|The scenic splendour of the West Highland's of Scotland is without question best viewed from the comfort of a train, the rugged terrain forcing a saw-tooth gradient profile as the rails round mountainous contours high above innumerable lochs, often well away from any road. Today the fantastic joumey attracts thousands of passengers each Summer but originally it was farming and the lucrative fishing traffic which tempted two railway companies. The Callander & Oban Railway completed it's route in 1880, whilst the West Highland Railway (from Craigendoran on the River Clyde to Fort William) opened in August 1894 and at 100 miles long remains the greatest mileage opened on one day of any railway in Britain. Furthermore, it opened an extension to Mallaig in 1901. Both of the 'local' companies had mighty backing, the C&O from the Caledonian Railway and the West Highland from the 'Caley's' arch rival the North British Railway. But today a link line at Crianlarich effectively unites the two routes, Dr Beeching's axe having sliced away the 40 mile line from Crianlarich to Dunblane. It's two associated branches closed too, Killin in 1965, and Ballachulish the following year. Amalgamated they may well be, but the remaining main line, once associated with the West Coast companies, and the more economically built and sharply curved West Highland, inspired by Parliament's sympathy for the disadvantaged areas of the West Highlands, remain two distinctly different railways . . . but combined they offer the 'West Highland Experience', which is widely regarded as one of Britains truly great railway joumeys.|
- Side One -
- 1 - Along West Highland Lines - Adrian Quine introduces the two competing railways, the erstwhile Caledonian Railway`s route to Oban and its rival, the North British Railway`s classic West Highland line.
- The Callander & Oban Railway - What better guide to take us along the remaining section of the original railway into the West Highlands, from Crianlarich to Oban, than Michael Magnay a ScotRail driver who travels the route nearly everyday and moreover is a passionate historian for all things C&O, a self confessed `Obancentric!` Conversation, punctuated by token exchanges and radio communication with the Banavie signalman, includes Royal connections, Clan rivalry, the unique Pass of Brander Semaphores - some of the World`s first automatic signals, and the lost branch from Connel Ferry to Ballachulish with it`s remarkable cantilever bridge.
- Side Two - The West Highland Today
- 1 - Grahame Maxton, Railtrack Signalling Manager, Fort William explains the contrasting signalling arrangements of the line during a visit to Fort William Junction Signalbox. One of only two conventional signalboxes to survive the introduction of Radio Electronic Tokenless Block signalling in 1987 it retains a fully manual frame. Here trains arriving under RETB control meet an oasis of traditional semaphore signals retained to control Fort William s complicated yard and motive power depot movements, whereas a small track-circuited panel controls the nearby station area.
- 2 - Banavie RETB Signalling Centre visit. On the banks of the Caledonian Canal, less than 2 miles from Fort William Junction, is the RETB nerve centre for both West Highland Lines. Signalmen overlook and control a swing bridge as well as overseeing over 180 miles of railway, from Craigendoran to Crianlarich and onwards to Oban, or Fort William and Mallaig. Drivers of Sprinters, freight trains and even a steam engine use `in cab` radios to receive permission to proceed.
- 3 -`The Jacobite` steam operation from Fort William to Mallaig on the beautiful West Highland Extension. We join driver peter Kirk on the footplate of our cover star British Railways Standard Class 4, 75014 on the regular steam hauled service. At Glenfinnan John Barnes, of the Friends of the West Highland Line, gives an insight into the steam operation and the railway museum in Glenfinnan station itself. The guard on `The Jacobite`, John Dooley, gives his thoughts on steam to Mallaig and of the `railway for all seasons`. 75014 has the last word.
Area: UK Scotland