Difference between revisions of "West Highland Railway"
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The West Highland Railway, also known as the West Highland Line (Scottish Gaelic: Rathad Iarainn nan Eilean - "Iron Road to the Isles"), is a scenic railway in western Scotland. The line runs from Glasgow to Fort William and Mallaig, with a branch leading to Oban from Crianlarich.
In 2009, the readers of Wanderlust magazine voted the West Highland Line as the most scenic railway line in the world - a mantra repeated by many awestruck travellers.
This is a modern working railway which runs from Glasgow to the Highlands through some spectacular scenery. The line passes Loch Long and Loch Lomond to Crianlarich, where most trains divide. One portion of the train heads west to the port of Oban, whilst the other portion travels up the rest of the original West Highland Railway. The route continues across Rannoch Moor to Fort William, where the trains reverse and head west in order to reach the port of Mallaig.
Outwith Glasgow, there are no large cities along its route. Most stations are in remote villages, and a number of stops are little more than a platform in middle of nowhere. The railway does serve a few towns, such as Helensburgh and Fort William.
Since the great improvements to Scottish trunk roads in the 1980s, the train journey often takes significantly longer than the equivalent road journey. This is because of the tremendous amount of make up time in the schedule, along with the poor scheduling of local stopping trains on the North Clyde line. In addition, 15 minutes are given to divide trains in Crianlarich. Nevertheless, the railway journey is more scenic than the road journey, and is substantially more comfortable than the equivalent bus journey.
In total, the Glasgow - Mallaig trains cover 164 miles (264 km) over 5½ hours, whilst the Oban trains cover 101 miles (163 km) over 3 hours.
The line between Glasgow and Mallaig was built in stages between 1889 and 1901. Oban was served by a separate line (called the Callander and Oban Railway) from Glasgow, which was opened in 1880. After most of the Callander and Oban Railway was closed in 1965, the Oban services were diverted via the West Highland Railway to enable them to reach Oban via Crianlarich.
ScotRail Day Services
Most trains on the line are two-coach diesel (specifically Class 156 'Super Sprinter') units operated by ScotRail. Most trains leave Glasgow with two or three sets of these, giving four to six coaches. These trains divide at Crianlarich, with two or four carriages going to Oban and the rest going to Fort William and Mallaig. Make sure that you sit in the correct part of the train. There are typically three of these trains per day.
On Sundays between June and August, an additional daytime train operates from Edinburgh Waverley to Oban, leaving in the morning and returning in the evening. This train does not stop at Glasgow Queen Street, however it does stop at Dalmuir. Passengers from Glasgow can get a local train from Glasgow Central (Low Level) to Dalmuir to meet this train. See the timetable for details.
Only standard class is conveyed on these trains, however they offer a decent level of comfort. Nearly all daytime trains also have a trolley service selling snacks and drinks. That being said, it is possible to bring your own picnic on any train.
Be aware that under a ScotRail policy implemented in 2012, alcohol can only be consumed on the daytime trains after 1000 and before 2100.
A portion of the Caledonian Sleeper (operated by Serco) runs from London Euston to Fort William via Watford Junction, Crewe, Preston, Edinburgh and Glasgow Queen Street, and must be booked in advance. This train does not run on Saturday nights.
Three classes of travel are available: First Class sleeper, Standard Class sleeper, and seated. All sleeper cabins have a washbasin with hot and cold running water and a shaver socket, which can be used to charge devices with an adapter. Toilets are available at the end of each carriage.
The lower berth is approximately 197cm (6'5") long and 67cm wide. The upper berth is approximately 192cm (6'3") long and 67cm wide. Single passengers travelling in Standard Class may have to share their cabin with somebody of the same gender unless they pay a sole occupancy supplement. Those travelling in First Class or have paid the sole occupancy supplement will find themselves in the same style of cabin, albeit the upper berth will be locked away.
In addition to sole occupancy, First Class ticket holders also have room service, exclusive use of the lounge car during busy times, a complimentary toiletries pack and a complimentary breakfast in the morning. They can also use the shower facilities at London Euston and Fort William for free.
There is room for small and medium-sized bags and cases on the luggage racks in each cabin, or on the floor if necessary, though very large suitcases and bicycles can be placed in the luggage area in the seated carriage. However, bear in mind any luggage or bicycles stored in this area will need to be transferred to another coach at Edinburgh Waverley at around 04:45 in the morning.
The comfort of seated accommodation is usually roughly equivalent to that of first class accommodation on a daytime train - at least between London and Edinburgh. At Edinburgh, passengers using the seated accommodation on the train must change coaches. Blindfolds and a complimentary magazine are provided for seated customers.
Daytime tickets are valid for travel in the seated carriage between Edinburgh Waverley and Fort William. Bear in mind, however, that the seated carriage only has 30 seats and reservations are compulsory.
All sleeper trains have a luxurious buffet/lounge car, which may be restricted to first-class ticket holders at busy times. Power sockets for laptops and mobiles can be found in the lounge car, located on the tables between the sofas. Seated passengers cannot fully use the facilities of the lounge car - they only purchase and take away food from a designated buffet window. That being said, it is possible to bring your own picnic on board these trains.
Those with children under 16 or pets must travel in a twin berth cabin with another member of their group, or have sole occupancy of a cabin.
West Coast Railways
The Jacobite Steam Train runs between Fort William and Mallaig up to twice per day. The service operates Monday to Friday between May and October, and also on Saturday and Sunday between June and August.
The daily service departs Fort William at 10:15, stops at Glenfinnan from 10:54 to 11:22 and arrives at Mallaig at 12:20. The return from Mallaig departs at 14:10 and runs non-stop to Fort William, arriving back at 16:00.
An additional service runs from 3 June until 30 August on Monday to Friday. This train departs Fort William at 14:30, stopping at Glenfinnan at 15:20 with an arrival time in Mallaig at 16:44. The return from Mallaig departs at 18:38 and runs non-stop to Fort William, arriving back at 20:30.
Tickets can be bought via the West Coast Railways website . Tickets can also be bought from the guard on the train, subject to availability, but not from any manned ticket offices or on board any other train.
North of Helensburgh, the line is mostly single-track, hence the occasional delay at stations with crossing loops to allow other trains to pass in the opposite direction.
Railway enthusiasts may notice that there are no signals, but boards that say 'Obtain token before proceeding.' Most of the signalling on the West Highland Line is controlled via radio from the train station at Banavie. However, the line around Fort William is still semaphore-controlled, and there are some unusual semaphores on the Oban line known as the Pass of Brander Stone Signals.
A single from Glasgow to Mallaig costs just under £16 if booked in advance, rising to around £34 if purchased on the day. Further fare information can be found on the ScotRail website.
Train tickets can be bought via a number of websites, including ScotRail  and thetrainline.com . Tickets can also be bought at any manned station in the United Kingdom, and from the train conductor. Especially during the summer months, it is not unusual for the train to be full; hence it is strongly advisable to purchase a ticket and reserve a seat in advance.
For those travellers who want to experience the West Highland Railway in all its glory, it all begins at Glasgow's Queen Street station. The station is within a reasonable walking distance from Central Station and the Buchanan Bus Station. In addition, a bus service (number 398) runs between these stations. The bus is free if you already have your onward rail ticket.
Some stations on the line are request stops. Locheilside, Lochailort, Beasdale and Falls of Cruachan are request stops for all ScotRail trains. In addition, Ardlui, Corrour and Roy Bridge are request stops for the sleeper trains. To board at these stations, give an arm signal to the driver. To alight, inform the conductor on board.
Glasgow to Crianlarich
Shortly after leaving Queen Street station, and beyond Queen Street Tunnel, the line follows a north-westerly course through the suburbs of Maryhill and Kelvindale. The first stop is the suburb of Dalmuir, in Clydebank. This is an interchange on the electric Glasgow commuter network, and there are direct trains from here to Glasgow Central, Edinburgh Waverley and Motherwell. Timetable information can be found on the ScotRail website.
The journey continues along the north bank of the River Clyde, passing under the Erskine Bridge. Entering Dumbarton, the castle can be seen on the left just before the stop at Dumbarton Central, and Ben Lomond can be seen in the distance on the right. Entering the resort town of Helensburgh, the train leaves the electric network and climbs up the hill on the start of the single track line to Helensburgh Upper.
Leaving Helensburgh on what is now officially the West Highland Line, the Gareloch can be seen on the left as far as the stop at Garelochhead. The controversial Faslane nuclear submarine base can be seen here. The train then proceeds along the side of Loch Long to Arrochar & Tarbet. Following the western shore of Loch Lomond, the train makes its way to Ardlui, where the daytime train often waits for a down train to pass. The train then proceeds up Glen Falloch to Crianlarich, where most daytime trains are split in two.
Crianlarich to Oban
Both sections continue up Strath Fillan along different lines to the village of Tyndrum, which bizarrely has two railway stations, Upper Tyndrum and Tyndrum Lower, each serving a different branch of the railway due to the geography of the glen here.
The Oban branch stops at Tyndrum Lower, then passes through Glen Lochy to Dalmally. A few miles after Dalmally, Kilchurn Castle can be seen on the left beside Loch Awe. After stopping at Loch Awe, there is a request stop at Falls of Cruachan near the Cruachan Hydro Electric Power Station (which is housed in a cavern hollowed out of the hillside). This stop is only served during the summer months and is mostly used by hillwalkers. The line then passes through the Pass of Brander to Taynuilt. From here, Loch Etive (a sea loch) can be seen on the right. The next stop is Connel Ferry from where a branch of the Callander and Oban Railway used to run north to Ballachulish, a village about ten miles south of Fort William. From Connel the line runs inland to Oban, where passengers have an easy transfer to the ferry terminal and bus stances.
Crianlarich to Fort William
The first stop is Upper Tyndrum. The line then heads north to Bridge of Orchy, with the West Highland Way footpath running alongside, and the A82 road nearby. Halfway between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy, there is an impressive loop known as the 'Horseshoe Curve' in the line at Auch, before the line runs along the side of Beinn Dorain (1076ft). Part of the building at the Bridge of Orchy railway station is a youth hostel called the West Highland Way Sleeper .
After Bridge of Orchy, the line turns away from the road and heads over Rannoch Moor, a large upland wilderness. In places the line is 'floating' on the moor, on foundations made of tree roots, brushwood and thousands of tons of earth and ashes. Along the line, you just might see some soldiers' trenches dating back from 1745 - blink and you will miss them! At Rannoch, there is a hotel and a road heading east to Pitlochry. It is possible to reach Rannoch station by bus from Pitlochry during the summer, changing at Kinloch Rannoch.
The next stop is Corrour, Britain's most remote and highest railway halt at 410 m (1347 ft) above sea level. Corrour is over nine miles away from the nearest public road and serves only the deerstalking Corrour Estate and the environmentally friendly Loch Ossian Youth Hostel . Corrour is a request stop for the Caledonian Sleeper, whilst all other scheduled trains stop here anyway. For experienced hillwalkers, Rannoch is a half day walk away back down the line.
The picturesque Loch Treig can be seen on the left shortly after leaving Corrour, before the train stops at Tulloch. The station buildings are now a hostel . Approaching Roy Bridge, waterfalls can be seen on the left. The beautiful Monessie Gorge can also be seen from the left hand side of the train. At Spean Bridge, the station buildings are now a restaurant .
The line then heads southwest into Fort William, where the Caledonian Sleeper terminates. Passengers can change here for Citylink buses  to Oban, the Isle of Skye, and also Inverness via Loch Ness.
Fort William to Mallaig
This part of the line was built as the Mallaig Extension Railway and was completed in 1901. Now known as part of the West Highland Line, some people argue that this is the best part of the journey between Glasgow and Mallaig, mostly owing to its spectacular scenery but also in part due to its role in the Harry Potter franchise. The train reverses out of Fort William and heads west to the suburb of Banavie, where most of the signalling on the West Highland Railway is controlled from. At this point, Neptune's Staircase (an impressive series of canal locks) can be seen from the right-hand side of the train.
The train heads on alongside the shores of Loch Eil, stopping at Corpach, the Loch Eil Outward Bound centre and the request stop at Locheilside before reaching Glenfinnan, where the train crosses the infamous 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct.
The train then passes the scenic Loch Eilt before reaching the small village of Lochailort (a request stop). Passing Loch nan Uamh and the request stop at Beasdale, the train reaches the coast at Arisaig, where passengers can walk to the nearby Ferry Landing for the Arisaig Marine ferry  to Eigg, Muck and Rum.
The train is now on the last stage of its journey, traversing the Back of Keppoch to the village of Morar, which is famed for its local sandy beaches as seen in the films 'Local Hero' and 'Highlander'. A few minutes after Morar, the train terminates at Mallaig, where passengers can cross the road to the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry terminal for Skye, the Small Isles and South Uist .
Glasgow is Scotland's largest city, full of architecture, museums, and culture.
Oban is a port for Caledonian MacBrayne  ferry services to the islands of Mull, Lismore, Colonsay, Islay (summer only), Coll, Tiree, Barra and South Uist. Two local ferries also operate to the island of Kerrera. Further south of Oban are the Slate Islands, including Seil, Easdale and Luing, with the latter two served by ferries from Seil.