HERITAGE . . . Devil’s Porridge museum chairman Richard Brodie with rolling-stock from the narrow-gauge railway currently on show at the attraction
But confirmation that a project to lift the extensive network at the mothballed Eastriggs ammunition complex has been completed prompted claims that the move was ‘a missed opportunity’ for the area’s economy.
Councillor Richard Brodie, chairman of Eastriggs and Gretna Heritage, said: “The sale of narrow gauge rail track at the Eastriggs site was short-sighted.
“There may be a short-term financial gain for the MoD from the disposal, but it will limit options for the long-term use of the site.
“Retaining the railway would have kept the option open of an enhanced tourist attraction based around the site of a huge chunk of ‘the greatest factory on earth’ which existed here during World War One.”
The railway network, which criss-crossed the 1100-acre Eastriggs storage complex, was described by railway experts as of historic importance and one of the finest such narrow-gauge systems in the UK.
Hazardous loads were carried safely by rail to remotely located blast-proof stores around the sprawling site.
There was a multi-million pound investment in the late 1990s when most of the original ageing rails were lifted to make way for high-spec UK-manufactured replacements.
Since the Eastriggs storage role was transferred elsewhere several years ago as part of a Ministry of Defence (MoD) rationalisation programme the site has remained largely empty apart from security staff.
Specialist contractors spent four months this summer preparing the site for a yet to be decided future role.
An MoD spokeswoman said: “The future of the former munitions depot is being considered. A number of options are being looked at but no decisions have yet been made nor will they be for some time.
“In the meantime, a programme of work to remove redundant equipment, including health and safety measures, is ongoing.”
Recent work was carried out by Gilmerton Land Services from East Lothian, who have decades of experience of clearing unused infrastructure from military sites in preparation for any potential redevelopment.
Managing director Sir David Kinloch said: “All of the narrow-gauge railway has been lifted. We’ve decommissioned and made the site safe, removing redundant infrastructure, such as cables and pipes from above and below ground. It was a very interesting site.”
Purchasers of the Eastriggs track infrastructure, A. Cowley and Sons, from Worksop, Nottinghamshire, have received orders and enquiries for sections and junctions from the UK and overseas.
Managing director Adam Cowley spent part of the summer on the Eastriggs site and stated he was impressed by the scale, landscape, coastal location and wildlife.
He said: “We’ve had a lot of interest since advertising the railway. It was a big job to lift and transport — a very large narrow-gauge system.
“We’ve got sections going to a sugar plantation on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico where they are building a private railway and there has been interest in other sections for a project in the Middle East state of Dubai.”
Mr Cowley also revealed that part of the Eastriggs railway was being used for a major heritage tourism project in London reinstating the Hampton to Kempton Waterworks Railway, which was originally used to haul coal from the River Thames to power steam pumping stations circulating the capital’s water supply.
Meanwhile, Cllr Brodie, a founder of the Devil’s Porridge Museum at Eastriggs, which tells the story of the ammunition complex, believes a great opportunity has been lost.
He said: “Keeping the narrow-gauge network would have been ideal for visitor tours round the depot and allow people to enjoy the unspoiled natural environment which flourishes undisturbed there.
“Our heritage group queried the sale of the track but the deal had already been done. I would urge the MoD in the future to consult the local community on the future use of the site because at the moment we are being kept in the dark.”
He also called on defence bosses to retain the remaining standard-gauge railway and loading bay at the west end of the depot, which is linked to the Nith Valley railway.
Lockerbie-based writer and railway expert Davie Wilson, a former councillor, has travelled on the Eastriggs narrow-gauge network.
He said: “It was highly impressive — military precision in action.
“This little railway was of local, industrial, military and social importance, and, bearing in mind that what is discarded today may be regarded as ‘heritage’ tomorrow, steps should have been taken to secure some of the history in Eastriggs.”
He added: “The ‘Devil’s Porridge’ is now of international significance and the theme has potential to be further developed.”