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Matthew (1835-11-26)


“Dundee and Perth Railway”. Perthshire Advertiser, Thursday 26 November 1835, p.3 col.5-6 (pdf image)

(Letter written Nov 23 1835, published Nov 26 1835)
Matthew protests at length against the “north line” adopted by the Committee of the Dundee and Perth Railway Company. He argues that the “south line” should be adopted, partly because it would afford an easy junction with his proposed Tay bridge at Mugdrum near Newburgh, forming part of a grand vision of an interconnected Scotland. In a postscript, he considers an alternative line up the middle of the Tay that would reclaim 10-15 thousand acres of land from the sea, an idea reprised by his grandson 45 years later.


To the Editor of the Perthshire Advertiser.

SIR,— In the line of direction through the Carse of Gowrie of this proposed railway, what I anticipated and fore-warned against, in my letter of the 7th curt., is in danger of taking place. From circumscribed views and (mistaken) local interests, the south line — what Messrs Buchanan and Findlater emphatically called the engineers’ line — is about to be departed from. The subscribers present on the 21st current, when the company was formed, most of them personally unacquainted with the localities — without any thing like sufficient data for forming correct judgment — without once asking the probable difference of cost between the north and south line, which will be great; and the engineer present, apparently not altogether perfectly prepared to give an opinion on the subject of cost; without ever having weighed the improbability of the turnpike road trustees consenting to allow the turnpike to be raised twice by arches to a height of 15 feet over the rail necessary in the north line — they, with one dissenting vote, have determined that the north line shall be the one followed.

In order that the public may view the question in the dearest light, I shall first lay before them the engineer’s statement at the meeting. It was, to the best of my remembrance, in substance as follows:—

“That there were two central lines, and a north and a south line, available, in passing along the Carse of Gowrie.

“That the southmost central line, although desirable in two respects — in not crossing the turnpike, and in being the shortest line — was, he thought, injudicious, as the ground rose considerably near the middle of the line, at one place high as 50 feet above high water mark.

“That the northmost central line, although not rising nearly so high as the other, yet would require considerable cutting, and was inadmissible, because it approached a corner of Admiral Drummond’s policy wall.

“That the north line could be excavated to reduce the summit level to from 23 to 30 feet above high water mark. That, in the event this line being adopted, from its elevation, there would be required a higher embankment along the river side at Seggieden. Mr Buchanan did not give the present height of the ground along this line, which could be reduced, by cutting to 23 or 30 feet above high water; nor did he state the expense of doing so, nor the cost of the high embankment. When questioned, he admitted that two arches, 15 feet high, with sloping earthen mounds, would be required to carry the turnpike twice over this line, at places where the turnpike and the rail were nearly of the same level.

“That the south line was the engineers’ line. That it was almost a perfect level, (Mr Findlater speaks of its “extreme levelness,”) no part of it rising higher than 16 feet above high water mark. And, that it did not cross the turnpike from Perth to Dundee.”

Putting the two centre lines entirely out of view, let us now consider the comparative advantages of the north and south lines: first, in relation to cost of formation and expense of future working; second, in relation to obtaining the consent of the road trustees and of the proprietors along the lines; and, lastly, in relation to the general advantages of communication.

In relation to cost of formation, the south line, for the whole distance, about 10 miles, can be laid down almost free of any other expense than the rails, &c.; the ground purchase, the levelling, the plough ridges, and the making shallow ditches along the sides, to carry off the surface water. The bottom is also generally regular, and from requiring little embanking, would give less future trouble in partial subsidence. As a rise of 1 foot in 300 creates a double resistance, requiring a double power of locomotion, this line, from the extreme levelness, could certainly be worked with lighter engines, and although a few yards longer, with more dispatch, than the north line. In practice, it is found that the tear and wear of locomotive engines is extremely great — far above what is allowed in the report Mr Findlater; and any one acquainted with the subject, knows that the tear and wear, under a regular pressure or strain, is less than under a varying one, to which locomotive engines are subjected when the railway rises and falls: besides, the chance of accidents must be diminished in proportion to the levelness. Neither of the engineers have given us any particular statement of the quantity of cutting required near the west end of the north line, and of the higher embankment needed at Seggieden; nor of the extent of moss and false ground which this line must cross in the neighbourhood of Glendoig, and thence eastward through the Myres, with the probable cost of all this. I consider the shareholders highly inconsiderate and rash in having adopted that line, without this necessary information.

In relation to obtaining the consent of the road trustees, and the proprietors along the lines, it must borne in mind, that the trustees have formed a committee to oppose the line of rail altogether, unless the shareholders come between them and any loss which may occur from the traffic on the turnpike being diminished by the rail; or, in other words, unless the shareholders shall saddle themselves with the great debt of the trustees, and with the keeping up of the turnpike: and that on this being intimated to the shareholders, on the 2lst current, it was, very properly, scouted. This being the state of matters, I would ask the men of the world in Dundee, is it likely that the road trustees will consent to allow the great turnpike road to be raised twice a height of 15 feet, which is necessary to the north line passing and re-passing under it unless the railway company consent this proposition? Is it at all probable, that the road trustees would dance along the acclivities and declivities, with the debt on their backs, singing for solace, like the magnificoes in Tom Thumb,

“Here we up, up, up,
And here we down, downa?”

Besides, the passing through the arches would not be entirely unaccompanied with danger, from any thing projecting from the carriages, while going at a great velocity, touching the top or sides; and from the rail and turnpike passing each other at an acute angle, the arch through which the rail would go would be of considerable length, of the character of a tunnel, and highly unseemly. Is it to be expected that the proprietor of Seggieden will allow a high mound to be raised between him and the river, obstructing his view of it?

It is true, that two of the proprietors of the ground along the south line, have intimated their disapproval of the rail altogether, and of it following the south line in particular. But to balance this, should we adopt the south line, we carry it away from several proprietors along the north line, who also disapprove or object to it in toto. But surely there is no occasion as yet to adopt an unfavourable line on this account. These proprietors have only glanced at the thing. Upon mature deliberation they may decidedly favour it running through their estates; and even were they to continue to oppose it, would their opposition be any avail? At the meeting of the district proprietors the 18th, a considerable majority were in favour of the north line. But this was to be expected, as two-thirds of them are situated north of the line, and naturally desire the rail to be as near themselves as possible. But are these proprietors shareholders of the rail? Are they all concerned in the returns, which must depend greatly upon it being carried in the most advantageous line?

In relation to the general advantages of these lines with regard to employment — by far the most important question for the shareholders — I think any person of a comprehensive mind and of good information and judgment, would at once decide in favour of the south line, without regard to its cheaper formation and working. I believe it is admitted on all hands, that the employment from the country along the line will bear no comparison to that from the extremity, and to that which a communication with Fife and Strathcarn, across at Mugdrum Island, would give rise, and to which the south line is only applicable. From the best information I can procure, the south line could be laid down at as much less cost than the north line, as, with the assistance which the neighbouring proprietors would afford, is sufficient actually to carry a mound and piled bridge across, and effect the communication. It is morally certain that this communication, which I adverted to in my letter of the 7th current, will ere long be carried into execution. It is in vain for the interests which may suffer to attempt any opposition. The deposit of mud, naturally going on, assisted by human art and labour, is fast contracting the water space immediately above Newburgh, and the open water course in a few years will not exceed the common breadth of the Tay from Perth downwards. The small map, attached to Mr Findlater’s report, does not at all show the changes which have lately taken place here; nor is Mugdrum Island even inserted, whether from design or otherwise I do not know. By the bye, the judgement of several seems not a little biased, from their eyes dwelling upon this map, and judging of the lines in reference to the circumscribed space which there meets the view. To those who can look a little further — who can see a junction at the Mugdrum Island branching from the south line — who can see railways diverging thence through the centre of Fife and up Strathcairn, onward to Edinburgh, Stirling, and Glasgow, and others carried onward from Perth up Strathmore and Strathrays, thus opening up the whole of the centre of Scotland, and all converging to, and uniting in our railway in progression to their natural port, Dundee,— to those, the trifling local advantages which would result to the braes and north side of the Carse, by the adoption of the north line, sinks absolutely beneath all notice. Besides, this district could be accommodated at very little expense, without spoiling the grand line of communication, by carrying a single rail up from below Castle Huntly, the west side of Inchture, and westward along the base of the hill as far as the proprietors desired. This line would also be extremely level, and would cost little more than the mere iron and sleepers and the narrow stripe of land; and by being worked by a pony, and passing the turnpike at nearly right angles, would require no raising of the turnpike at the crossing. To those acquainted with the prodigious expense of cutting and mounds, the expense of the branch will appear very low; I believe not more than the difference between that of the north and that of the south line. The adoption of the south line, instead of diminishing the local employment, would, on the contrary, considerably increase it. Were the north line to be followed, the trade of Errol, amounting at present, I am told, to 70 tons weekly, and the carriage of a considerable portion of the south Carse, could not be looked for as they have water conveyance at hand. Whereas, were the south line adopted, the whole would be secured; by stretching the net at the mouth of the outlet we would bag the whole fry.

Independent of its use as a railway, the south line possesses an advantage of no inconsiderable importance to Dundee. That of being the best and most economical waterduct for the support of that City. From its lower summit level (about 14 feet) it would be infinitely preferable for this purpose to the north line. In my opinion, the Railway Company should extend their capital to L. 250,000, be at once a rail and water company; and bring the water from the Perth Mirating cistern, which lies directly in the line of the rail.

My views regarding the Dundee and Perth railway are now before the public. Differing from every individual at the late meeting, I have thought it necessary to enter more fully into my reasons of dissent. I hope the men of Dundee will recognise this railway as the legitimate child of their magnificent harbour. I trust they [illegible] its infancy, that its tender developing [illegible] deforming twist from rash and inconsiderate [illegible], to mar their natural beauty. I hope and trust that the engineer’s line — the level line — the quickest conveyance line — the line affording an easy junction with the Fife and Strathcarn proposed rails — the line of utility — the south line will be followed.

Gourdy-hill, Nov. 23, 1835.

P.S.– Another line widely different from any of the preceding, has been thought of, which I shall propound for the amusement of the speculative:— by a mound up the middle of the Firth, along the sand banks from the Magdalene Yard to Mugdrum Island. Although at first view this may seem wild, yet there can be no doubt of its economic practicability. With the exception of a few small creeks, the whole of this line, and the wide space between this line and the north shore, is several feet, in many places six feet above low water mark. This of course could only be accomplished by a combination with the proprietors along the north shore, to whom the immense extent of land — say from ten to fifteen thousand acres, to be thus conquered from the domains of Neptune, would belong. By forming a canal down the northern shore from above Port Allan to the Magdalene Yard, to intercept the streams running from the Carse of Gowrie and Invergowrie Burn, the whole of this fresh water would be carried down upon Dundee, and become available for its supply; and the enclosed portion of the Firth, consisting of mud and sand banks, freed from the inundation of these streams, could be kept dry by floodgates; or, if necessary, by steam and wind-mill pumps, and formed into excellent ground. The adoption of this plan, by contracting the wide basin above Dundee, which is filled every tide through a comparative narrow month below Dundee, and forming the Frith into a wedge shape, narrowing upwards, would increase the flow of the tide at Perth as much as several feet perpendicular, and do more to render Perth a convenient port than can ever be effected by their dredging machines. Although this scheme is perfectly practicable, and, if properly carried into execution, would far more than reimburse the cost by the land alone, yet from the difficulty of combination and want of enterprise of those principally concerned, there is little or no probability of its being effected. The thing may appear unfeasible to persons unacquainted with works of this nature; but were it in Holland, the remarkable combination of advantages — the beautiful rail line which the embankment would form — the extent of fine land to be gained — the great supply of fresh water to Dundee — the greater rise o the tide at the port of Perth, would lead the experiencing and calculating Dutchman at once to the preference of this line. The only reason against the adoption of this scheme is, that by diminishing the basin which, filling and emptying every tide, scours the mouth of the Tay Frith, there might be some danger that the bar would rise higher.