Abandoned railway tunnels are probably my favourite places to explore, but I don’t often get to do one these days. Most of the tunnels in Scotland that I haven’t already done are difficult or impossible to get inside. So it was great to be able to tick one off for the first time in years: Alloa Tunnel.
When I first checked this one out back in 2013, I didn’t try to get inside because I would have had to cross to the “wrong” side of the live railway’s fence to get to it. It’s possible no-one would have cared since I wouldn’t have actually been very near the rails, but it still put me off. Recently, though, I got a tip off that the situation there had changed, so next time I was in the area I went back for another look. Sure enough, the boundary of the live line had moved (probably during electrification work), and the disused tunnel was no longer within it! Plus, a big pile of earth had been dumped in front of the portal at some point, making it much less visible than before.
There was still the challenge of a covid testing centre just above the portal, but fortunately it was closed and deserted the day I visited, enabling me to get into the railway cutting unnoticed. After a steep scramble, I found myself standing in the open tunnel portal at long last.
At 107 yards long, this tunnel wasn’t huge but I was still glad to finally be able to explore it. It used to take a double track branch line under a road junction and the grounds of an academy on its way down to the docks, until it was closed in 1978. Later on the south portal was backfilled, leaving the north portal as the only way in or out, and making the tunnel feel longer than it really is.
The construction was unusual compared to most of the tunnels I’ve visited. Rather than being a uniform brick or stone (or concrete) arch, Alloa Tunnel has vertical stone walls with a brick arch across the top, making it feel slightly like an elongated bridge. Since it was most likely built as a cut-and-cover tunnel, I guess that’s really not too far from the truth.
There are actually three disused railway tunnels in Alloa. The other two are very short tunnels under roads on the Alloa Waggonway, but they do have the distinction of probably being Scotland’s oldest railway tunnels (opened in 1768). The waggonway is now open as a footpath so they’re slightly easier to see than the branch line tunnel.