YOU CAN EDIT THIS PAGE! Just click any blue "Edit" link and start writing!

West Highland Railway

From Wikitravel
Revision as of 17:21, 7 January 2013 by Scarwood (talk | contribs) (Crianlarich to Fort William)
Jump to: navigation, search
West Highland Railway

Default Banner.jpg

This article is an itinerary.

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 Scotland running 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 tourists.


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 with one portion heading to Oban whilst the other portion running up the rest of the West Highland Railway. The route continues across Rannoch Moor to Fort William, then passes through a later extension to the port of Mallaig.


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.



Most trains on the line are two coach diesel (Class 156 Sprinter) units operated by First ScotRail [1]. Most trains leave Glasgow with two or three sets of these, giving 4 (or more) 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.

The Caledonian Sleeper (also operated by ScotRail) runs from London Euston to Fort William and must be booked in advance. The train does not stop at Glasgow Queen Street, but it stops at the Glaswegian suburb of Westerton. This train does not run on Saturday nights. Passengers who intend to use the seated accommodation on the train must change coaches at Edinburgh Waverley.

It is possible to use the seated carriage on the sleeper trains for domestic journeys within Scotland (i.e between Edinburgh Waverley, Fort William and the intermediate stops). Bear in mind, however, that the seated carriage only has 30 seats and reservations are compulsory.

Catering is available on most trains. Nearly all daytime trains have a trolley service selling snacks and drinks, and all sleeper trains have a luxurious buffet/lounge car. 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 any train.

Be aware that under a ScotRail policy implemented in 2012, alcohol can only be consumed after 1000 and before 2100. This ruling does not apply to the sleeper trains.

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 [2]. 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.


Timetables and fare information are available on the ScotRail website [3]. ScotRail also have a leaflet guide to the route, which you can download [4] or get from a manned station on the line.

Get in

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 the Central Station and the Buchannan 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.

Train tickets can be bought via a number of websites, including ScotRail [5] and [6]. Tickets can also be bought at manned stations and from the train conductor. Especially during the summer months, is is strongly advisable to purchase a ticket and reserve a seat in advance.


The full route takes around 5.5 hours to Mallaig and 3 hours to Oban.

Glasgow to Crianlarich

The first stop after leaving Glasgow 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. 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.

At this point, 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.

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 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 Tyndrum Upper. 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 [7].

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 from wood and ash. 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, over nine miles away from the nearest public road and serving only the deerstalking Corrour Estate and the environmentally friendly Loch Ossian Youth Hostel [8]. 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 [9]. 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 [10]. The line then heads southwest into Fort William, where the Caledonian Sleeper terminates. Passengers can change here for Citylink buses [11] 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 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, Locheilside (by request) 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 [12] to Eigg and Muck. The train is now on the last stage of its journey, stopping briefly at Morar then terminating at Mallaig, where passengers can cross the road to the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry terminal for Skye and the Small Isles.


  • Walk from Milngavie (on the outskirts of Glasgow) to Fort William on the West Highland Way. This roughly follows the railway route from Ardlui to Bridge of Orchy.
  • Take a Citylink Coach from Glasgow to Fort William. There are about 5 coaches per day. These follow the route of the West Highland Railway between Tarbet and Bridge of Orchy. After Bridge of Orchy, they follow a very different route, passing through the scenic Glen Coe and the village of Ballachulish in order to reach Fort William. This is one of the best coach routes in the UK (with most continuing on to Portree or Uig on Skye), but it is not quite as spectacular as the train. Shiel Buses [13] operate buses between Fort William and Mallaig.
  • Take a Citylink Coach from Glasgow to Oban. Two different routes are used, one route travelling via Inveraray and the other via Crianlarich and Tyndrum, both fairly scenic.

Get out

Glasgow is Scotland's largest city, full of architecture, museums, and culture.

Oban is a port for Caledonian MacBrayne [14] 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.

Fort William is a great base for hiking, situated at the foot of Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis.

Mallaig is a port for ferry services that serve Skye and the Small Isles, in addition to Inverie and Tarbet on the Knoydart Penninsula.

This is a usable itinerary. It explains how to get there and touches on all the major points along the way. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!