West Highland Line

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

West Highland Line
A Glasgow - Fort William train climbs onto Rannoch Moor - geograph.org.uk - 676941.jpg
A train to Mallaig crossing Rannoch Moor
Type Rural Rail[1]
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Glasgow
Argyll and Bute
Termini Glasgow Queen Street
Stations 33
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Caledonian Sleeper
Abellio ScotRail
West Coast Railways
Rolling stock Class 156 "Super Sprinter"
Caledonian Sleeper stock
Line length Glasgow 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 tracks One
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Operating speed 70 mph (110 km/h) maximum[1]

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.[citation needed]

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

Route description[edit]

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

Shortly after leaving Queen Street station in Glasgow, and beyond Queen Street Tunnel, the line diverges from the main trunk route to Edinburgh & 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.

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. Both the Maillaig and Oban branches of the line pass through the village of Tyndrum about 5km from Crianlarich, making it both the smallest and most-northerly settlement in the UK to be served by more than one railway station.

After Bridge of Orchy, the line climbs onto Rannoch Moor, past the former crossing point at Gorton Crossing to Rannoch station. In winter, the moor is often covered with snow, 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 410 m (1347 ft) 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 Abellio ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper: six daily return services between Glasgow Queen Street and Oban, three daily return services between Glasgow Queen Street and Mallaig, and one nightly (except Saturdays) Caledonian Sleeper service between London Euston and Fort William.

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.

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.

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 & 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 for the Sprinter and 70 mph on the approach to Rannoch station. The Caledonian Sleeper travels at 40 mph 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. New sleeper operator 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.[5]

Rolling Stock[edit]

Past, Present and future rolling stock on the line

Past Rolling Stock (From 1980)
Class Image Operator Route Maximum Speed Builder/


In Service Leased From Other Notes
mph kmh
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

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

(From 2015)

London Euston to Fort William

(Took over from electric loco

at Edinburgh)

125 201 Alstom


2006-2016 DB Schenker Cargo UK
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)

Glasgow Queen Street to


100 160 1951-1963 1961-1989 N/A
Current Rolling Stock
156 Scotrail 156 447 Dalmally 11-08-2015.jpg BR ScotRail (Until 1994)

ScotRail (National Express)


First ScotRail (2004-2015)

Abellio ScotRail (2015-2018)

Glasgow Queen Street to


75 121 BREL



October/ November 2018

N/A To be replaced in late 2018 by the Class 158 and Class 153.
73 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 English Electric


Rebuilt by -


2016- GBRF Replaced Class 67 when their lease from DB Schenker Expired

Class 73/9

66 DBS Class 66 (28291254775).jpg DB Schenker Freight 75 121 Electro-Motive


2000- N/A Class 66/0

GB Railfreight

Class 66/7
West Coast Railways Special Passenger Workings

(Royal Scotsman)

37 Hugh llewelyn 37 248 (5628052812).jpg West Coast Railways Special Passenger Workings

(Royal Scotsman)

90 145 English Electric


1985- DRS Class 37/5
37607 at Gourock.jpg Direct Rail Services Freight/

Special Passenger Workings

N/A Class 37/6
LMS Stanier Class 5 4-6-0 The Jacobite Express - geograph-3677281-by-Stuart-Wilding.jpg West Coast Railways Mallaig to Fort William 40 64 - -
Peppercorn Class K1 The Jacobite - geograph.org.uk - 902375.jpg 40 64 - -
Mark 1 Passenger coach West Coast Railways Mk1 SK 99712 (25893) at Taunton.JPG 100 160 Cravens


Mark 2 Passenger Coach Caledonian Sleeper in Fort william.JPG Caledonian Sleeper Edinburgh Waverly to Fort William 100 160 BREL



December 2018

To be replaced in late 2018 by new British Rail Mark 5 Passenger Stock
West Coast Railways Special Passenger Workigs

(Royal Scotsman)

Mark 3 Sleeper Coach Caledonian Sleeper at Euston.jpg Caledonian Sleeper London Euston to Fort William BREL



December 2018

To be replaced in late 2018 by new Britsh Rail Mark 5 Sleeper Stock
West Coast Railways Special Passenger Workings

(Royal Scotsman)

Future Rolling Stock
158 Stow railway station01 2017-03-14.jpg Abellio ScotRail Glasgow Queen Street to


90 145 BREL



November 2018

N/A Will replace the elderly Class 156 in late 2018
153 Exeter TCD - GWR 153377.JPG 75 121 BREL


These single car units are to be completely adapted to accommodate bikes, skis and other outdoor equipment.

They will be attached to the Class 158s when they enter service on the route.

Mark 5 Passenger Coach Caledonian Sleeper Edinburgh Waverly to Fort William 100 161 CAF


Late 2018 These new coaches will replace the Mark 2s.
Mark 5 Sleeper Coach London Euston to Fort William These new coaches will replace the Mark 3s.

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
km from Glasgow
264.3 MallaigCaledonian MacBrayne
259.5 Morar
252.3 Arisaig
Stops on request
Stops on request
224.1 Glenfinnan
222.8 Glenfinnan Viaduct
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 ObanCaledonian 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
35.0 Cardross
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 Falls of Cruachan is a request stop, 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]

Glenfinnan Viaduct, on the line between Fort William and Mallaig, is a filming location for the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter series of films.

Eddie McConnell's poetic documentary A Line for All Seasons (1970) showcases the line and its history set against the scenery of the western highlands as it changes through the seasons.[6]

Corrour station features in Trainspotting (1996), directed by Danny Boyle.


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




  1. ^ a b Business Plan 2007 Network Rail. Retrieved 2011-07-09.
  2. ^ "Highland train line best in world". BBC News. 2009-02-06. Retrieved 2009-02-06. 
  3. ^ "Wanderlust Travel Awards announced". Wanderlust. 2009-02-05. Retrieved 2009-02-06. 
  4. ^ Brian Donnelly and Marianne Taylor (2009-02-06). "Highland line voted world's most scenic train journey". The Herald. Retrieved 2009-02-06. 
  5. ^ "Class 73s for sleeper train"Friends of the West Highland Line; Retrieved 26 August 2016
  6. ^ "Scottish Screen Archive - Full record for 'LINE FOR ALL SEASONS, a'". Retrieved 2009-02-06. 


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]