ON A FRIDAY afternoon at 4.47pm 50 years ago, one man headed to Haddington Railway Station to witness the last train depart for the very last time.

The signal clattered up in its final act and five freight wagons – three of them empty – left along the rusty rails behind a 900 horsepower engine.

It was, as local man Alexander Preston reflected, “rather sad”.

Haddington Goods Station, as it was known, had served the county for 122 years but by the 1960s it had been reduced to a skeleton staff, with only six goods trains passing through it each week.

East Lothian Courier:

The passenger service, once a thriving mode of transport, had stopped in 1949 and British Rail had introduced a policy of centralising its freight services.

It announced the closure of Haddington in late 1967 and on February 2 the following year the last train went through the town.

Mr Preston, who had worked at the station for 30 years, was the only member of the public to witness its final journey.

He, along with a few staff members and the driver and guard, posed for a photograph with the train before it departed (see below), which would appear in The Haddingtonshire Courier the following week.

East Lothian Courier:

Mr Preston told the newspaper: “For me this is a sad event – 30 years is a long time and to see the last train go in such a quiet, unspectacular way is really rather sad.”

He added: “I can remember when this line was one of the busiest in the area, with six trains travelling every day, all of them full.

“I have worked on the railways for 43 years and I can tell you it is a strange feeling to know that you are redundant.”

East Lothian Courier:

He was joined to witness the last journey by Mr R Hunter, railways inspector, who – as the train gathered pace towards Longniddry where the single track which served Haddington merged with the main line – pointed to a stretch of the rail which 18 months earlier had been used by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother to continue her sleep uninterrupted on a journey to Edinburgh from England.

He recalled: “The train was due to arrive in Edinburgh at 5am and they parked it here to allow her to sleep on until 10.”

Stationmaster Robert Horsburgh, from Prestonpans, joined them to reminisce.

East Lothian Courier:

ABOVE: The station in its heyday. Image courtesy John Gray Centre archives

Mr Horsburgh said: “For those who have worked all their lives in the railway I feel that today must be a sad one for them.”

On its final journey the train stopped at Longniddry, where it handed the safety key, which allowed only one train at a time to travel on the single-line route to Haddington, to the signalman for the last time.

Then it continued on the main line to Prestonpans, where 24 wagons laden with coal were coupled before it headed to Millerhill MarshallingYard outside Edinburgh.

The Courier reported that as the train arrived at “the efficient, modern yard, a blaze of lights, resounded with the roar of powerful diesels, the clatter of waggons being shunted”.

Yet “eighteen miles away, Robert Horsburgh locked the Haddington Station office for the last time”.