West Highland Line

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West Highland Line
A Glasgow - Fort William train climbs onto Rannoch Moor - geograph.org.uk - 676941.jpg
A First ScotRail train to Fort William crossing Rannoch Moor in August 2007
OwnerNetwork Rail
Argyll and Bute
TypeRural Rail[1]
SystemNational Rail
Operator(s)Caledonian Sleeper
West Coast Railways
Rolling stockClass 153
Class 156
Caledonian Sleeper stock
Line lengthGlasgow Queen Street to Crianlarich: 59 miles 22 chains (95.4 km)
Crianlarich to Oban: 41 miles 73 chains (67.5 km)
Crianlarich to Fort William: 63 miles 14 chains (101.7 km)
Fort William to Mallaig: 41 miles 28 chains (66.5 km)
*Total (including reversing at Fort William): 205 miles 57 chains (331.1 km)
Number of tracksOne
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in)
Operating speed70 mph (110 km/h) maximum[1]
Route map
Rail map Scotland West Highland line.png

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 notable Trans-Siberian line in Russia and the Cuzco to Machu Picchu line in Peru.[2][3][4] 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.[5]

The West Highland Line is one of two railway lines that 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.

At least in part, the West Highland Line is the same railway line as that referred to as the West Highland Railway.


The route was built in several sections:

There is an additional section from Fort William (or a junction near Fort William) to Mallaig, built as the Mallaig Extension Railway.[10] The West Highland Railway approved the construction of the line at their annual meeting in January 1895.[11]

The line faced potential closure as part of the Beeching cuts in 1963[12] and again in 1995 due to reduced revenues.[13][14]

Route description[edit]

Train crossing bridge at Banavie
The summit of the line just north of Corrour

Shortly after leaving Glasgow Queen Street station, and beyond Queen Street Tunnel, the line diverges from the main trunk route to Edinburgh and Perth at Cowlairs and follows a northwesterly course through the suburbs of Maryhill and Kelvindale. Between Westerton and Dumbarton, the route is shared with the North Clyde Line to Helensburgh before branching northward at Craigendoran Junction towards Garelochhead, the section where the West Highland Line itself is generally accepted to begin. It gives high-level views of the Gareloch and Loch Long before emerging alongside the northwesterly shores of Loch Lomond, then climbs Glen Falloch to Crianlarich.

A Glasgow-bound train at Helensburgh Upper in 2020.

The branch to Oban diverges at Crianlarich, an important Highland junction of both road and rail, and 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. About three miles (five kilometres) from Crianlarich, the Mallaig and Oban routes both pass through the village of Tyndrum, but they are served by separate stations, making it the smallest settlement in the UK to be served by more than one railway station.

After Bridge of Orchy, the line to Mallaig climbs onto Rannoch Moor, past the former crossing point at Gorton Crossing to Rannoch station. In winter, the moor is often covered with snow,[note 1] and 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 road. This is the summit of the line at 1347 ft (410 m) 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.

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.


Passenger services on the line are operated by ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper. As of May 2021, the service pattern is as follows:

  • 3tpd each way Mallaig - Glasgow Queen Street
  • 1tpd each way Mallaig - Fort William
  • 1tpd Oban - Dalmally
  • 6tpd each way Oban - Glasgow Queen Street. Additionally, 1tpd Glasgow Queen Street - Oban (one way only)

Four of the services from Glasgow Queen Street - Mallaig are combined with services to Oban, splitting at Crianlarich. Similarly, two of the return services combine at Crianlarich.[18]

During the summer season from May until October a steam locomotive-hauled daily return service between Fort William and Mallaig known as The Jacobite is operated by West Coast Railways. There is one train a day in May, September and October, and two trains per day from June until the end of August.

Caledonian Sleeper operates a nightly service from Fort William to London Euston.[19]

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, to South Uist, and to Inverie on the Knoydart peninsula. From Oban ferries sail to the islands of Lismore, Colonsay, Coll, Tiree, Mull and Barra.

As of 2021, there is a single regular freight operation on the line, consisting of alumina services from North Blyth to a smelter near Fort William.[20][21]

Route timings[edit]

Since improvements to Scottish trunk roads in the 1980s, a train journey can take significantly longer than the equivalent road journey. There are several reasons for this. The line is entirely single track once it leaves the North Clyde suburban network at Craigendoran and trains must wait at stations with crossing loops for opposite direction trains to pass. Even when no crossing is timetabled, each train must pause at the various token exchange points whilst the driver contacts the main signalling centre at Banavie to swap tokens electronically and obtain permission to proceed. Up to 15 minutes have to be allocated for trains to divide or combine at the junction station at Crianlarich, whilst trains heading to/from Mallaig also have to reverse at Fort William & traverse the Banavie swing bridge at low speed. A further issue is finding suitable timetable paths for Oban & Mallaig trains on the busy North Clyde line, which carries an intensive local stopping service. As West Highland trains only stop at Dumbarton Central and Dalmuir on this stretch, it is not uncommon for them be delayed by a preceding local train and so recovery time has to be included in their schedules to reduce the possibility of a late arrival in Glasgow.

Over much of the Rannoch Moor section the speed limit is 60 mph (95 km/h) for the Sprinter and 70 mph (110 km/h) on the approach to Rannoch station. The Caledonian Sleeper travels at 40 mph (65 km/h) maximum, slowing down for a number of bridges on the route due to the heavy weight of the Class 67 locomotive which hauled the train until the end of the old franchise in April 2015. The operator of the sleeper Serco has replaced these with refurbished Class 73/9 electro-diesels since it took over, which have a lighter axle load; it isn't yet clear if the new locos will be cleared to run at higher speeds now they are in service.[22]

Rolling stock[edit]

Past, present and future rolling stock on the line
Class Image Operator Route Maximum Speed Builder/


In Service on the line Leased From Other Notes
mph km/h
Past Rolling Stock (From 1980)
37 The Royal Scotsman at County March Summit - geograph.org.uk - 772782.jpg British Rail (Until 1983)
BR ScotRail (From 1983)
Glasgow Queen Street to Oban/Mallaig (Until 1989)
London Euston to Fort William
(Takes over from electric loco at Edinburgh)
80 130 English Electric
1981-1985 N/A Class 37/0
BR ScotRail Glasgow Queen Street to Oban/Mallaig (Until 1989)
London Euston to Fort William
(Takes over from electric loco at Edinburgh)
90 145 1985-2006 Class 37/4
67 67004Waverley.jpg First ScotRail (Until 2015)
Caledonian Sleeper (Until 2019)
London Euston to Fort William
(Took over from electric loco at Edinburgh)
125 200 Alstom 1999-2000 2006-2016 DB Cargo UK
BR Standard Class 4 2-6-0 76079 Castleton East Junction.jpg West Coast Railways Fort William to Mallaig 60 96 Horwich Works 1957 The Jacobite
LNER Class K4 2-6-0 61994 The Great Marquess in Blaenau Ffestiniog.jpg Darlington Works 1938
Mark 1 Passenger Coach Mark 1 coach 6313 at Bristol Temple Meads 2006-03-01 05.jpg British Rail (Until 1983)
BR ScotRail (From 1983)
The Royal Scotsman (1985 - 1989)
Glasgow Queen Street to Oban or Mallaig 100 160 1951-1963 1961-1989 N/A
Mark 2 Passenger Coach Caledonian Sleeper in Fort william.JPG Caledonian Sleeper London Euston to Fort William 100 160 BREL 1963-1975 1964-2019 It was replaced by the Mark 5 passenger coach.
Mark 3 Sleeper Coach Caledonian Sleeper at Euston.jpg Caledonian Sleeper London Euston to Fort William 125 200 BREL 1979-1980 1980-2019 It was replaced by the Mark 5 sleeping coach.
Current Fleet
66 Class 66 66708 GBRF Hatton 09-05-19 (47810954931).jpg

GB Railfreight

Freight 75 120 Electro-Motive Diesel 1998-2015 2000- N/A Class 66/7
Belmond Limited Special Passenger Workings
(Royal Scotsman)
GB Railfreight
73/9 73966, Class 73 Electro-diesel in Caledonian Sleeper livery at Fort William Station.JPG Caledonian Sleeper London Euston to Fort William
(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.
153 Exeter TCD - GWR 153377.JPG ScotRail (2021-present) Glasgow Queen Street to Oban/Mallaig 75 120 Leyland Bus 1987-1988 as Class 155s[23]
Converted to Class 153 by Hunslet-Barclay 1991-1992[24]
2021– N/A In service from 19th July
156 156 458 near Inverlochy Castle.jpg BR ScotRail (until 1997)
National Express (1997-2004)
First ScotRail (2005-2015)
ScotRail (2015-present)
Metro-Cammell 1987-1989 1989–
LMS Stanier Class 5 4-6-0 The Jacobite Express - geograph-3677281-by-Stuart-Wilding.jpg West Coast Railways Fort William to Mallaig 60 96 Armstrong Whitworth (45212 & 45407) 1935 & 1937

Crewe Works (44871) 1945

- The Jacobite
Peppercorn Class K1 The Jacobite - geograph.org.uk - 902375.jpg 60 96 North British Locomotive Company 1949-1950 -
Mark 1 Passenger coach West Coast Railways Mk1 SK 99712 (25893) at Taunton.JPG 100 160 Cravens 19511963
Mark 2 Passenger Coach Caledonian Sleeper in Fort william.JPG 100 160 BREL 1963–1975
Pullman Mark 3 coach Dining car - geograph.org.uk - 892799 Belmond Limited Special Passenger Workings
(Royal Scotsman)
125 200 BREL 1979–1980
Mark 3 Sleeper Coach Caledonian Sleeper at Euston.jpg Belmond Limited Special Passenger Workings
(Royal Scotsman)
125 200 BREL 1979–1980
Mark 5 Passenger Coach CAF mk5 sleeper coach.jpg Caledonian Sleeper London Euston to Fort William 100 160 CAF 2016–2018 Oct 2019– Caledonian Sleeper Rail Leasing It replaced the Mark 2 passenger coach.
Mark 5 Sleeper Coach It replaced the Mark 3 sleeping coach.

In early 2018 it was widely reported that Class 158s would be used from Q3-Q4 2018 to replace the Class 156s. However, following investigation it was discovered that the line does not have sufficient gauge clearance for the class. As of August 2018 studies were still ongoing.[25]

Some notable railway-related features[edit]

The two branches of the line are described in detail by John Thomas in his two books (see Sources).

The route in detail[edit]

West Highland Line
from Glasgow
264.3 Mallaig
Caledonian MacBrayne
259.5 Morar
252.3 Arisaig
Stops on request
Stops on request
224.1 Glenfinnan
Stops on request
207.6 Loch Eil Outward Bound
202.8 Corpach
201.2 Banavie
197.5 Fort William
183.5 Spean Bridge
178.2 Roy Bridge
169.0 Tulloch
152.9 Corrour
141.2 Rannoch
.... Gorton
116.3 Bridge of Orchy
103.8 Upper Tyndrum
163.3 Oban
Caledonian MacBrayne
153.3 Connel Ferry
142.4 Taynuilt
Falls of Cruachan
summer only
127.9 Loch Awe
123.5 Dalmally
104.2 Tyndrum Lower
96.2 Crianlarich
82.1 Ardlui
69.2 Arrochar and Tarbet
51.9 Garelochhead
41.0 Helensburgh Upper
26.6 Dumbarton Central
16.1 Dalmuir
Glasgow Queen Street
Glasgow Subway Buchanan Street

Places served along the route from Glasgow Queen Street are listed below. Sleeper services to Fort William start, however, at London Euston, calling at Edinburgh Waverley and Queen Street Low Level (to pick up or set down depending on direction).

Place Station OS reference Notes
Glasgow to Crianlarich
Glasgow Glasgow Queen Street NS592655
Dalmuir Dalmuir NS484714
Dumbarton Dumbarton Central NS397755
Helensburgh Helensburgh Upper NS298833
Garelochhead Garelochhead NS242910
Arrochar and Tarbet Arrochar and Tarbet NN311045
Ardlui Ardlui NN317155 Request stop for the Caledonian Sleeper.
Crianlarich Crianlarich NN384250 At Crianlarich the former West Highland Railway route to Fort William and Mallaig links to the remaining section of the former Callander and Oban Railway to Oban.
Crianlarich to Oban
Tyndrum Tyndrum Lower NN327301
Dalmally Dalmally NN159271
Loch Awe Loch Awe NN124274
Loch Awe Falls of Cruachan NN079267 Used mainly by hikers.
Taynuilt Taynuilt NN003312
Connel Connel Ferry NM916340
Oban Oban NM857298
Crianlarich to Fort William
Tyndrum Upper Tyndrum NN333302
Bridge of Orchy Bridge of Orchy NN300394
Rannoch Rannoch NN422578
Corrour Corrour NN356663 Request stop for the Caledonian Sleeper.
Tulloch Tulloch NN354802
Roy Bridge Roy Bridge NN272810 Request stop for the Caledonian Sleeper.
Spean Bridge Spean Bridge NN221814
Fort William Fort William NN105741 Services from Glasgow reverse out of Fort William to continue to Mallaig.
The Jacobite runs from Fort William to Mallaig.
Fort William and Mallaig route
Banavie Banavie NN112767
Corpach Corpach NN096767
Loch Eil Loch Eil Outward Bound NN054783
Loch Eil Locheilside NM994786 Request stop.
Glenfinnan Glenfinnan NM898810
Lochailort Lochailort NM768826 Request stop.
Beasdale Beasdale NM709850 Request stop.
Arisaig Arisaig NM663867
Morar Morar NM677929
Mallaig Mallaig NM675970 Ferries link Mallaig to Armadale, the Isle of Skye, South Uist and the Small Isles.

West Highland Line in film[edit]


There is a museum dedicated to the history of the West Highland Line situated at Glenfinnan Station.


In the Scottish Government's National Transport Strategy, published in February 2020, it was stated that the line will not be electrified with overhead lines. Instead, an alternative to diesel traction will be found.[28]



  1. ^ After a particularly heavy snowfall in January 1895, the snow was so heavy as to require 20-foot deep (6 m) cuttings to allow passage on the line.[15][16][17]



  1. ^ a b Network Rail. "Delivering for You - Route Plans 2007" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 October 2012. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  2. ^ "Highland train line best in world". BBC News. 6 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  3. ^ "Wanderlust Travel Awards announced". Wanderlust. 5 February 2009. Archived from the original on 1 August 2010. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  4. ^ Donnelly, Brian; Taylor, Marianne (6 February 2009). "Highland line voted world's most scenic train journey". The Herald. Archived from the original on 26 September 2019. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  5. ^ "West Highland Railway Line | Oban | Fort William | Mallaig | ScotRail". www.scotrail.co.uk. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  6. ^ "Opening of the West Highland Railway". The Observer. London. 12 August 1894. p. 7 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  7. ^ "A New Highland Railway". The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Western Countries and South Wales Advertiser. Bristol, England. 13 August 1894. p. 5 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  8. ^ Fine, Mary Jane (26 January 2003). "Fling: Highland train". The Record. Hackensack, New Jersey. p. 145 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  9. ^ "Railway Enterprise in the North - Railway extension in the West Highlands". The Courier and Argus. Dundee, Scotland. 15 August 1895. p. 6 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  10. ^ "The West Highland Railway (Mallaig Extension) Bill". Glasgow Herald. 28 April 1894. p. 3 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  11. ^ "Railway Meetings - West Highland Railway". Glasgow Herald. 18 January 1895. p. 10 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  12. ^ Ascherson, Neal (13 January 1963). "Lifeline in Jeopardy". The Observer. London. p. 21 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  13. ^ Johnson, Maureen (14 May 1995). "Scottish rail ride faces closure". Johnson City Press. Johnson City, Tennessee. Associated Press. p. 44 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  14. ^ O'Kelly, Lisa (14 May 1995). "Deerstalker sees light at end of the tunnel". The Observer. London. p. 7 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  15. ^ "The Weather - The snow blocks in Scotland - A passage cut through the West Highland Line". Sheffield and Rotherham Independent. Sheffield, England. 10 January 1895. p. 5 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  16. ^ "(untitled)". Glasgow Herald. 8 February 1895. p. 6 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  17. ^ "The storm disasters". Aberdeen Journal, and General Advertiser for the North of Scotland. 9 January 1895. p. 6 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  18. ^ "West Highlands Timetable May 2021" (PDF). Scotrail. May 2021. Retrieved 17 June 2021.
  19. ^ "London to Fort William timetable". Caledonian Sleeper. May 2021. Retrieved 17 June 2021.
  20. ^ "End of freight on Harry Potter line". RailFreight.com. 18 February 2021. Retrieved 28 February 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  21. ^ Munro, Alistair. "End of the line? West Highland Line freight fears". Press and Journal. Retrieved 28 February 2021.
  22. ^ "Class 73s for sleeper train". Friends of the West Highland Line. Archived from the original on 27 August 2016. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  23. ^ Dave Coxon. "Class 155 Super Sprinter DMU". Archived from the original on 3 November 2014. Retrieved 2 March 2014.
  24. ^ "Class 153 - Arriva Trains Wales, Great Western Railway, East Midlands Trains, Arriva Rail North". Angel Trains. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  25. ^ "2018 AGM Report". Friends of the West Highland Lines. Archived from the original on 23 August 2018. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  26. ^ Hawkes, Will (16 February 2020). "Slow train's rewards just outside window". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Washington Post News Service. p. H14 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  27. ^ "Full record for 'LINE FOR ALL SEASONS, a'". Scottish Screen Archive. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  28. ^ Shirres, David. "Decarbonising Scotland's Railway". Rail Engineer. No. 190. pp. 46–53. Retrieved 3 July 2021.{{cite magazine}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)


  • 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.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]