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 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
Number of tracks One
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Operating speed 70 mph (110 km/h) maximum [1]
This article is chiefly about the present-day route; for historical development of the West Highland Railway (Company) see West Highland Railway

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 iconic 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]

Passenger services on the line are operated by Abellio ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper: three daily return services between Glasgow Queen Street and Mallaig/Oban, 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 usually one train a day but this is increased to two trains 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, and to Inverie on the Knoydart peninsula. From Oban ferries sail to the islands of Lismore, Colonsay, Coll, Tiree, Mull, Barra and South Uist.

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.


Train crossing bridge at Banavie
Train leaving Banavie for Fort William

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]

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. Significant points on the journey include Crianlarich, an important Highland junction of both road and rail, and Tyndrum, the smallest place in Scotland, and the northernmost place in Britain, with two railway stations.

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.

The branch to Oban diverges at Crianlarich, 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.

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.

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]

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
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
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.
Oban route
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
Fort William and Mallaig route
Tyndrum Upper Tyndrum NN333302
Bridge of Orchy Bridge of Orchy NN300394
Rannoch Rannoch NN422578
Corrour Corrour NN356663
Tulloch Tulloch NN354802
Roy Bridge Roy Bridge NN272810
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.
Banavie Banavie NN112767
Corpach Corpach NN096767
Loch Eil Loch Eil Outward Bound NN054783
Loch Eil Locheilside NM994786
Glenfinnan Glenfinnan NM898810
Lochailort Lochailort NM768826
Beasdale Beasdale NM709850
Arisaig Arisaig NM663867
Morar Morar NM677929
Mallaig Mallaig NM675970 Ferries link Mallaig to the Kyle of Lochalsh, Armadale, the Isle of Skye 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]