After the Glasgow Dumfries and Carlisle Railway had joined with the Glasgow Paisley Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway to form the Glasgow and Southwestern Railway in 1850, a scheme originated by residents of the eastern part of Galloway was laid before the directors of the merged line to open a railway between Castle Douglas and Dumfries. The Galloway extension to the main line at Dumfries was proposed in October, 1855, and an Act was passed to make it possible on the 14th July, 1856.
In the meantime, on the 30th April, 1856, a meeting in Wigtown, chaired by Viscount Dalrymple, was held to discuss the possibility of the west of Galloway being linked by rail to the east. Because the Government of the day had been deciding just at that point to promote the Portpatrick — Donaghadee route as the main mail route to Ireland, it was an optimum opportunity for the rail line to succeed. Eventually an acceptable route was mapped out. The line, travelling via Stranraer, was to terminate in Portpatrick. Kirkcowan village was designated as a station site.
In 1857 a Bill proposed the establishment of the British and Irish Grand Junction Railway. An appropriate Act, passed on 10 August, 1857, named the new company the Portpatrick Railway instead of its longer proposed title.
Contracts for the building of the railway were put out to tender.
The Newton Stewart contract, covering Palnure to Kirkcowan, was awarded to McDonald and Grieve for almost The Stranraer contract , covering Kirkcowan to Stranraer, was awarded a year later for over £47,700 to James Falshaw.
On Monday, 11 March, 1861, the first journey on the Castle Douglas to Stranraer section of the Portpatrick Railway was made.
It was a special excursion train of fifteen coaches carrying directors and share—holders of the company. The train left Stranraer at 9 a.m. to the accompaniment of cheering, fireworks, and an unexpected 21 — gun salute from the shoreline battery of the Royal Artillery. In Glenluce there was a brass band to greet the train. The population of Kirkcowan turned out to crowd along the overbridge and along the railway line , in spite of blizzard—like conditions, to cheer the passing train. There were, according to David L. Smith in his account , “Little Railways of Southwest Scotland, celebrations all over Galloway, including a “Grand Ball” at Creetown and a “sumptuous supper” at Kirkcowan.
The service initially provided “two passenger trains each way, every week—day, with probably one goods train in each direction. Later that year this was expanded to three trains per day, and before the end of the year extra services were being provided on special occasions such as market days. accommodation on passenger trains was described as being “first, second, and parliamentary class.
In 1864, the P.P.R. was taken over by the Caledonian Railway, and in 1885 it was again taken over and run jointly by the London and North Western, the Midland Railway, Caledonian Railway, and the Glasgow and South Western Railways.
Mr. William McConchie, a native of Kirkcowan, was appointed secretary and traffic manager for both railways and steamships in 1914. He had worked for the company for 37 years, beginning as a telegraphist in 1877. The line was again subjected to a takeover, this time by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, in January, 1923. This company continued to run the line until nationalisation of all the railways took place in 1948.
After this came a period of steady decline, with Kirkcowan losing its passenger service in 1963 and, two years after the passing of the last “Paddy” (the London – Stranraer Boat Train) in June 1965, the rails were taken up and the stations were demolished. When this had been done, in 1967, there was little or no sign left of what had, for over one hundred years, been a busy and thriving railway.