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Bennie Railplane

The Amazing Bennie Railplane

On a railway siding north of Glasgow, a visionary's dream of rail travel
shined as brightly as phosphorous for one brief moment...then retreated
into the dark recesses of history.

BY JIM GILCHRIST

On the 8th of July, 1930, a strikingly futuristic looking machine moved off with its passengers along an overhead steel track constructed above a railway siding at Burnbrae, Milngavie, just north of Glasgow. For a brief, glorious period, it seemed as if the machine's creator, George Bennie, might join the much-vaunted pantheon of Scottish inventors, alongside the likes of Watt, Dunlop, Fleming, Baird and Bell.

However, despite the enthusiastic reports that greeted its launch and predictions of it hurtling between Glasgow and London within three-and-a-half hours, Glasgow to Edinburgh in 20 minutes, the Bennie Railplane, its 52-foot-long streamlined car driven by a propeller at each end, would never travel any further than that 426-foot test track. By the time this writer was growing up in Milngavie in the 1950s, the railplane was still hanging on its gantry, its inventor's dreams rusting quietly away.

Looking at the Bennie Railplane with 21st-century eyes, it seems sheer steampunk. Certainly, to anyone reared, as I was, on a heady diet of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, rusty or not, it seemed a miracle of rare device that might have whirred straight out of Fritz Lang's classic silent sci-fi movie, Metropolis.

I wasn't alone in being excited by this outlandish vehicle.

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2020 issue of Scottish Life.

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