ANTICIPATING the future is hard, especially over centuries. So we shouldn’t be too harsh with the North British Railway (NBR) for building the East Coast Main Line (ECML) in the wrong place. It serves only two of our towns, requiring four branch lines to serve the rest, badly.

At least the Gifford and Garvald Railway had coal freight to sustain it. But a coastal branch line didn’t even have that fallback. By the 1890s, golf and seaside holidays were booming in resorts. With only horse-drawn transport available, Aberlady and Gullane both felt disadvantaged without access by train.

So the Aberlady, Gullane and North Berwick Railway was launched as a private venture in 1893. It soon ran into problems.

Landowners denied access, requiring a detour, putting Aberlady station half a mile from the village. NBR fought any extension past Gullane to avoid competing with their own line from Drem.

Such problems delayed opening until April 1, 1898, when a service of nine trains a day ran between Longniddry, which had three platforms, and the Haddington branch. Trains ran one and a half miles to a junction at Spittal, where the line curved north, then veered east to what is now Aberlady Caravan Park. The track bed has been returned to farmland, but incongruous over-bridges on the Ballencrieff and Fenton roads mark where it once ran.

Just north of the Peffer Burn, a wooden platform was added in 1903 for the exclusive use of Luffness Golf Club members. It then ran north-east on what is now the John Muir Way to its only level crossing at Saltcoats Farm, then on to a single platform at Gullane, at the aptly named Muirfield Station. The nearby former fire training school was built as the Marine Hotel for use by golfers.

The line lost money. Buses soon lured away passengers by the 1920s, so service ended in 1932. The line was kept open to ship local sugar beet to Cupar for processing, but even that ended in 1964.

The line does have little-known claims to fame: when King George VI visited Scotland during the Second World War, his royal train was parked here as a safe location; in 1959, drivers were trained on their new diesel multiple units on this soon-to-become Beeching branch line casualty.

If only NBR had foresight to build the ECML direct through Tranent and Haddington to East Linton, they could have built a truly scenic Lothian Coast Railway from Musselburgh to North Berwick – and ALL towns and villages between.