For most of the 19thc if it was desired to build a railway, then an Act of Parliament had to be obtained This was an expensive business, with hearings before a Select Committee which took evidence from both promotors and objectors, all represented by pricey lawyers, followed by votes in both the Commons and the Lords. The Act conferred powers to raise money, obtain land compulsorily, stop up or divert public roads, and protected the shareholders with limited liability. In exchange, there were stringent conditions laid down in the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act of 1845, and various other Acts imposing safety measures. There would be special provisions to protect the legitimate interests of objectors, which may have been agreed at the Committee stage, all of which were very expensive to comply with. This effectively precluded large areas of rural Britain from having rail communication, because the likely traffic could not justify the cost of obtaining an Act, and building a line to the required standard.
This situation was partly rectified by the Light Railways Act of 1896, which replaced the Parliamentary procedures with local hearings before Light Railway Commissioners, who reported their findings to the President of the Board of Trade. If satisfied with the report, he might then issue a Light Railway Order sanctioning the scheme. In some instances there might be a government grant to cover part of the cost of building the line, and local government bodies were permitted to contribute, usually to the extent of no more than the yield from a 1d local rate. As the name suggests, light railways were built to a “lighter” standard than normal, so far as rails and track components were concerned, (they might even be narrow gauge), and did not necessarily have to provide platforms at all stations, or gates at all level crossings, or sophisticated signaling systems. In return for these concessions, restrictions were applied to the weights of locomotives and rolling stock, and a maximum speed limit imposed – often
The C&M had its origins in a 2ft 3” gauge steam worked colliery line from Kikivan Pit to Campbeltown 4.5 miles, which itself replaced an earlier canal. An increase in the number of passenger steamers bringing summer tourists to the area, prompted local business interests to propose rebuilding the colliery line to passenger carrying standards, and extending it across the Kintyre peninsula to Macrihanish. The LRO was granted in May 1905, construction began in November and the line opened the following August. Coal trains continued to run, with improved rolling stock, and a clause in the LRO permitted the railway company to charge tolls for other companies’ locomotives and wagons to use its track. Both coal and tourist traffic fell away, in the face of road competition, and the railway closed in 1932.
The C&M was the only narrow gauge passenger railway built in Scotland under the provisions of the 1896 Act. There were many proposals, but few got past the hurdle of the Light Railway Commissioner’s Inquiry, and none could raise the necessary funds.