Highland Main Line

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Highland Main Line
Rail map Scotland Highland line.png
Railway map of Scotland showing the Highland line
OwnerNetwork Rail
LocalePerth and Kinross
TypeHeavy rail
SystemNational Rail
Operator(s)Abellio ScotRail
London North Eastern Railway
Caledonian Sleeper
Rolling stockClass 43 "HST"
Class 158 "Express Sprinter"
Class 170 "Turbostar"
Class 73
Mark 5 Sleeping Cars
Class 800 "Azuma"
Line lengthPerth to Inverness: 118 miles 9 chains (190.1 km)
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in)
Highland Main Line
Rose Street Junction
Welsh's Bridge Junction
Millburn Junction
Aviemore Strathspey Railway (preserved)
Blair Atholl
River Tilt
Dunkeld & Birnam
Moncrieffe Tunnel
Bridge of Allan

The Highland Main Line is a railway line in Scotland. It is 118 mi (190 km) long and runs through the Scottish Highlands linking a series of small towns and villages with Perth at one end and Inverness at the other. Today, services between Inverness and Edinburgh, Glasgow and London use the line. At Inverness the line connects with the Far North Line, the Aberdeen-Inverness Line and services on the Kyle of Lochalsh Line. All trains are diesel-powered.

Much of the Highland Main Line is single track, and trains coming in opposite directions are often timed to arrive at stations at the same time, where crossing loops permit them to pass. Journey times between Inverness and Edinburgh or Glasgow are approximately three and a half hours.[1]


Highland Main Line and A9 next to each other in Perthshire, September 2000
The line crosses the Dalguise Viaduct

The vast majority of the line was built and operated by the Highland Railway with a small section of the line between Perth and Stanley built by the Scottish Midland Junction Railway, amalgamated with the Aberdeen Railway to become the Scottish North Eastern Railway in 1856, and then absorbed by the Caledonian Railway in 1866. Originally, the line between Inverness and Perth went via Forres, but the Inverness and Aviemore Direct Railway was opened in 1898 to allow for a more direct routeing.

There are two significant summits on the line; Drumochter Summit (also spelled Druimuachdar) (elevation 1,484 feet (452 m)) between Blair Atholl and Dalwhinnie,[2][3][4] and Slochd Summit (elevation 1,315 feet (401 m)) between Carrbridge and Inverness.[5] Other distinct features on the route include the viaducts at Culloden and Tomatin, the spectacular mountain pass at Drumochter and the severe gradients encountered in both directions, particularly the extended climb from Inverness to the Slochd summit which averages around 1 in 60 the whole way.

Initially the only double track was between Inverness and Dalcross and also Stanley Junction and Perth. In the 1890s the single line working was improved with the replacement of telegraphing orders to trains along the line with staff and tablet control instruments. This was later upgraded to automatic token-exchange apparatus. However, the main improvement came with the doubling of sections of line, beginning with Blair Atholl to Dalnacardoch (8.25 miles (13.28 km)) in 1900, extended to Druimuachdar (8.5 miles (13.7 km)) in 1901 and Dalwhinnie (5.5 miles (8.9 km)) in 1909.[6] In the 1960s, many sections of the line were converted from double track to single track. In 1976, 23 miles from Blair Athol to Dalwhinie was redoubled.[7][8] In March 2019 Network Rail completed a programme of works to increase capacity on the line and support the introduction of InterCity 125 sets on ScotRail services with passing loops and platforms extended.[9]

Stations and services[edit]

As of 2020, there are stations on the line as follows:

Places served Ordnance Survey grid references
and other notes
Perth NO112230
Dunkeld and Birnam NO030417
Shared station
Pitlochry NN937580
Blair Atholl NN870653
Dalwhinnie NN634848
Newtonmore NN715984
Kingussie NH756003
Aviemore NH895123
Connection with Strathspey Railway
Carrbridge NH899224
Inverness NH667454

Services on the line are provided by Abellio ScotRail and London North Eastern Railway. A roughly two-hourly Abellio ScotRail service operates between Perth and Inverness throughout the day with 11 trains in total in each direction, with all services running from either Glasgow Queen Street (via Stirling) or Edinburgh Waverley (via Kirkcaldy). The London North Eastern Railway service is titled the Highland Chieftain, which departs Inverness at 08:00 and runs to London King's Cross via the East Coast Main Line, arriving in London at 16:00. The return working leaves London at 12:00 and reaches Inverness at 20:00.

The Caledonian Sleeper travels overnight between Inverness and London Euston via the West Coast Main Line. This joins portions from Aberdeen and Fort William at Edinburgh Waverley and south of there forms the longest locomotive-hauled passenger train in the United Kingdom with 16 coaches.

All trains between Perth and Inverness call at Pitlochry, Kingussie and Aviemore. Most ScotRail services call at Dunkeld & Birnam(8 north and 10 south) and at Blair Atholl(8 north and 6 south), with the stations at Dalwhinnie(5 each way), Newtonmore and Carrbridge being served less often. On Sundays, a couple of services continue through to Elgin, calling at Nairn and Forres.[10]

Panoramic view of the Highland Line Culloden Viaduct with a First ScotRail train on it

Rolling stock[edit]

Class Image Type Operator Route Maximum Speed Builder/


In Service on the line Leased From Other Notes
mph km/h
43 Diesel locomotive Abellio ScotRail Glasgow/Edinburgh to Inverness 125 200 BREL 1975–1982 2018 - N/A
  • Operates under the brand Inter7City.
  • Fleet consists of 9 four-coach and 17 five-coach trains.
  • 1 four coach train damaged in the Stonehaven derailment.
Mark 3

Passenger carriage BREL 1979-1980
73/9 73966, Class 73 Electro-diesel in Caledonian Sleeper livery at Fort William Station.JPG Diesel locomotive Caledonian Sleeper London Euston to Inverness
(Takes over from electric loco at Edinburgh)
90 145 British Railways Eastleigh Works 1962
English Electric 1965-1967
Rebuilt 2014-2016
2016- GB Railfreight Replaced Class 67 when their lease from DB Cargo UK Expired Class 73/9.
Mark 5 Passenger Coach CAF mk5 sleeper coach.jpg Lounge car
Seated Sleeper
Sleeping car
London Euston to Inverness 100 161 CAF 2016-2018 Oct 2019- Caledonian Sleeper Rail Leasing Replaced the Mark 2s
Mark 5 Sleeper Coach Replaced the Mark 3s
158/0 Express Sprinter Train at Tain (geograph 5928278).jpg DMU Abellio ScotRail Glasgow/Edinburgh to Inverness 90 145 Derby Litchurch Lane Works 1989—1992 N/A
170/3 & 170/4 Turbostar Glasgow/Edinburgh to Inverness 100 161 N/A
Falkirk High - Abellio 170434 Glasgow service.JPG
Class 800 Azuma Bi-mode multiple unit London North Eastern Railway London King's Cross/Edinburgh to Inverness 125 200 Hitachi Newton Aycliffe 2014-2018 2019 - N/A
  • Service is titled the Highland Chieftain.
  • Fleet consists of 10 five-coach and 13 nine-coach trains.


Station usage at some stations remain stable. Overall usage on the line comparing April 2003 to April 2010 has increased 154%.

Station usage
Station name 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
Perth 641,822 694,527 700,509 763,415 886,748 888,586 929,282 959,310 975,364 988,795 1,077,598 1,077,598 1,146,000 1,081,000
Dunkeld and Birnam 15,406 18,810 19,339 21,897 20,856 26,010 25,436 26,178 26,506 27,862 29,924 31,050 32,022 32,878
Pitlochry 66,890 84,555 88,638 78,193 78,776 97,302 87,210 87,684 90,618 98,340 101,902 112,496 121,000 121,000
Blair Atholl 8,313 11,708 11,896 10,491 10,443 11,716 11,572 13,948 12,608 14,280 14,084 16,062 16,652 17,598
Dalwhinnie 2,066 1,619 2,013 1,774 1,975 2,644 2,208 1,894 1,984 2,172 2,472 2,460 2,392 3,188
Newtonmore 4,184 5,396 6,815 6,631 7,060 8,358 7,972 9,484 9,406 8,958 8,326 8,636 9,432 8,770
Kingussie 23,815 27,725 30,045 32,135 33,416 42,618 35,838 38,544 40,298 40,954 41,408 42,522 42,850 44,200
Aviemore 70,272 80,977 91,456 101,294 115,431 152,528 124,972 132,336 132,052 136,456 141,311 150,724 152,000 145,000
Carrbridge 1,531 1,910 2,987 3,954 5,438 4,232 4,500 5,118 5,636 4,454 5,540 6,256 6,898 5,808
Inverness 721,358 822,928 873,011 915,840 975,569 1,407,600 1,070,924 1,127,718 1,180,160 1,213,382 1,282,445 1,303,662 1,307,000 1,259,000
The annual passenger usage is based on sales of tickets in stated financial years from Office of Rail and Road estimates of station usage. The statistics are for passengers arriving and departing from each station and cover twelve-month periods that start in April. Methodology may vary year on year. Barking and Blackhorse Road are affected by usage of the ticket gates for the Underground and that Gospel Oak connects to the North London Line section of the London Overground and is similarly affected. Barking is further affected by the ticket gates used to access C2C services.


In the Scottish Government's National Transport Strategy, published in February 2020, it was stated that the line would be electrified with overhead lines by 2035.[11]


  1. ^ Highland Main Line timetables at https://www.scotrail.co.uk/sites/default/files/assets/download_ct/edinburgh_glasgow_-_inverness_0.pdf Archived 18 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Yonge, John (December 2007) [1987]. Jacobs, Gerald (ed.). Railway Track Diagrams 1: Scotland & Isle of Man (5th ed.). Bradford on Avon: Trackmaps. map 19B. ISBN 978-0-9549866-3-6.
  3. ^ Baker, Stuart K. (2015) [1977]. Rail Atlas of Great Britain and Ireland (14th ed.). Addlestone: Oxford Publishing Co. p. 60, section B2. ISBN 978-0-86093-669-5.
  4. ^ Vallance, H.A.; Clinker, C.R.; Lambert, Anthony J. (1985) [1938]. The Highland Railway (4th ed.). Newton Abbot: David & Charles. pp. 13, 25, 115, 116, 118, 177, 197. ISBN 0-946537-24-0.
  5. ^ Yonge 2007, map 19D
  6. ^ Thomas, John; Turnock, David (1989). A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain. Volume 15 North of Scotland. David St John Thomas. p. 236. ISBN 0946537038.
  7. ^ Highland doubling The Railway Magazine issue 902 June 1976 page 277
  8. ^ Highland doubling starts The Railway Magazine issue 905 September 1976 page 476
  9. ^ Highland main line upgrade work complete Network Rail 28 March 2019
  10. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 April 2016. Retrieved 5 April 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ Shirres, David. "Decarbonising Scotland's Railway". Rail Engineer. No. 190. pp. 46–53. Retrieved 3 July 2021.

External links[edit]