam service since the restoration taking place at the start of the decade.
The line in its current state is a very busy walking and cycling route which is largely covered with asphalt. Known as the Deeside Way, various bridges along the way have been restored or rebuilt for ease of movement, with a pedestrian walkway unveiled on the town’s Holburn Street where relics of ancient platforms remain.
While the station houses are mostly mere souvenirs, some have been redeveloped, such as Murtle Station, which is now a private residence. Not all owners were willing to move when the line was originally built, with the charming Cut-a-way Cottage – so called because part of its wall was razed to make way for the track incredibly close – still standing at Cambus o’May.