THE glories of Scotland’s most famous railway line will be seen on a round-the-country rail tour next month.

The West Highland Line has been voted the world’s most scenic railway route and features heavily in a special excursion run by the Scottish Railway Preservation Society (SRPS) – Britain’s longest-established operator of scenic railway tours.

SRPS Railtours is running the excursion to Oban from Inverurie, Dyce, Aberdeen, Stonehaven, Laurencekirk, Montrose, Arbroath, Dundee, and Perth on Saturday, September 16. The train will then cross central Scotland and go via Glasgow and Helensburgh Upper on to the spectacular southern half of the West Highland Line by Loch Lomond, Loch Awe, Ben Cruachan and the Pass of Brander to Oban with its views of Mull across the Firth of Lorn.

The SRPS train of maroon carriages, all of fifties and sixties vintage, which have been restored and maintained by the SRPS volunteers will be hauled by a classic diesel engine through to Oban.

SRPS Railtours is wholly run by volunteers and is part of the Scottish Railway Preservation Society, a Society with charitable status. The charity started running excursions by train in 1970 and has just finished a very successful season of four rail tours featuring steam traction and the West Highland line.

A spokesman for SRPS said: “Passengers will join our special train, sit back, relax and let someone else do the driving while they enjoy some of the most outstanding scenery in Britain. The train will take you past such scenic splendours as the Clyde Estuary, then the Gare Loch, Loch Long, Loch Lomond, then heads west from Crianlarich via Glen Lochy, Loch Awe, the Pass of Brander and Connel Ferry before arriving into Oban.

“After a break in the bustling town with the attractions of McCaigs Tower, and Oban Distillery, the train will return towards the Northern Lights of Aberdeen.”

The fares are £74 for adults, £56 for children, or passengers can enjoy the added comfort of First Class for £112 all including seat reservations.

The spokesman added: “Passengers will get a reserved seat and pre-booked meals, cooked on the train, which will be brought to their seats by our volunteer stewards.

“A full cooked breakfast can be yours for £10 and three-course hot dinner for £15. On-train are two buffet cars offering a selection of snacks, tea, coffee, soft drinks and a licensed bar throughout the day.”

For further information, visit their website.


Hamish MacPherson: A remarkable feat of engineering

THE West Highland Line is not just one of the most beautiful railway routes in the world, it is also a remarkable feat of engineering.

Though the Scottish Rail Preservation Society’s tour next month only takes in the southern part of the Line to Oban, those who have travelled the full extent of it to Mallaig will recall its staggering beauty.

It’s just over 100 miles on the Oban branch of the line to Glasgow, going via Taynuilt and Loch Awe to Crianlarich.

The full northern line from Mallaig southwards joins the Oban branch at Tyndrum having passed through Morar, Arisaig, Glenfinnan – the viaduct that features in Harry Potter movies – Corpach, Fort William, Roy Bridge Rannoch Moor and Bridge of Orchy, then on to Glasgow and the line’s traditional terminus, Glasgow Queen Street, some 165 miles from Mallaig.

Traditionalists often say that the Line only really starts its northward journey at Helensburgh Upper, as that is the first station that is on a different line to others.

The line was built by order of the UK Government via the West Highland Railway Act of 1890. It was an attempt to open up the north-west to the trains with which Victorian Britain was obsessed, and had to overcome objections from rival railway companies and landowners.

The builders, Lucas and Aird, were famed for their work on such projects as the Tilbury Docks in London, Blackfriars Bridge and the Manchester Ship Canal which they completed after the death of the original builder, Thomas Walker.

They imported huge amounts of labour – navvies, the name deriving from navigators – and took more than four years to complete the line from Craigendoran to Fort William which was formally opened on August 11, 1894.

Almost immediately the line hit trouble as trains became stuck in the heavy snows that fell over the winter of 1894-95. In fact it never made a profit after that and the North British Railway had to bail out the line.

Nevertheless the extension to Mallaig was approved by Parliament in 1897 and was finished by 1901, with the works including the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

The line was taken over by British Railways when the whole network was nationalised in 1948, and survived the Beeching Axe which ended so many lines in the 1960s.