Highland Main Line

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Highland Main Line
Rail map Scotland Highland line.png
Railway map of Scotland showing the Highland line
TypeHeavy rail
SystemNational Rail
LocalePerth and Kinross
OwnerNetwork 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 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.

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.[6][7] In March 2019 Network Rail completed a program 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.[8]

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.[9]

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


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


  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.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  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.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  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.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  5. ^ Yonge 2007, map 19D
  6. ^ Highland doubling The Railway Magazine issue 902 June 1976 page 277
  7. ^ Highland doubling starts The Railway Magazine issue 905 September 1976 page 476
  8. ^ Highland main line upgrade work complete Network Rail 28 March 2019
  9. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 April 2016. Retrieved 5 April 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

External links[edit]