The West Highland Railway Line

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Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   Text © Copyright September 2010, Thomas Nugent; licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence.
Images also under a similar Creative Commons Licence.


Short History Of The Line

The West Highland Line was opened by The West Highland Railway Company in 1894. It was taken over by the North British Railway in 1908. The NB was later taken over by the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) as a result of the national grouping of railway companies in 1923.

Most of the stations were of a similar single island design, with a chalet style building, many of which survive today.

If you have a few hours to kill, you might find this youtube video of the journey from Queen Street to Mallaig, taken from a cab, of interest LinkExternal link .

The Route

The line runs from Craigendoran, near Helensburgh on the north bank of the Firth of Clyde in Central Scotland to Oban and Mallaig in the West Highlands. The other major town on the route is Fort William which was the northern terminus until the Mallaig Extension opened in 1901.

The line splits into separate branches for Oban and Fort William at Crianlarich. Both lines from Crianlarich run through separate stations in neighbouring Tyndrum (Upper and Lower) which make Tyndrum the smallest village in the world to have two main line stations.

Crianlarich also had a junction with the Callendar & Oban Railway which closed in 1966.

The section of line over Rannoch Moor was a challenge to the builders who decided to "float" the line over the moor on a bed of timber and earth.

The major engineering work on the line is the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

The Line Today

The line is single track for most if its length, with passing places at some stations. It is maintained by Network rail LinkExternal link and the services are run by First Scotrail LinkExternal link. There are three services in each direction each day, with trains splitting at Crianlarich to go to Oban in the west or Fort William & Mallaig in the north. The trains are joined together at Crianlarich for the south-bound journey.

Scotrail also runs the Caledonian Sleeper LinkExternal link from various points in Scotland, including Fort William and the stations to the south.

The stations are small, but well maintained, kept in picture postcard condition which befits a line which was voted the most scenic in the world in 2009 and 2010 by readers of the independent travel magazine Wanderlust LinkExternal link .

The Stations

Officially, the route begins at Craigendoran, but the services run from Glasgow Queen Street or London Euston (sleeper only). For the purposes of this journey, we catch the train at Category A Listed LinkExternal link Dumbarton Central station which opened in 1854.

Dumbarton Central Station

Our train approaches from Glasgow Queen Street.

NS3975 : Dumbarton signal box by Thomas Nugent

Some general views of the station and trains.
NS3975 : Dumbarton Central station by Thomas Nugent NS3975 : Dumbarton Central station by Thomas Nugent NS3975 : Dumbarton Central station by Thomas Nugent NS3975 : Dumbarton Central station by Thomas Nugent NS3975 : Dumbarton Central station by Thomas Nugent NS3975 : Dumbarton Central station by Thomas Nugent NS3975 : Dumbarton Central station by Thomas Nugent NS3975 : Dumbarton Central station by Thomas Nugent NS3975 : Dumbarton Central station by Thomas Nugent NS3975 : Dumbarton Central railway station by Thomas Nugent NS3975 : Dumbarton Central railway station by Thomas Nugent NS3975 : Dumbarton Central station by Thomas Nugent NS3975 : Dumbarton Central station by Thomas Nugent NS3975 : Dumbarton Central station by Thomas Nugent NS3975 : Dumbarton Central station by Thomas Nugent

Former Craigendoran station

Craigendoran station and pier were opened in 1882 by the Glasgow, Dumbarton and Helensburgh Railway company. There were two platforms, including one on the pier itself. When the West Highland line opened in 1894, two additional platforms were added to serve this line. These platforms became known as Craigendoran Upper station.

The upper station closed in 1964, along with several other stations which were served by local trains which ran from here to Arrochar and Tarbet. The station was a few hundred yards west of the junction with the Helensburgh line which marks the beginning of the West Highland Line proper.

The pier closed to commercial traffic in 1972 and has since been removed (there were actually two parallel piers).

The photo below shows the West Highland Line in the foreground, with the Helensburgh line beyond.

NS3181 : Subway entrance to Craigendoran station, 1994 by Ben Brooksbank
View SW under the line to Helensburgh Upper, Arrochar and Fort William and then the branch to Helensburgh Central: ex-North British Glasgow Queen Street - Fort William 'West Highland' line, Helensburgh Central being the western terminus of the electrified North Clyde Lines of Strathclyde Transport, to The left being Dumbarton, Clydebank and Glasgow, then Shettleston, Coatbridge and Airdrie.
by Ben Brooksbank



Some more photos of Craigendoran station and peir.
NS3181 : Craigendoran railway station, Argyll & Bute by Nigel Thompson NS3081 : Craigendoran Station by Lairich Rig NS3081 : Curving sea wall at Craigendoran by Lairich Rig NS3181 : Track to Craigendoran Station by Lairich Rig NS3081 : Craigendoran railway station, Argyll & Bute by Nigel Thompson NS3081 : Old quayside at Craigendoran by Lairich Rig NS3081 : Old quay and piers at Craigendoran by Lairich Rig NS3081 : Old piers at Craigendoran by Lairich Rig

Helensburgh Upper Station

Opened in 1894, this is the first station on the line. It is one mile up the hill from Helensburgh Central which is on a different line. The difference in character between the two stations is quite striking; busy Helensburgh Central is a terminal station in the middle of town, with fairly extensive buildings and platforms, whereas Helensburgh Upper is akin to a country station high on the hill in the affluent suburbs.

The station is convenient for the nearby Hill House which was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and is open to the public LinkExternal link .

NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station by Thomas Nugent NS3083 : The West Highland Railway Line by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : The top railway journey in the world by Thomas Nugent

The span of the road bridge in the second photo below shows that the line was once double track here.

NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper station by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper Station by George Rankin NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2983 : On The West Highland Line : Helensburgh Upper Station by Richard West NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper Station by Mary and Angus Hogg NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper station by Albert Bridge NS2983 : Helensburgh Upper railway station, Argyll & Bute by Nigel Thompson

The line to Rhu

NS2784 : The West Highland Line at Torr by Phil Williams NS2784 : Torr Bridge by Phil Williams NS2784 : West Highland Line at Rhu by Lairich Rig

Former Rhu and Shandon stations

There were originally stations at Rhu (opened in 1894 as Row, closed 1956, reopened 1960, closed again 1964) and Shandon (closed 1964) between Helensburgh Upper and Garelochhead.

NS2784 : Former Rhu Railway Station by Stephen Sweeney

From this section of the line, we get the first glimpse of the West Highland scenery for which the line is famed.

NS2685 : Clynder and the Gareloch by Thomas Nugent

Garelochhead Station

As the name suggests, Garelochhead is at the head of the Gareloch, which is a sea loch and is home to the UK submarine fleet at Faslane where there was a short branch to the base. There was originally a station at Faslane, but it is now closed. The station opened in 1894.

NS2491 : Entrance to Garelochhead station by Ben Brooksbank NS2491 : Subway Entrance for Garelochhead station by Eddie Mackinnon NS2491 : Garelochhead railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2491 : Garelochhead railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2491 : Garelochhead railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2491 : Garelochhead railway station by Thomas Nugent NS2491 : Garelochhead Station by william craig NS2491 : Platforms at Garelochhead station by Mark Nightingale NS2491 : Garelochhead station by Gareth James NS2491 : Garelochhead Station by Mary and Angus Hogg NS2491 : On The West Highland Line : Fancy Wheels at Garelochhead by Richard West NS2491 : Garelochhead Railway Station by Eddie Mackinnon NS2491 : On The West Highland Line : Garelochhead Station by Richard West NS2491 : North to Fort William by Martin Addison NS2491 : Garelochead Station by Martin Addison

Former Glen Douglas and Whistlefield stations

The line passes through closed stations at Whistlefield (opened 1896, closed 1964) and Glen Douglas on the way to Arrochar and Tarbet. There is little if any evidence of those stations remaining today.

This photo shows the line at Whistlefield in 2009. Here is a LinkExternal link to a local website which has photos of the station when it was in active use.
NS2392 : West Highland Line by Mark Nightingale
The West Highland Line heading towards Garelochhead station. Trees have been felled on either side of the railway recently.
by Mark Nightingale



A push-pull local train at Glen Douglas in 1958. Glen Douglas station closed in 1964. Here is a LinkExternal link to the RailScot web site which has photos of the site of the station in more recent times.
NN2700 : Push-and-pull train, Glen Douglas by Flying Stag
Until the 1960s, the main line service between Glasgow and Fort William was supplemented by a shuttle service between Craigendoran and Arrochar and Tarbet. Here one of these trains approaches Glen Douglas on its way to Craigendoran, where connections were available to Glasgow.
by Flying Stag



Get your camera ready as we approach Arrochar.
NN2702 : Loch Long, Ardgartan and The Cobbler by Thomas Nugent NN2903 : The head of Loch Long by Thomas Nugent NN2702 : Loch Long and Ardgartan by Thomas Nugent NN3004 : The Cobbler by Thomas Nugent NN3004 : Train south of Arrochar and Tarbet Station by Stuart Wilding NN3004 : Between Arrochar and Tarbet by Mary and Angus Hogg NN3004 : Ballyhennan Toll House plus Railway Bridge by Chris Upson

Arrochar and Tarbet Station

Opened in 1894, the station is located in a bit of a no-man's-land between the two villages. Arrochar is at the head of Loch Long (another sea loch with military installations) and Tarbet is at Loch Lomond, which is the largest fresh water lake in Britain.

This photo from 1963 shows the station buildings, most of which have since been removed.
NN3104 : Arrochar and Tarbet station by Nigel Brown
This shows the station in its original condition, before the buildings were replaced.
by Nigel Brown



Some more recent photos of the station.
NN3104 : Arrochar and Tarbet station by Thomas Nugent NN3104 : Arrochar and Tarbet station by Thomas Nugent NN3104 : Arrochar and Tarbet station by Thomas Nugent NN3104 : Arrochar and Tarbet station by Thomas Nugent NN3104 : Arrochar and Tarbet station by Thomas Nugent NN3104 : Arrochar and Tarbet station by Thomas Nugent NN3104 : Arrochar and Tarbet railway station by John Ferguson NN3104 : A southbound train arrives at Arrochar and Tarbet station by Alan Reid NN3104 : Arrochar & Tarbet Station by Mary and Angus Hogg

Fatalities around Arrochar during construction

There were many deaths amongst the teams of navvies who built the
line an this area. This local website LinkExternal link provides great detail about
the causalties and the successful efforts of the local community
to erect a memorial to mark the centenary of the tragic events.

Between Arrochar & Tarbet and Ardlui, the line passes through mature oak woods and crosses Inveruglas Water at Inveruglas. There was a temporary station at Inveruglas (opened 1945) to serve construction of the nearby hydro-electric power scheme. The line crosses the hydro-electric pipelines at Inveruglas power station to the north of the site of the old station. There is also a sizeable stone-built viaduct just north of Inveruglas, by the A82.
NN3109 : West Highland Railway, Inveruglas by Richard Webb NN3109 : West Highland Railway, Inveruglas by Richard Webb NN3109 : West Highland Railway by wfmillar NN3109 : Sloy Hydro-Electric pipeline by Ross Mathieson NN3210 : Viaduct above Loch Lomond by John Allan NN3210 : Railway viaduct north of Inveruglas by Stephen Sweeney NN3211 : Railway bridge near Ardvorlich by Stephen Sweeney

KML

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