Leverburgh – Branahuie (Stornoway) Railway

This line was proposed to be constructed as a temporary measure by Lord Leverhulme during the construction of his rather ambitious plans to make the island of Harris part of his Mac Fisheries empire.

The expansion of Leverburgh to take much larger fishing vessels in greater quantities was the main body of the work.  The natural harbour would have been deepened and had quays and stores constructed.  Ice houses, workers accommodation and processing facilities were all planned to be constructed.

The materials for this scheme would have come into the main settlement on the island, Stornoway.  The railway was proposed to travel from a small hamlet outside Stornoway named Branahuie, to Leverburgh at the opposite end of the conjoined islands of Lewis and Harris, a distance of over 50 miles.  The line was only supposed to be a temporary installation, for up to 3 years, letters from local residents to the contractors, Sir Robert Macalpine & Sons, state that it could have become a permanent installation.  Presumably if the line had been built it would have had the potential to move residents along the majority of the eastern coast of Lewis and Harris to and from Stornoway.  Had the HLR proposal been built as well then the island would have had comprehensive coverage of narrow gauge lines connecting Stornorway with both the west and south coasts.

Details of the route are hazy,  when more details are available a map will be produced.

13 Responses to Leverburgh – Branahuie (Stornoway) Railway

  1. Ewan Cameron says:

    Very interesting this one. There was a horse – drawn railway on the pier at Leverburgh, the rails survived until maybe 10 to15 years ago. The thought of a railway between Harris and Lewis is quite mind boggling if you know the terrain. I’m a native of Harris, and amongst the other Leverhulme plans I’ve heard of is one connecting Tarbert to Kyles Scalpay. Rather than tackle the hills this was to have been built along the shoreline.

    • Tom says:

      Hi Ewan, glad you’ve found it interesting.

      Do you have any more details on the Tarbert to Kyles Scalpay proposal?

      • Ewan Cameron says:

        Hello again (after a long time). Just a quick note to say that I’ve not found more details on the Tarbert to Kyles Scalpay proposal. However, I recently purchased a copy of ‘The Colonel Stephens Railways’ by John Scott Morgan on ebay. In the introduction there is a mention of an ‘Isle of Lewis Light Railway’ that never made it past the drawing board, in the 1920s I think. Does anyone know anything at all about this? Would it have been a renewal of Leverhulme’s proposal or something completely new? Personally I reckon it would have been doomed from the word go as the motor vehicle was pretty well established on Lewis and Harris by then, lorries and buses included. It would have been totally fascinating though!

      • Tom says:

        Hi Ewan,

        I think that the 1920s proposal was as a result of the 1919 ‘Scottish Rural Transport’ plan for railways on both Lewis and Skye. There is a map of the proposed route in The Times book ‘Mapping the Railways’ on page 166. Essentially from Stornoway with branches to both Carloway and Ness. On Skye from Ardvasar to Dunvegan with a branch from Broadford to Kyleakin.

        Original maps of this proposal appeared on eBay not long back, but sadly I missed out on them.

  2. James couling says:

    Tom this information is verry good and informative. If you come across any more please post it because I am verry interested in modelling part of this proposed line. Keep up the good work and hope isle ornsay comes on well! Thanks James.

  3. Ian Jolly says:


    You have an error on this page 😦

    Re the “Leverburgh – Branhuie (Stornoway) Railway “ – There never was a proposal to build a railway to Leverburgh. The railway to Branhuie was actually built and it ran to the Cannery that was being built by Sir Robert McAlpine and Co for the Harris & Lewis Welfare Development Co Ltd (a company owned by Lord Leverhulme) – part of a £345,000 contract to build the canning factory, roads and houses. It was a temporary construction railway as used on most of their contracts prior to the days of ‘dumpers’ in the late 1930’s. McAlpines had quite a fleet of locos, both standard & narrow gauge in those days.

    It was built to a gauge of three feet and was in operation by 1920 when the first loco arrived – it was McAlpine’s Loco No 34, an 0-4-0ST built by Hudswell Clarke (Works No 1037) in 1913 and delivered to McAlpine’s Pontstycill Reservoir contract near Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales. It carried the plant number 778 when it arrived but that had changed to 606 by the time it left in 1923 moving to the Maentwrog reservoir contract in North Wales. It then worked on other contracts until it was sold for scrap to George Brothers in 1956. The second loco to work on the line was another 0-4-0ST built by Hudswell Clarke in 1901 (Works No 597). It was new to Newcastle & Gateshead Water Co Ltd at Whittledean reservoir carrying the name ‘PONT’ . It was sold back to Hudswell Clarke who resold it to McAlpines in 1906 on their Culter reservoir contract. It arrived at Stornoway as Plant No 1780 in 1920 leaving on 25th May 1923 as Plant No 813. Last recorded as being for sale at McAlpine’s Ellesmere Port depot in 1929.

    I remember visiting Stornoway in 1980 to explore the Council’s former waterworks railway – I had several 60cm gauge Motor Rail locos from the trenches similar to the remains on the waterworks line. On writing to the Council for permission to walk the line, they put me in touch with a then long retired waterworks employee who had worked on the line. He didn’t consider their line to be a ‘railway’ and said he’d show me the course of a line that he remembered being worked with steam locos – the McAlpine railway. He showed me a trackbed running alongside the road – obviously a trackbed by the slight gradient compared with the road’s undulations. Probably built over now 😦 He also said that the railway ran to a quarry on the north west side of Stornoway. OS maps show a quarry (disused) with what looks like an incline running SE toward Stornoway – could that have been it?

    There was another proposed railway which never got off the ground – a lot of incorrect information is on the internet about it. Claimed to be another ‘Leverhulme enterprise’ but predates it by years! Leverhulme didn’t buy Lewis until 1917!! It was to have run from Stornoway to Carloway with a branch to Breasclete. It was in fact originally built as a gently graded road for horse drawn vehicles.

    A report by the Commissioners of the Crofting Commission in 1890 had said “The Commissioners do not recommend that public funds should be used to construct railway lines because no one in the islands was prepared to contribute any portion of the funds.”

    In April 1891, the Government proposed to spend £15000 ‘levelling’ the Carloway-Stornoway road and one Member of Parliament asked “if it included laying tram rails?” . He was told that it didn’t but would improve the gradients from the present 1 in 7 in place to no more than 1 in 30. Local people were in favour of a railway from Stornoway to Carloway harbour and another to Port of Ness harbour on the northern tip of Lewis. Nothing more was heard of the schemes. However in August 1891 a Bill was passed which allocated £15,000 for the upgrading of the road. Work had started by April 1892 but a year later had been suspended ‘due to lack’ of funds.

    In May 1897, James Weir the MP for Ross & Cromarty who had long been proposing a light railway along the road asked –

    “I beg to ask the Lord Advocate whether, in view of the fact that the road between Stornoway and Carloway, which was authorised during the time Lord Lothian was Secretary for Scotland, and at his suggestion was so made as to admit of the construction of a light railway, has recently been surveyed by the Highland Railway Company, and that there is every reason to believe that this Company would undertake to construct and work a light railway between Stornoway and Carloway so soon as the road is complete, will the Government, having regard to the impetus that such a railway would give to the development of the fishing industry on the Atlantic Seaboard of Lewis, consider the expediency of taking steps to secure the completion of the road. “

    To which the Lord Advocate replied –
    “The road in question was, graded and was provided with bridges which no doubt would carry a light railway if the road were satisfactory completed. But the Secretary for Scotland can give no undertaking at present as to the completion of the road.”

    Mr Weir then asked about the completion of the road to which the reply was –
    “The first section for about4¼ miles from Stornoway has been completed. The third and fourth sections, from Braesclete (3¾ miles) and Carloway Harbour (6½ miles) to the junction of those roads, are about three-fourths completed. The second section, from the end of No. 1 section to the junction of roads to Carlo way Harbour and Braesclete(6 miles,) is hardly commenced. The probable total length of road which will be completed when the remainder of the grant is expended on it will not exceed 5½ miles.”

    During my visit in 1980, I had gone to the library in Stornoway to see if there was any local info on the Waterworks Railway or other railways. To my surprise I was show a map, dated 1893, of a survey for a railway undertaken by an Alex MacDonald. The librarian said had been sent to them some years previously, having been found in a bin in Edinburgh! They knew nothing more about it. +It had been filed away in a back room and had never been shown to anyone since until I turned up! To my surprise it showed a proposed railway along the course of the then proposed Stornoway/Carloway/Braesclete roads.

    However none of the railways/tramways ever came to fruition and the road wasn’t completed until just before WW1.

    However what could have been a trackbed still exists and can be followed on Google’s Streetview – this overbridge seems to allow a light railway loco to go under http://goo.gl/maps/rXHmH

    There is an article in the Narrow Gauge Railway Society’s Journal “The Narrow Gauge” in 1981 about the Stornoway Waterworks Railway.

    Ian Jolly

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Ian, but I’ve definitely seen mention of a railway to Branahuie, so perhaps I’ve got my lines mixed up somewhere…

      I’m well aware of one of the proposals you mention as that was the preimse for building the model railway layout that is the basis for this site, albeit the portion of the proposal to be built on Skye, not Lewis. The text is useful, though, some quotes I’ve not heard there before, thank you!

      I’ll have to track down a copy of the article on the Stornoway Waterworks Railway – thanks for letting me know when and where it was published.


  4. Ian McKay says:

    I write as a local to Isle Ornsay (your Hebredian Light Railway project) but comment upon the info within the intro to this page about the Leverburgh plans:

    In your intro you say “…eastern coast of Lewis and Harris to and from Stornoway. Had the HLR proposal been built as well then the island would have had comprehensive coverage of narrow gauge lines connecting Stornorway with both the west and south coasts.”

    This gives the impression that the Leverhulme/Stornoway and HLR were on the same island. They are not. As your site so beautifully details the HLR scheme was proposed for Skye while the Stornoway plans were based on Lewis and Harris.

    I am sure this is just a minor slip in the pulling together of your info since it is all so nicely gathered in all other aspects.

    Reading with interest.


    • Tom says:

      Hello Ian, apologies for not replying sooner – I have not paid much attention to this site for some years.

      I should have been clearer in my writings previously. The Leverhulme plan was for Lewis. The Hebridean Light Railway had a proposal for for railways split across two islands – Railways one and two on Lewis consisting of a main line and a branch, and railways three and four taking the same form on Skye.

      Many thanks for the comment, though, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the site.


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