West Highland Line
|West Highland Line|
A train to Mallaig crossing Rannoch Moor
Argyll and Bute
|Termini||Glasgow Queen Street
|Rolling stock||Class 156 "Super Sprinter"
Caledonian Sleeper stock
|No. of tracks||One|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)|
|Operating speed||70 mph (100 km/h) maximum |
The West Highland Line (Scottish Gaelic: Rathad Iarainn nan Eilean - "Iron Road to the Isles") is a railway line linking the ports of Mallaig and Oban in the Scottish Highlands to Glasgow in Central Scotland. The line was voted the top rail journey in the world by readers of independent travel magazine Wanderlust in 2009, ahead of the iconic Trans-Siberian line in Russia and the Cuzco to Machu Picchu line in Peru. The ScotRail website has since reported that the line has been voted the most scenic railway line in the world for the second year running.
Passenger services on the line are operated by First ScotRail: three daily return services between Glasgow Queen Street and Mallaig/Oban, and one nightly (except Saturdays) Caledonian Sleeper service between London Euston and Fort William.
During the summer season from May till October a steam locomotive-hauled daily return service between Fort William and Mallaig known as "The Jacobite" is operated by West Coast Railways. This service normally runs 1 train a day but is extended to 2 from June till the end of August.
Onward ferry connections operated by Caledonian MacBrayne are available from Mallaig to the Isle of Skye, to the small isles of Rùm, Eigg, Muck, and Canna, and to Inverie on the Knoydart peninsula. From Oban ferries sail to the islands of Lismore, Colonsay, Coll, Tiree, Mull, Barra and South Uist.
The West Highland Line is one of two railway lines which access the remote and mountainous west coast of Scotland, the other being the Kyle of Lochalsh Line which connects Inverness with Kyle of Lochalsh. The line is the westernmost railway line in Great Britain.
The route was built in several sections:-
- Glasgow Queen Street to Cowlairs Junction - Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway
- Cowlairs Junction to Bowling - Glasgow, Dumbarton and Helensburgh Railway (later absorbed into the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway)
- Bowling to Dumbarton Central - Lanarkshire and Dunbartonshire Railway, operated by the Caledonian Railway
- Dumbarton Central to Dalreoch - Caledonian and Dunbartonshire Junction Railway
- Dalreoch to Craigendoran - Glasgow, Dumbarton and Helensburgh Railway
- Craigendoran to Fort William - West Highland Railway sponsored by the North British Railway
- Crianlarich to Oban - Callander and Oban Railway, operated by the Caledonian Railway.
Since the great improvements to Scottish trunk roads in the 1980s, the train journey can take significantly longer than the equivalent road journey. This is because of the tremendous amount of make up time in the schedule along with the poor scheduling of stopping trains in front of this express train on the North Clyde line, while 15 minutes are given to divide the train in Crianlarich. The line takes a circuitous route that brings it into Fort William from the north-east. The line is single track throughout and trains must wait at stations with crossing loops for opposite direction trains to pass. Over much of the Rannoch Moor section the speed limit is 60 mph for the Sprinter and 70 mph on the approach to Rannoch station. The Caledonian Sleeper on the other hand only does 40 mph maximum, slowing down for a number of bridges on the route due to the heavy weight of the Class 67 locomotive which hauls the train.
Shortly after leaving Queen Street station in Glasgow, and beyond Queen Street Tunnel, the line follows a northwesterly course through the suburbs of Maryhill and Kelvindale. Between Westerton and Dumbarton, the route is shared with the North Clyde Line before branching northward at Craigendoran Junction towards Garelochhead, the section where the West Highland Line is generally accepted to "begin proper". It gives high-level views of the Gareloch and Loch Long before emerging alongside the northwesterly shores of Loch Lomond, then climbs Glen Falloch. Significant points on the journey include Crianlarich, an important Highland junction of both road and rail, and Tyndrum, the smallest place in Scotland to boast two railway stations.
After Bridge of Orchy, the line climbs onto Rannoch Moor, past the former crossing point at Gorton Crossing to Rannoch station. In winter, the moor is often covered with snow, and the deer may be seen running from the approaching train. The station at Corrour on the moor is one of the most remote stations in Britain and is not accessible by any public roads. This is the summit of the line at 410 m (1347 ft) above sea level. Carrying on northwards, the line descends above the shores of Loch Treig and through the narrow Monessie Gorge. The final stop before Fort William is Spean Bridge. The section between Fort William and Mallaig passes over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, through Arisaig with its views of the Small Isles of Rùm, Eigg, Muck and Canna, and the white sands of Morar before coming to Mallaig itself.
The diverging route at Crianlarich runs through Glen Lochy to Dalmally and through the Pass of Brander to reach salt water at Taynuilt and Connel Ferry before a final climb over a hill to Oban. With the exception of the route between Glasgow Queen Street and Helensburgh Upper, and the short section between Fort William Junction and Fort William station, the railway is signalled using the Radio Electronic Token Block, controlled from the signal box at Banavie station.
- The Horse Shoe Curve, between Upper Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy
- The Cruach Rock snowshed, between Rannoch and Corrour
- Glenfinnan viaduct, between Locheilside and Glenfinnan
- The Pass of Brander stone signals, between Dalmally and Taynuilt
- Arisaig is the furthest west railway station in Great Britain.
The two branches of the line are described in detail by John Thomas in his two books (see Sources).
The route in detail
|West Highland Line|
West Highland Line in film
There is a museum dedicated to the history of the West Highland Line situated at Glenfinnan Station.
- Business Plan 2007 Network Rail. Retrieved 2011-07-09.
- "Highland train line best in world". BBC News. 2009-02-06. Retrieved 2009-02-06.
- "Wanderlust Travel Awards announced". Wanderlust. 2009-02-05. Retrieved 2009-02-06.
- Brian Donnelly and Marianne Taylor (2009-02-06). "Highland line voted world’s most scenic train journey". The Herald. Retrieved 2009-02-06.
- "Scottish Screen Archive - Full record for 'LINE FOR ALL SEASONS, a'". Retrieved 2009-02-06.
- Thomas, John (1965). The West Highland Railway. Newton Abbot: David and Charles (Publishers) Ltd. ISBN 0-7153-7281-5.
- Thomas, John (1966). The Callander and Oban Railway (1st ed.). Newton Abbot: Devon: David & Charles. OCLC 2316816.
- Thomas, John; Farrington, J. H. (1990). The Callander and Oban Railway (2nd ed.). Newton Abbot: Devon: David St John Thomas. OCLC 60059451.
- Thomas, John (2000). The Callander and Oban Railway (3rd ed.). Newton Abbot: Devon: David St John Thomas. ISBN 0-9465-3761-5. OCLC 228266316.
- Video of entire journey from Glasgow Queen Street over Fort William to Mallaig: filmed from the cab of the train.
Media related to West Highland Line at Wikimedia Commons
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for West Highland Line.|