Far North Line

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Far North Line
Railway near Muir of Ord Golf Course - geograph.org.uk - 349212.jpg
Train near Muir of Ord.
Overview
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Inverness
Highland
Scotland
Termini Wick/Thurso
Inverness
Stations 25
Operation
Opening 1862-1874
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) First ScotRail
Character Rural
Rolling stock Class 158 "Express Sprinter"
Technical
No. of tracks Single track with Passing loops
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Far North Line
Wick
Georgemas Junction
Thurso(
Bus link to Scrabster for
NorthLink ferry to Orkney
)
Scotscalder
Altnabreac
Forsinard
Kinbrace
Kildonan
Helmsdale
Brora
Dunrobin Castle(Summer only)
Golspie
Rogart
Lairg
Invershin
Culrain
Ardgay
Tain
Fearn
Invergordon
Alness
Kyle of Lochalsh Line
Dingwall
Conon Bridge
Muir of Ord
Beauly
River Ness
Rose Street Junction
Welsh's Bridge Junction
Inverness(
Bus link to
Inverness Airport
)
Millburn Junction
Highland Main Line
Aberdeen to Inverness Line

The Far North Line is a rural railway line entirely within the Highland area of Scotland, extending from Inverness to Thurso and Wick. It is the northernmost railway in the United Kingdom. The line has many sections of single-track, mostly north of Dingwall. In common with other railway lines in the Highlands and northern Lowlands, it is not electrified and all trains are diesel-powered.

Route[edit]

Inverness station: the southern terminus of the Far North Line

Like the A9 road north of Inverness, the Far North Line generally follows the line of the east-facing Moray Firth coast. Much of the population of the far north of Scotland is concentrated in coastal areas and, in places, the railway is almost on the shore, the track running along the raised beaches left behind as land rebounded following the end of the last Ice Age.

The railway links many of the same places as the road. Many more places were served by both the railway and the road before three new road bridges were built: across the Moray Firth (between Inverness and the Black Isle), the Cromarty Firth and the Dornoch Firth. The railway is now, in many places, a long way inland from the route of the A9.

The railway loops inland from Tain to Lairg, which has never been on the A9, a diversion intended at the time of construction to open the centre of Sutherland to trade. The route then returns to the coast at Golspie. Beyond Golspie, the railway continues along the coast as far as Helmsdale, then inland up the Strath of Kildonan and then across the Flow Country to Halkirk and back to the east coast at Wick. At Georgemas Junction near Halkirk, there is a branch to Thurso.

Service provision[edit]

Provided by BR Scottish Region (1948 to 1997)[edit]

A Class 37 at Muir of Ord in 1988

In 1963, the line was listed for closure on the Beeching Report; however, the Far North Line remained open due to pressure from protesters. If the Beeching Report had been totally acted upon, there would have been no rail service north of Inverness.

Following the elimination of steam traction by the early 1960s, trains on the line were normally hauled by Class 26 diesel locomotives. In the 1980s these were substituted by more-powerful Class 37 locomotive, still with Mark 1 rolling stock. These were replaced by Class 156 units in the 1990s, then by Class 158 units (branded as Express Sprinters).

Provided by ScotRail (1997 to 2004)[edit]

A Class 158 leaving Thurso, with a service to Inverness. Thurso, one of the two northern termini of the line, is the northernmost railway station in Great Britain.

The service provided by ScotRail replicated that provided in the latter years of BR Scottish Region. ScotRail was owned by National Express until 17 October 2004 when First Group took over the franchise.

Since 2004 this service has been operated exclusively using Class 158 DMUs as two coach trains. Prior to this some Class 156 units were used and trains were split at Georgemas Junction - one half going to Thurso and the other to Wick.

Provided by First ScotRail (from 2005)[edit]

Bicycles are loaded into a First ScotRail service at Beauly

Along the full length of the line there are three services each way Monday to Saturday, with a fourth service south in the morning allowing a connection from the Orkney ferry, and one service each way on Sundays. In the Winter 2008/9 timetable the number of trains to and from Wick was increased to four each way on Mondays to Saturdays.

First ScotRail also operates a number of shorter distance services on the line from Inverness terminating at Dingwall and Ardgay, as an alternative commuter route to Inverness in addition to the A9 road.

Towns and villages[edit]

Towns and villages (and other places) linked by passenger services (Ordnance Survey grid references are for stations, unless otherwise indicated):

Places Grid references Other Notes
Inverness NH667454 Connection with the Aberdeen to Inverness Line; the Highland Main Line to Edinburgh, Glasgow Queen Street and London King's Cross; and the Caledonian Sleeper to London Euston. Bus connection to Inverness Airport (route 11 operated by Stagecoach in Inverness).
Beauly NH520457
Muir of Ord NH528501
Conon Bridge NH540550
Dingwall NH553586 The Kyle of Lochalsh Line diverges at Dingwall.
Alness NH659694
Invergordon NH704686
Fearn NH815782 This small village (full name Hill of Fearn, NH832778) is about two kilometres (one mile) east of the station. This station also benefits the Seaboard Villages.
Tain NH781823
Ardgay NH600904 When first built, and for many years afterwards, Ardgay station was named for the nearby village of Bonar Bridge.
Culrain NH577947 Primarily for nearby Carbisdale Castle Youth Hostel
Invershin NH579953
Lairg NC582038 Lairg station is over two kilometres (one mile) south of this small town (NC582064).
Rogart NC725019
Golspie NH825997
Dunrobin Castle NC849013
Brora NC906041
Helmsdale ND023155
Kildonan NC901217
Kinbrace NC862316
Forsinard NC891425
Altnabreac ND003457 One of Britain's most isolated railway stations.
Scotscalder ND096560
Georgemas Junction railway station ND155593 In the past, passenger services divided at Georgemas Junction, part of the train going to Thurso, the other to Wick. In the 1990s this practice was changed. Trains now run to Georgemas, reverse to reach Thurso, and then return through Georgemas a second time before continuing to Wick.
Thurso ND113679 Connection with NorthLink ferry to Orkney.
Wick ND360509

History[edit]

The steam engine from the Dornoch Branch shunting the goods yard at Dingwall

The line was built in several stages:-

Much of the work was done by the Inverness-based Highland Railway company or, when completed, taken over by that company. In 1923 the Highland Railway was grouped into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, under the Railways Act of 1921.

Like railway lines generally in Britain the line was not a product of any strategic plan, but was an ad hoc development, facilitated by Private Acts of Parliament (which were themselves a significant expense for developers) and dependent on cooperation between companies and individuals, each with their own private vested interests. The line did become strategically important during World War I and World War II as part of a supply route for Scapa Flow, Orkney: Jellicoe's Express linked Thurso directly with London (Euston) and Portsmouth.

That the line extends beyond Ardgay in the county of Ross and Cromarty is due, to a large extent, to the railway enthusiasm (some might say madness) of the 3rd Duke of Sutherland. The duke did realise his dream of being able to run his own private train to and from his own station at Dunrobin Castle.

The duke's enthusiasm took the line as far as Gartymore, a little south of Helmsdale, in the county of Sutherland, but this development was more of a financial liability than an asset: the long-term viability of the line then depended on a Caithness willingness, not least from the 17th Earl of Caithness, to link the line to the population centres of Wick and Thurso.

North of Helsmdale the line was built by the Sutherland and Caithness Railway. Turning inland it reaches Forsinard in the Flow Country. The building of the line through the Flow Country - one of the least densely populated parts of Scotland - was to avoid the Berriedale Braes. North of Helmsdale as far as Lybster, it would have been impractical to have built a railway without massive civil engineering projects. Thus coastal villages such as Latheron and Lybster are not served by the line.

In 1902, under the provisions of the Light Railways Act of 1896, the standard gauge Wick and Lybster Railway was built along the east coast of Caithness, running south from Wick to Lybster.[1] This line was never profitable, and it closed in 1944.

Historic branch lines also served Dornoch and the Black Isle.

Future expansion[edit]

For many years there have been proposals to bypass the Lairg loop[2] with a line across the Dornoch Firth, linking Tain (via Dornoch[3]) more directly with Golspie. This would involve building a new bridge over the Firth, or making dual-purpose the bridge[4] which now carries just the A9. Discussions have been held concerning the shortening of the Far North Line involving a bridge over the Dornoch Firth and the possible use of the trackbed of the former light railway.[5] Nothing has yet come of these ideas.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Grid reference for Lybster: ND248363.
  2. ^ The Lairg loop serves Ardgay, Culrain, Invershin and Rogart as well as Lairg.
  3. ^ Ordnance Survey grid reference for Dornoch: NH798895.
  4. ^ Grid reference for Dornoch Firth road bridge: NH748858.
  5. ^ http://www.caithness.org/railway/corusreport/introduction.htm
  • Butt, R. V. J. (1995). The Directory of Railway Stations: details every public and private passenger station, halt, platform and stopping place, past and present (1st ed.). Sparkford: Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-8526-0508-1. OCLC 60251199. 
  • Jowett, Alan (March 1989). Jowett's Railway Atlas of Great Britain and Ireland: From Pre-Grouping to the Present Day (1st ed.). Sparkford: Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-8526-0086-1. OCLC 22311137. 

External links[edit]