Far North Line

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Far North Line
Altnabreac Station Approaching Train to Wick (16351516469).jpg
An Abellio ScotRail Class 158 (158720 "Inverness & Nairn Railway - 150 years") heads into Altnabreac railway station on the north of the line
Overview
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Highland
Scotland
Termini Wick/Thurso
Inverness
Stations 25
Operation
Opened 1862-1874
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Abellio ScotRail
Character Rural
Rolling stock Class 158 "Express Sprinter"
Technical
Line length Inverness to Wick: 161 miles 11 chains (259.3 km)
Georgemas Junction to Thurso: 6 miles 50 chains (10.7 km)
Total: 167 miles 61 chains (270.0 km)
Number of tracks Single track with passing loops
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Electrification None
Route map
Wick BSicon BUS.svg
Georgemas Junction
Thurso BSicon BUS.svg
Bus link to Scrabster
for ferry to Orkney
NorthLink Ferries
Scotscalder
Altnabreac
Forsinard
Kinbrace
Kildonan
Helmsdale BSicon BUS.svg
Brora
Dunrobin Castle
(Summer only)
Golspie
Rogart
Lairg BSicon BUS.svg
Invershin
Culrain
Ardgay
Tain BSicon BUS.svg
Fearn
Invergordon
Alness
Left arrow Kyle of Lochalsh Line
Dingwall BSicon BUS.svg
Conon Bridge
Muir of Ord
Beauly
River Ness
Rose Street Junction
Welsh's Bridge Junction
Inverness BSicon BUS.svg
Bus link to
Inverness Airport
Airport interchange
Down arrow
Aberdeen–Inverness line
and Highland Main 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 the LMS (1923 to 1948)[edit]

The London, Midland and Scottish Railway introduced two titled trains in 1936, the Orcadian and John O'Groat.[1]

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.[2]

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 replaced by more powerful Class 37 locomotives, still with Mark 1 rolling stock. These were replaced by Class 156s in the 1990s by British Rail, then by Class 158 units (branded as Express Sprinters). Three trains each way per day (Mon-Sat) was the standard service pattern at this time.

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 ScotRail (National Express) until 17 October 2004 when First ScotRail 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 - 2015)[edit]

Bicycles are loaded into a First ScotRail service at Beauly

Along the full length of the line there were four services each way Monday to Saturday, including a service 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 operated 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.

Provided by Abellio ScotRail (from 2015)[edit]

Abellio ScotRail began operating the line from April 2015. The summer 2015 timetable shows twelve services on an average weekday from Inverness to Dingwall, of which four continue to Thurso and Wick, four run to Kyle of Lochalsh, and the other four terminate at Dingwall, Invergordon, Tain, or Ardgay. An additional service runs to Tain during late Friday and Saturday nights. A reduced service is run on Sundays, but all stations are still served at least once.

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 Closed 1960, reopened 2002[3]
Muir of Ord NH528501 Closed 1960, reopened 1976
Conon Bridge NH540550 Reopened in 2013 after being closed for nearly 53 years.[4]
Dingwall NH553586 The Kyle of Lochalsh Line diverges at Dingwall.
Alness NH659694 Closed 1960, reopened 1973
Invergordon NH704686
Fearn NH815782 This small village (full name Hill of Fearn, NH832778) is about 2 km (over 1 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 A primary source of traffic was nearby Carbisdale Castle Youth Hostel until 2011.
Invershin NH579953 Invershin and Culrain stations are extremely close to each other (they have been described as the two closest railway stations in the UK). Separated only by the Shin Viaduct, which carries the railway over the Kyle of Sutherland, the stations used to both lie in separate counties and this thus gave an added importance to the railway as the viaduct was the only link between the two banks of the Kyle in the area.
Lairg NC582038 Lairg station is about 2.5 km (about 1.5 miles) south of this small town (NC582064).
Rogart NC725019 Closed 1960, reopened 1961
Golspie NH825997
Dunrobin Castle NC849013 Open only during summer months (currently between March and October) to correspond with the castle's annual opening times.
Brora NC906041
Helmsdale ND023155
Kildonan NC901217 The least-used station on the line at present according to ORR annual usage statistics.
Kinbrace NC862316
Forsinard NC891425 At the station, there is an RSPB visitor centre serving the Forsinard Flows reserve, part of the Flow Country which is the largest expanse of blanket bog in Europe.
Altnabreac ND003457 One of Britain's most isolated railway stations.
Scotscalder ND096560
Georgemas Junction ND155593 In the past, passenger trains 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. Thurso is the most northerly railway station in the United Kingdom.
Wick ND360509 The terminus of the line, where the trains wait before returning south.

History[edit]

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

Pre-Nationalisation[edit]

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 became strategically important during World War I and World War II as part of a supply route for Scapa Flow, Orkney.

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 realised his dream of running 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 most scarcely 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.[note 1] This line was never profitable, and it closed in 1944.

Historic branch lines also served Dornoch and the Black Isle.

Post Nationalisation[edit]

On the 7 February 1989, Ness Viaduct, just west of Inverness station, collapsed in unprecedented flooding. The remaining 270 mile (434 km) of network to Kyle of Lochalsh and The Far North line had to be operated from a temporary maintenance site at Muir of Ord. A new viaduct was opened in time for the 1990 summer season on 14 May 1990.[5]

Future expansion[edit]

For many years there have been proposals to bypass the Lairg loop[note 2] with a line across the Dornoch Firth, linking Tain (via Dornoch[note 3]) more directly with Golspie. British Rail attempted to get funding for this when the road bridge was built, but the government declined.[6]

Now this project would involve building a new bridge over the Firth, or making dual-purpose the bridge[note 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.[7] Nothing has yet come of these ideas.

See also[edit]

History of the Far North of Scotland Railway Line

Notes[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.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Trains With Names". The Scotsman. Scotland. 4 April 1936. Retrieved 22 November 2017 – via British Newspaper Archive. (Subscription required (help)). 
  2. ^ "Rail Cuts Reprieve". Aberdeen Press and Journal. Scotland. 18 December 1963. Retrieved 22 November 2017 – via British Newspaper Archive. (Subscription required (help)). 
  3. ^ "Full steam ahead for Beauly Station". Highland Council. 15 April 2002. Archived from the original on 26 June 2002. Retrieved 23 September 2012. 
  4. ^ "Conon Bridge station open after 50 years". Rail Technology Magazine. Cognitive Publishing Ltd. 12 February 2013. Archived from the original on 15 February 2013. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  5. ^ "The Friends of the Far North Line - Newsletter - January 2015". www.fofnl.org.uk. Retrieved 2015-10-25. 
  6. ^ Haywood, Russell (2016). Railways, Urban Development and Town Planning in Britain: 1948-2008. Routledge. ISBN 1317071646. 
  7. ^ "A Better Railway for the North". Caithness.org. 
  • 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 978-1-85260-508-7. 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 978-1-85260-086-0. OCLC 22311137. 

External links[edit]