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Altnabreac railway station

Coordinates: 58°23′18″N 3°42′21″W / 58.3882°N 3.7059°W / 58.3882; -3.7059
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Scottish Gaelic: Allt nam Breac[1]
National Rail
Altnabreac railway station
General information
LocationAltnabreac, Highland
Coordinates58°23′18″N 3°42′21″W / 58.3882°N 3.7059°W / 58.3882; -3.7059
Grid referenceND003456
Managed byScotRail
Other information
Station codeABC[2]
Original companySutherland and Caithness Railway
Pre-groupingHighland Railway
Key dates
28 July 1874Opened[3]
12 November 2023station temporarily closed
2018/19Decrease 408
2019/20Decrease 232
2020/21Decrease 46
2021/22Increase 230
2022/23Increase 280
Passenger statistics from the Office of Rail and Road

Altnabreac railway station (/ˌæltnəˈbrɛk/) is a rural railway station in the Highland council area of Scotland. It serves the area of Altnabreac – a settlement in which the station itself is the main component – in the historic county of Caithness. The name Altnabreac derives from the Scots Gaelic Allt nam Breac, meaning "the stream of the trout".[4]

The station is on the Far North Line, 133 miles 76 chains (215.6 km) down the line from Inverness, situated between Forsinard and Scotscalder.[5] It has a single platform long enough to accommodate a four-carriage train. The station is managed by ScotRail, who operate all trains serving it. As of 12 November 2023, no services are calling at the station due to a dispute regarding the access surrounding the station.


The station looking southwest. Note the old water tank in the foreground, and the overgrown disused platform to its left.

The station was opened by the Sutherland and Caithness Railway on 28 July 1874[3] and later absorbed by the Highland Railway.[6]

The reason for the station's construction is a mystery. At the time of construction it was 8 miles (13 km) from the nearest settlement and 10 miles (16 km) from the nearest road.[7] The only source of traffic at the station, Lochdhu Lodge, approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the south, was not built until 1895 and the Altnabreac School was not built until 1930. However, it had a passing loop with a water tank so may have been established for purely operational reasons. The water tank has not seen regular use since 1962[8] and the line was singled in 1986;[9] both the water tank and the old second platform can still be seen.

In 2021, Highland Council approved the construction for a timber loading terminal near the station.[10]

From Sunday 12 November 2023, ScotRail trains will temporarily not call at Altnabreac due to a dispute surrounding access to the station.[11]

Accidents and incidents[edit]

On 21 September 1898, a Highland Railway mail train was almost involved in a collision with a platelayer's trolley that had been left on the track. One of the platelayer's, John Morrison noticed the train coming down the track at high speeds, so he scrambled to get the trolley of the track. He succeeded in getting the trolley off the track before the train collided with it but was killed in the process.[12]

In January 1978, a train from Inverness to Wick became trapped in a blizzard, with approximately 70 passengers on board. A rescue locomotive was sent to recover the train but also had to turn back. All 70 passengers - apart from some who walked the 5 miles to Scotscalder - were eventually rescued by helicopters approximately 24 hours after leaving Inverness.[13][14]


The station is on a private dirt road between Loch More, Caithness and Forsinain, marked as a cycle trail on Ordnance Survey maps. Being about 6.8 miles (11 km) from the nearest paved road and 11 miles (18 km) from the nearest village, Altnabreac is often listed as one of Britain's most geographically isolated railway stations, alongside Corrour elsewhere in Scotland, Dovey Junction in west Wales and Berney Arms in Norfolk.[15] Dixe Wills says of the area:

"What is all the more remarkable is that the following events took place in the vicinity of the most remote station on my itinerary, a place girded round by peat-black lochs and dismal bogs and overshadowed by dark, anonymous plantations of doomed conifers, where nothing of any note has happened these past 70 years save for intense despondent brooding."[16]

The nearest village is Westerdale, which itself is in fact closer to Scotscalder station. Nevertheless, despite its isolation, the station is used by walkers and off-road cyclists, as well as railway enthusiasts and those who enjoy visiting remote locations.


The station had a small shed that was previously used as a waiting shelter but this is currently boarded up and unuseable.[17] As there are no facilities to purchase tickets, passengers must buy one in advance, or from the guard on the train.

On 20 December 2022, Transport Scotland introduced a new "Press & Ride" at some request stops along the line,[18] following successful trials of the system at Scotscalder over the previous four months.[19][20] Previously, passengers wishing to board a train at Scotscalder had to flag the train by raising their arm (as is still done at other request stops around the country); this meant that the driver needed to reduce the train's speed before a request stop (to look out for any potential passengers on the platform and be able to stop if necessary), even if the platform was empty. The new system consists of an automatic kiosk (with a button for passengers to press) at the platform; this will alert the driver about any waiting passengers in advance and, if there is no requirement to stop, the train can maintain line speed through the request stops, thus improving reliability on the whole line.[21] It is planned for Altnabreac to receive the system sometime in 2023, along with Dunrobin Castle.[22]

Passenger volume[edit]

The main origin or destination station for journeys to or from Altnabreac in the 2022–23 period was Thurso, making up 104 of the 280 journeys (37.1%).[23]

Passenger Volume at Altnabreac[23]
2002–03 2004–05 2005–06 2006–07 2007–08 2008–09 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 2016–17 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20 2020–21 2021–22 2022–23
Entries and exits 93 164 171 222 177 212 156 172 238 296 138 240 312 356 658 408 232 46 230 280

The statistics cover twelve month periods that start in April.


A Class 158 approaching Altnabreac Railway Station.

On weekdays and Saturdays, the service pattern from the station consists of four trains per day northbound to Wick via Thurso and three trains per day southbound to Inverness via Helmsdale, Golspie, Lairg, Tain and Dingwall. (There is a fourth train bound for Inverness but it is not scheduled to call at Altnabreac.) On Sundays there is just one train per day each way.[24]

This station is designated as a request stop but the hardware is not installed due to a dispute with the neighbouring property. This means that passengers intending to alight must inform the guard in advance, and any passengers wishing to board must ensure they are in view of the train driver, and are required to use a hand signal to stop the train.

Service to the station is currently suspended for the foreseeable future as access to the station is currently impossible due to ownership disputes over the platform itself and the access track. ScotRail did not elaborate on the cause of the access problem.[25]

Preceding station National Rail National Rail Following station
Forsinard   ScotRail
Far North Line
  Historical railways  
Line and station open
  Highland Railway
Sutherland and Caithness Railway
Line and station open


  1. ^ Brailsford 2017, Gaelic/English Station Index.
  2. ^ Deaves, Phil. "Railway Codes". railwaycodes.org.uk. Retrieved 27 September 2022.
  3. ^ a b Butt (1995), page 15
  4. ^ "OS1/33/1/135 | ScotlandsPlaces". scotlandsplaces.gov.uk. Retrieved 27 April 2023.
  5. ^ Bridge, Mike, ed. (2017). TRACKatlas of Mainland Britain: A Comprehensive Geographic Atlas Showing the Rail Network of Great Britain (3rd ed.). Sheffield: Platform 5 Publishing Ltd. p. 103. ISBN 978 1909431 26 3.
  6. ^ "The Sunderland and Caithness Railway". The Scotsman. British Newspaper Archive. 27 July 1874. Retrieved 14 August 2016 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  7. ^ "They're just loco - Britain's most bizarre train stations". The Express. 31 March 2014.
  8. ^ Wills 2014, p. 301.
  9. ^ Caton 2018, p. 266.
  10. ^ "Highland Council approves plan to take 9000 tonnes of timber off Caithness roads and on to rail network". JohnOGroat Journal. 27 December 2021. Retrieved 27 April 2023.
  11. ^ David G Scott (11 November 2023). "ScotRail withdraws stops at Altnabreac following station access challenges". The Northern Times.
  12. ^ Esbester, Mike (14 March 2024). "Left on the track". Railway Work, Life & Death. Retrieved 26 April 2024.
  13. ^ "The Blizzards Of 1978 | Scottish Saltire Branch | Aircrew Association". aircrew-saltire.org. Retrieved 16 September 2022.
  14. ^ Caton 2018, p. 261.
  15. ^ Caton 2018, p. 268.
  16. ^ Wills 2014, p. 305.
  17. ^ "National Rail Enquiries -". www.nationalrail.co.uk. Retrieved 3 April 2022.
  18. ^ "More request stop kiosks on Far North Line". Today's Railways UK. No. 252. Platform 5. February 2023. p. 14. EAN 9771475971140.
  19. ^ "Far North request-stop kiosk on trial". Today's Railways UK. No. 248. Platform 5. October 2022. p. 16. EAN 9771475971140.
  20. ^ "First of Scotland's request-stop kiosks goes live". The Railway Magazine. Mortons of Horncastle. September 2022. p. 8. EAN 9770033892354.
  21. ^ "Far North Line Review Group | Transport Scotland". www.transport.gov.scot. Retrieved 27 April 2023.
  22. ^ "Far North line sees more request-stop kiosks put in place". RailAdvent. Retrieved 27 April 2023.
  23. ^ a b "Estimates of station usage | ORR Data Portal". dataportal.orr.gov.uk. Retrieved 24 December 2023.
  24. ^ eNRT December 2021 Edition, Table 219
  25. ^ "Remote railway station shut after access problem". BBC News. 13 November 2023. Retrieved 13 November 2023.


External links[edit]