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Burntisland - Granton ferry

One terminal of the world's first roll-on/roll-off rail ferry, built in 1847 and a scheduled Ancient Monument.

Red Wheel Site:
Transport Mode(s):

Burntisland Station, Fife KY3 9DR

Visitor Centre:

About Burntisland - Granton ferry

This is an important station building as it was the Fife terminus of the world's first train ferry, which was invented by Sir Thomas Bouch to convey vehicles across the Firth of Forth from Granton near Edinburgh. It is a fine two storey classical building, with a seven column portico terminating in pedimented pavilions on square columns. Behind there were  a two-bay train shed, now demolished, and single storey station offfices listed Grade B.

When the Forth Bridge was opened in 1890 the station became redundant as it was replaced by a new station close by, built on the new through line. The old station building has been refurbished as office accommodation.

There are several excellent YouTube videos inspired by the 2010 model railway. Search "Burtisland 1883" on YouTube. This example has B&W period photos and shows how the roll-on / roll-off ferry operated:


Bouch Statue

Would we vouch for Bouch?
Unlike many another engineer such as the great John Miller, he does not stay long in a job, moving on from here a year later. That is probably just as well for him, two of Scotland's most conspicuously trainless towns today are Peebles and St Andrews, and to both he gave what he himself called "cheap railways", Peebles cursed with costly level crossings and St Andrews also single-track, with a junction that faced the wrong way. And at the Tay Bridge he is going to be found out on a scale that troubled the bluff and bravado of even the Victorian age.
However here in 1850 he realises the genius that perhaps came from the genes of his seafaring father when he devises the Floating Railway, which comprises three main elements. There is an inclined pier at the dockside, a flying bridge to the vessel's deck and a flat deck on board the boat, lined with rails. A moveable framework rolls up and down the pier on 24 wheels to suit the state of the tide, the hinged linkspan being operated by a steam winch. This is going to become the outline for almost all subsequent train and car ferries for the next 150 years, by which time the era of train-ferries will be almost over and roll-on-roll-off will become the norm for road vehicles.
Despite accidents occasioned by exposure to the rough seas, his novel approach to ferry loading is a triumph, reducing the Edinburgh-Dundee travelling time from three days to around three-and-a-half hours. Bouch is able to report to the Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee Railway Board in March 1851 that the Floating Railway is a complete success, having been in operation every single day since it began. In the first six months alone, over twenty-nine thousand wagons have been transported.
Thus Bouch makes Burntisland one of the locations that will most improve transport across the whole world. How fitting that this Red Wheel acknowledges its place in the pantheon of transport heritage sites.

Text by John Yellowlees - in Peter Marshall's “Burntisland : Fife’s Railway Port” published by Oakwood in 2001

By Road: Adjacent to the modern railway station at Burntisland and close to the harbour.

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As it was a few years ago before restoration 


Burtisland Heritage Trust were pleased to exhibit a 4mm scale model railway depicting late Victorian Burntisland and built by the East of Scotland 4mm Group

Photos can be viewed here




National Transport Trust, Old Bank House, 26 Station Approach, Hinchley Wood, Esher, Surrey KT10 0SR