Fort William-Mallaig Voted Best in UK

The West Highland Lines have once again come out on top in Travel magazine Wanderlust, with the Fort William-Mallaig section named the Most Scenic Rail Journey in the UK. The Mallaig extension beat the likes of the Great Western Main Line through Dawlish, plus routes through Yorkshire and Snowdonia in Wales.

Previously Wanderlust voted the whole West Highland Line from Glasgow to Fort Willliam & Mallaig as the Top Railway Journey in the World, beating the awe-inspiring mountainous routes in Scandinavia and Peru. The railway won this award three years in a row from 2009 to 2011.

The 41-mile Mallaig Extension was reportedly one of the most expensive rail routes to be built in Great Britain and one of the last main lines, being opened in 1901. In 2017, it is more popular than ever, with more visiting charter trains and an expanded Jacobite steam train season, which included Easter specials for the first time and a two-service-a-day set-up lasting this time right through September. Festive specials are also running in December.

Published 08/11/17

WHL features in signalling book

The West Highland Lines feature in a new colour photo collection of Britain's signal boxes, written by our Webmaster Gordon Webster. "Signal Boxes and Semaphores: The Decline" examines the last remaining boxes on the British rail network during their final years and the end of semaphore signalling. Network Rail are gradually phasing out mechanical signalling in favour of computerised Rail Operating Centres (ROCs); a real end of an era in rail history, with all manual boxes set to be abolished within the next decade.

The book covers the history of the last working West Highland box at Fort William Junction (formerly named Mallaig Junction), where the Mallaig extension and main route to Glasgow separate. The magnificently-restored Glenfinnan box also features, as do the unique, lattice-post rockfall semaphores in the Pass of Brander - the only examples of their kind in the UK. A large chapter is devoted to Scotland, featuring the numerous boxes and signals on the Highland Main Line, Inverness-Aberdeen, Aberdeen-Glasgow and Glasgow-Stranraer/Carlisle.

The book is published by Amberley and is available to buy on Amazon by clicking HERE

Published 14/02/17

Loch Long Tree Clearance


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet more stunning scenic views from the train have been recovered on the WHL at Morelaggan, above Loch Long, after removal of lineside vegetation. The Network Rail/ScotRail Alliance completed the work, having committed to continue tree removal following previous successful clearances led by the Friends at other locations on the railway. 

The cleared section is around 350 metres in length where the Glasgow-Fort William line runs high over the hillside above Loch Long, between Garelochhead and Arrochar & Tarbet stations. The views above show the scenery which has now been opened up to train travellers; looking north (left) and south (right) as ScotRail 'Sprinter' units are seen passing. Like many locations along the West Highland Lines, vegetation had gradually grown through the decades and obscured the views. Contractors TRAC completed the work on behalf of Network Rail and the Friends' Norman McNab is helping out as a consultant for the current programme of tree clearance work. 

Morelaggan was just one location on the society's 'wish list' for view recovery and we are pleased to hear that work is about to commence at another spot, on the Oban line. This is on the approach to Glencruitten Summit, where the line climbs uphill looking out towards Oban bay. Previous tree clearance - completed by the Friends in coordination with other local organisations - revealed beautiful scenic views at locations such as Loch Awe, Glen Falloch and Glenfinnan Viaduct. It is pleasing to see Network Rail and ScotRail continuing the work, with the West Highland Line being marketed as one of Scotland's 'Great Scenic Rail Journeys'.

Published 23/09/16

Queen St Re-opens

Glasgow Queen Street high level station re-opened to West Highland Line passenger trains on Sunday 7 August - a day earlier than originally scheduled - following completion of electrification work. The terminus fully re-opened to all trains on the 8th, ending the long routine of ScotRail services being diverted to either Queen St low level or Glasgow Central. WHL trains used the former.

Queen St closed back on 20 March, to allow engineers to erect overhead catenary in advance of electric services starting to Edinburgh, though these are now not expected to begin until July 2017. Track has been replaced, with platforms re-surfaced and a new colour light signal gantry has appeared over the entrance to Cowlairs Tunnel. The rails within the tunnel itself had to be lowered to accommodate the overhead wires, which was a major undertaking.

During the closure which lasted several months, WHL trains used the low level 'North Clyde' electrified route on their way to and from Oban, Fort William and Mallaig. Generally, trains bound for the Highlands headed east out of Queen St low level via Bellgrove and Springburn, where they used a rarely-traversed part of one of the two Cowlairs triangles to join the usual route via Maryhill. In the opposite direction, services came in from the west via more rare track, taking in Anniesland, Partick and the banks of the Clyde where P.S Waverley was often docked.

Published 21/08/16

West Coast Main Line consultation and the WHL

Dear All,

You may or may not be aware that the UK Dept. for Transport are at present conducting a public consultation on the next West Coast Main Line franchise.

What has that got to do with the West Highland Lines you may ask. Well quite a lot really. As you will know, unless you go on to the sleeper.scot or the trainline or strangely, greatwestern websites, it can be very difficult to book a sleeper to Fort William, or any of the other sleeper destinations for that matter. This also applies to seated accommodation on sleeper trains. If you try the Virgin Trains website it will just tell you, “no tickets are available, please refine your search.”

Any FWHL members who were at the AGM will know that even going back to the First ScotRail franchise this is an issue that the sleeper operators and ourselves have tried hard to get resolved but with no results. Virgin Trains told us they were only obliged to offer all other operators services at booking offices. This is not acceptable.

 We feel the consultation is a chance to highlight this issue. We shall of course be responding to reflect the society’s view. That will count as one submission. If every member of FWHL alone made a similar submission that would count as 400 submissions on that one point.

We know that all of you have the best interests of the WHL at heart so we ask if you could possibly take a little time out this week to respond to the consultation. You may wish to make other personal points in the survey, but you DO NOT NEED to answer all the questions. There is a question on ticketing where you can restrict your response to a few lines in the “other comments” box towards the end. We would suggest if you could, using your own words, say something emphasising that , “The operator should be required to offer all other operators’ train services on their booking website. This must include sleeper services and seated accommodation on sleeper services. These are not offered at the moment on the website of the current operator of the West Coast Main Line.”

Please click HERE to access the survey.

Details of the consultation are on www.gov.uk/government/collections/rail-franchising#intercity-west-coast-franchise

The consultation closes on 2nd August 2016. We know this is short notice, but there is still time for you take a small step that could help improve the future viability of the West Highland Lines.

Thank you,
FWHL Committee

Glasgow Queen St Closure - Service Alterations

Glasgow Queen Street - the principal station in Glasgow serving the West Highland Lines - is presently closed for refurbishment and set to remain shut until Monday 8 August 2016.

Well actually it isn't completely closed! Most services, including all Glasgow-Fort William/Mallaig/Oban trains, are being diverted to arrive and leave from Queen St's low level platforms (Nos 8 and 9). The main station concourse, i.e. high level platforms, is shut as part of a major scheduled series of engineering works in preparation for the beginning of electric trains running on the Edinburgh-Glasgow route via Falkirk High. Cowlairs Tunnel requires to be altered for the fitting of overhead wires and work is also taking place to renew track in the station and lengthen the platforms for the introduction of Electric Multiple Units in December. ScotRail's Class 380s will be the first EMUs to work into Queen St as a temporary measure until the purpose-built new Hitachi units come into traffic in autumn 2017.

Queen St high level closed to trains on Sunday 20 March, to herald the beginning of what is probably the biggest ever maintenance project since the station opened in 1842. Much track renewal has subsequently taken place, with engineering trains being visible daily from the Buchanan Galleries Shopping Centre above the platform ends. However the platforms are generally well hidden from public view and the concourse shops are shut, though the public can still walk through for the time being.

Until August, all ScotRail's West Highland Line services will be taking an unusual path beneath Glasgow's streets, being diverted through the tunnels of the low level line via Partick and Springburn. Incoming trains from Oban or Mallaig are, instead of taking the line towards Maryhill at Westerton, taking the junction onto the electrified route to Anniesland, past Hyndland and Charing Cross to reach Queen St from the west. Outward trains to the Highlands are continuing this way east from Queen St towards Bellgrove, thereafter turning gradually 180 degrees to face west past Springburn via a rarely-used section of track at Cowlairs. They then take the usual line via Ashfield and Maryhill. Timings are altered little from usual and ScotRail has released a temporary timetable covering the interim period until August. The Caledonian Sleeper will continue to take its usual route via Queen St low level. 

For those looking for something a bit different travel-wise, the advice is catch these trains while you can! Many other trains normally using Queen St high level will also go by way of the low level system, including those to Edinburgh Waverley, Alloa and Stirling. Inverness and Aberdeen services are using Glasgow Central, running via Coatbridge and Rutherglen.

Travellers are advised to plan their journeys carefully and ScotRail has plenty useful information to help, plus timetables, available HERE 

(Top) A train from Oban passes Partick.

(Bottom) An engineers train is seen at Queen St a month into the closure.

Published 05/05/16

Sprinter Toilet Modifications

The first West Highland Line 'Sprinter' unit to be fitted with a controlled emission toilet (156 485) has now entered service on the routes to Oban, Fort William and Mallaig.  A programme is underway to fit all ScotRail Class 156 DMUs with toilet retention tanks for this purpose by 2017, as opposed to the current system where toilet waste is released onto the track.  Work on the units is expected to be slow at first until the efficiency of the equipment is proven, after which the programme should gather more pace. 

The Metro-Cammell-built Class 156s were first introduced onto the West Highland Lines in 1989.  In 2018, they are planned for replacement by the later-built Class 158s.

(Photo Copyright Nick Jones)

Published 03/11/15

More Oban Sunday trains - fantastic news!

The Friends are delighted to see yet another winter Sunday service enhancement on the West Highland Lines, with the announcement from ScotRail that the (Sundays) 0956 Glasgow-Oban and 1611 Oban-Glasgow will run all year round starting from the new timetable on 13 December. Previously it was a summer season working only. 

This hugely welcome news means that Oban will now have three trains a day on Sundays throughout the year.  It is tha latest of several vast timetable improvements on the Oban line, starting in May 2014 when the service from Glasgow was doubled to six trains per day, plus an extra Oban-Dalmally and return 'schools' service was added.  Following that, the 1211 ex-Oban and 1218 ex-Glasgow were adopted for the winter timetable for the first time.  All these services have proved very popular with travellers, being very well-used, so the latest development will no doubt be a big boost for people staying along the line; 50 years after the closure of the original section of route out to Callander.

The Friends are continuing to campaign for a better Fort William-Mallaig Sunday service throughout the winter too; currently there is just one train a day in each direction.

Published 23/10/15

The Making of the Highland Collection: A talk by artist Brendan Neiland

Artist Brendan Neiland will be giving a talk in West Highland College, Fort William on Wed 21 October, 7.30pm, about his classic 'Highland Collection' railway posters, which were specially commissioned by ScotRail back in 1996 to promote rail lines to the Highlands.  The six posters - depicting Glenfinnan Viaduct, Loch Shiel, the Isle of Skye, Glen Coe, the Nevis Range and the village of Tain - were spray-painted in acrylic form to show some classic scenery Brendan came across on his travels and are now all available to buy as postcards and posters (on sale at Glenfinnan Station Museum).  The 'Highland Collection' won the Scottish Advertising & Design Award for best use of illustration in an advertisement.

Brendan Neiland is one of Scotland's foremost contemporary painters and printmakers represented in major museums and art galleries worldwide.  His work has been the subject of several television documentaries.  The talk will be a fascinating story of research and inspiration, and the artistic techniques used to capture the spirit of the Highlands for the travelling public.

The event is the first in a series organised by the newly-formed West Highland Community Rail Partnership in order to highlight the impact of the West Highland Line on the community it serves.  Focusing on the line from Crianlarich to Mallaig, the partnership is a voluntary community interest group working with the rail industry to maximise the potential benefit of the railway to the community.

Published 11/10/15

Callander Railway Festival

 

The Friends were delighted to support the Callander Railway Festival over the weekend of 25-27 September, which marked 50 years since the closure of the raliway through Callander - the Callander & Oban line.  Volunteers from our society had a trade stand present showcasing our work and selling various West Highland/Callander & Oban Line gifts.  Specially-produced British Railways 'Callander' station totem magnets and stickers went down particularly well! 

The Callander Railway Festival was a one-off event, held in various venues simultaneously around the popular Trossachs village.  Amongst the various attractions were other railway society trade stands, a 5" gauge miniature railway, model railways and vintage vehicle displays.  Various old artefacts from the closed Dunblane-Crianlarich line were also showcased, including the final log book from Glenoglehead signal box which shows the details for passing trains up to the very last one on 27 September 1965.  Not to mention an old gas lamp, a single line tablet from Dalmally to Taynuilt and the smokebox numberplate of now-scrapped 'Black Five' steam locomotive No. 44997. 

This was a fantastic weekend helped by sunny and warm weather, and the Friends would like to thank the organisers for allowing us to be involved in it.

Published 27/09/15

Callander & Oban Line closure: Fifty years on

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

27 September 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of closure of the Callander & Oban line – the original route of the Caledonian Railway from Glasgow to Crianlarich.  This beautifully scenic main line, which stretched from Dunblane on the Stirling-Perth line to Crianlarich Lower via Callander, closed on 27 September 1965 following a landslide in Glen Ogle, sealing its fate after it was already listed for imminent closure as part of the Beeching Cuts. 

The whole route from Glasgow to Oban belonged to the Caledonian Railway, succeeded by the London Midland & Scottish Rly (LMS) in 1923 before nationalisation in 1948 when all lines became part of British Railways. The neighbouring West Highland line on the other hand was owned by the North British Rly, then London & North Eastern Rly (LNER) before 1948.

The Callander & Oban line was gradually opened in stages, taking twice as many years to build as the West Highland. Building west from Dunblane, temporary terminuses were reached at Callander, Glenoglehead, Tyndrum and Dalmally before Oban itself in 1880. At Crianlarich it famously cut underneath Strathfillan viaduct on the West Highland Line, but only after the latter line was built later in 1894 and soon after a linking spur was built to join the two. This spur was only regularly used after Nationalisation in 1948. Crianlarich had two stations; Crianlarich Lower on the C&O and Upper station on the WHL (today's station, now named just Crianlarich).

The Callander & Oban, like the WHL, crossed very pictureque, remote countryside but was steeply graded, with a ruling gradient of 1 in 60 on the climb from Balquhidder to Glenoglehead.  At Balquhidder it joined the Lochearnhead, St Fillans & Comrie Railway, which closed in 1951.

The Callander & Oban line was planned for closure in November 1965, after it was decided Glasgow-Oban trains would be permanently re-routed via the WHL through Ardlui and Crianlarich Upper.  But two months before the planned closure date the aforementioned landslide occurred in Glen Ogle, with earth and rocks covering the line. To clear it and reopen the line was deemed not to be worthwhile for only two months so it shut for good that day. Rumours that the rockfall was caused deliberately to ensure the C&O's closure have never been confirmed.

When the Dunblane-Crianlarich section closed in 1965, the linking spur at Crianlarich was put into full-time use and all Glasgow-Oban trains would thereafter head this way. Sidings remained between the spur and the site of closed Crianlarich Lower station until the early 1990s, used for loading timber onto freight trains.

Much of the old Callander & Oban trackbed survives today as a cycle path (see pictures above), with the path of the line clearly visible.  Other surviving relics today include the elegant Glenoglehead Viaduct (above right), Glenoglehead station building (turned into a house) and a few platforms including Killin Junction. Callander is a popular tourist destination.

Note it is also the 50th anniversary since closure of the short Killin branch line, which left the C&O line at Killin Junction.  It shut on the same day as the main line in 1965.  Most of its trackbed also survives as a cycleway; more photos showing both lines’ remains as they look today can be found on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/fowhlsociety

Published 29/09/15

Infrastructure Update

- It has just come to light that the rail connection into the former Esso petroleum depot in Oban was finally removed in March this year. The points into what remained of this overgrown spur (near Tesco) were removed and replaced with plain track. Before oil traffic began, this was originally the site of Oban motive power depot and goods yard. The oil depot is believed to have been last used in 1993 (unless any reader knows otherwise?)

- Recently the yellow 'wasp stripe' doors on Crianlarich's old engine shed appeared to be getting a much-needed repaint! In recent years they have become very faded, though happily the former North British Railway building is still in regular use by the permanent way department.

- Upgrades to the Radio Electronic Token Block (RETB) signalling equipment on the lines are still ongoing.

Published 29/06/15

Funeral Day Tribute to the Late Charles Kennedy

The FWHL's late Honorary President Charles Kennedy was laid to rest on Friday following a very moving funeral service in Caol, on the outskirts of Fort Wiliam. This was close to Charles' home in Lochyside. Representatives from the Friends' committee were in attendance.

Thanks are due to Friends' vice-president John Barnes and his wife Hege Hernes, both owners of Glenfinnan Station Museum, who placed special memorial wreaths on the front of both Jacobite steam trains running that day as a tribute to Charles (top left). The trains gave a whistle as they passed next to the former MP's home alongside the Lochy Viaduct.

In addition, a wreath was placed on the front of that evening's Caledonian Sleeper bound for London Euston, hauled by Class 67 locomotive No. 67 004 "Cairn Gorm" (above & below). This was most appropriate, as Charles was a regular user of the sleeper. He will be much missed by all who knew him in Lochaber and beyond.

(Photos Copyright of committee member Nick Jones and must not be copied without permission)

Published 14/06/15

Sleeper Ticketing Problems

Friends of the West Highland Lines would like to clarify current ticketing arrangements for the seated section of the Fort William-London Euston Caledonian Sleeper.  On 1 April this year, Serco took over operation of the train from ScotRail and have since launched their new brand complete with a new website.  While ScotRail still sells tickets for all trains running across the country - including those by other operators - unfortunately the sleeper is no longer listed on the journey planner on ScotRail's website.  

To any prospective passenger, this gives the impression that the sleeper does not even exist, at least as a seated passenger service between Edinburgh and Fort William.  However, we would like to make it clear that it very much does exist!  As previously under ScotRail, passengers can continue to use it as an ordinary day service anywhere along the West Highland section.  Ordinary valid tickets, whether purchased from a ScotRail ticket office or their website, will still be accepted and the on-train guard can also sell tickets to those boarding at stations without ticket issuing facilities.  While reservations are encouraged, those without are still accepted space permitting.  

Highland Railcards (which allow 50% off rail travel for those living in selected postcodes along the West Highland Lines) are also still valid on the sleeper's seated coach.  Those journeying overnight to and from England - either as a sleeper or seated coach passenger - can make bookings on the Serco Caledonian Sleeper website (www.sleeper.scot).  

As visitors to our 2015 AGM will be aware, the FWHL committee is extremely concerned at the lack of information about ticketing for the sleeper, or more specifically the misinformation coming from the ScotRail website.  The train makes up a quarter of the Glasgow-Fort William line's daily services in either direction and is very well-used by locals, hillwalkers and tourists alike.  As it does not even appear on ScotRail's journey planner, this causes unnecessary confusion for the public and could be very damaging for patronage on the railway in the future, especially bearing in mind that the Fort William sleeper has been threatened with withdrawal more than once in the past.  

The FWHL believe that resolving this ticketing problem is a matter of great urgency and as a result the committee has contacted Abellio ScotRail to raise our concerns.  In the meantime any passengers wishing to make reservations on the train between Edinburgh Waverley and Fort William can do so at either of these two stations' ticket offices or online courtesy of Great Western Railways (GWR), who are one of the few train operating companies currently making this available (www.gwr.com). 

(Note the Caledonian Sleeper is also still listed in ScotRail's public timetable.)

Updated 06/12/15

FWHL Tribute to the late Charles Kennedy

The Friends of the West Highland Lines are shocked and saddened to hear of the loss of our Honorary President Charles Kennedy, who passed away yesterday. Former MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber for over 30 years, Charles was a highly popular and talented individual who will be well remembered for his humorous and informative speeches at two of our most recent AGMs. He was a strong supporter of our cause and helped lead the fight to stop the proposed withdrawal of the Fort William sleeper, of which he was a regular user. He will be greatly missed.

Charles first spoke at the FWHL AGM at Corrour in 2012 and was appointed Honorary President at last year's event in Fort William.  

FWHL Secretary, Fraser McDonald said: "From when we first invited Charles Kennedy to be our Honorary President, it was always a pleasure working with him.  He was very approachable and gave us the benefit of his wit and wisdom. A combination of qualities rarely found in people of his stature. He will be sadly missed."

Our condolences are with Charles' family at this very difficult time.

Published 02/06/15

AGM report

We would like to thank all members and guests who attended the Friends' Annual General Meeting on Saturday 16 May in the Regent Hotel, Oban. A full report will appear soon in our magazine West Highland News Plus, available free to all members.

We would like to thank Peter Strachan, Managing Director of Serco Caledonian Sleeper, and John Yellowlees, Abellio ScotRail External Relations Manager, for their excellent presentations, where they both revealed their exciting new plans for West Highland Line services. Both gentlemen took part in question and answer sessions with our members in the audience, sparking some interesting discussion.

Published 18/05/15

A Warm Welcome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends of the West Highland Lines are pleased to welcome Abellio and Serco as new operators on Scotland's railways.  1 April saw Abellio take over the ScotRail franchise, while Serco took the mantle for the Caledonian Sleeper service. 

Committee member Nick Jones was on hand with his camera for a special inauguration of the sleepers the day before, 31 March, at Fort William station (left).  The pictures show the newly-reliveried sleeper coaches being 'piped in', while Class 67 locomotive 67004 "Cairn Gorm", in matching colours, was at the head of the train.  Class 67s will continue to haul the train until refurbished Class 73s are introduced, expected to be in October.  Initial media reports suggested Class 47s would be used, but we have learned this is now no longer the case.  New state-of-the-art coaches are planned for 2018. 

Also pictured (right) is the first ever ScotRail train operated by Abellio to leave Fort William, with Class 156 Sprinter No. 156500 carrying the blue 'Scotland's Railway' livery.  Class 158s are to take over Glasgow-Oban/Fort William/Mallaig services from 156s in 2018.

Published 05/04/15

Extra Saturday train for Oban

The Oban line will receive another much-needed boost with an extra Saturday train now to be added to ScotRail's timetable.  From 23 May 2015, there will be an 0520 departure from Glasgow Queen St  arriving in Oban at 0835.  In the other direction, a 0521 from Oban will reach Glasgow Queen St at 0837.  This mirrors the Monday-Friday timetable and as a result, the current 0811 Oban-Glasgow Saturday service will switch to a later departure time of 0857.

This is more great news for West Highland Lines services, which will be operated by Abellio after the group takes over the ScotRail franchise on 1 April.  It follows the doubling of Mon-Fri Oban line services last September, from three trains a day to six.  Patronage on the entire Glasgow-Oban/Fort William/Mallaig stretch is increasing and increasing, from summer right through to winter.  Therefore, the Friends of the West Highland Lines are delighted with the news about an extra Saturday working. 

Steve Montgomery, ScotRail’s managing director, said: “This new Saturday morning service will give tourists and sightseers a chance to arrive at their destination earlier, giving them more opportunity to make the most of their weekend.”

Signalling progress

Radio signalling on the West Highland Lines is currently in the process of being upgraded.  A 'new generation' of Radio Electronic Token Block (RETB) signalling is to be introduced in December, due to a change in radio frequencies.  It will essentially see a continuation of the current system, introduced in 1988, but with improvements made to radio signals, allowing clearer communication between drivers and signallers.

Recent months have seen major progress, with work being undertaken by the firm Telent to replace and conduct surveys on some of the RETB base stations - sites where large aerials are located to carry radio communications across the mountains.  Some are in very remote locations, such as White Corries in Glencoe, which is 3500 feet above sea level and the highest Network Rail worksite in the UK!  Here, recent bad weather saw engineers experience great difficulty accessing the equipment, even with the help of a helicopter!  There has also been new base stations built in locations such as Connel Ferry and Mallaig.

RETB signalling is controlled from Banavie signalling centre outside Fort William, which also controls Banavie swing bridge across the Caledonian Canal.  The main principle involves each driver of a train receiving a virtual token through their radio and digital Cab Display Unit (CDU) as permission to access each single-track section of line.  Renewal of the RETB system this year is expected to allow the system to continue in use for at least another 20 years.

Weather damage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extreme weather once again caused problems on the West Highland Lines this year.  Hurricane-force winds in January caused damage to the former signal box at Bridge of Orchy (left). Network Rail (NR) engineers are to repair the signal box, which almost had its roof blown off. 

Further north at Banavie, a barrier was torn off the station level crossing (right). NR staff had to be on hand with red lamps to control traffic manually for around a week until the barrier was replaced. 

The West Highland Lines were also disrupted by a landslide near Helensburgh during this period, while heavy snowfalls caused problems once the winds had died down.

Caledonian Sleeper 'One of world's best rail trips'

The Caledonian Sleeper from London Euston to Fort William has been named by a travel guide as one of the best six railway adventures in the world.  The 'Deerstalker' - as the train colloquially known - has been placed in the same league as The Shanghai Maglev, the Tren Crucero through the heart of Ecuador, the Sunset Limited between Los Angeles and New Orleans, the TranzAlpine Express in New Zealand's stunning South Island and the Danube Express between Budapest and Istanbul.


Popular travel guide "Travel" has described the sleeper journey as "one of the world's most unforgettable train adventures".  Describing the journey across the West Highland Line north of Edinburgh, it says:

"From here it's non-stop on the sensational photo opps: misty Loch Lomond cradled by mountains; the wildly beautiful expanse of wind-blown Rannoch Moor.  Your nose will be superglued to the window as you take in the faded purple heathland and the chiffon-like silhouettes of foggy hills beyond."

The Caledonian Sleeper provides a vital lifeline between the West Highlands and Britain's capital city, allowing one the opportunity to leave busy London in the evening and wake up the next morning to beautiful, tranquil Loch Long and Loch Lomond.  The service is set for vast improvements under the new Serco franchise which takes over next April, with plush new carriages to be introduced by 2018, containing all-new en-suite sleeping berths and the very best local produce catering.

The West Highland sleeper can also be used as a day service for passengers between Edinburgh/Glasgow and Fort William.  The train has been a constant fixture on the line since the days of steam too, having originally ran from London King's Cross.  It was threatened with withdrawal in 1995 but retained after relentless campaigning by locals and the Friends of the West Highland Lines.

(Picture is copyright of N. McNab and must not be copied without permission.)

Abellio wins ScotRail franchise

Friends of the West Highland Lines would like to give a warm welcome to Abellio, who will take over the new ScotRail passenger train franchise commencing in April 2015.  The Dutch-based group will take over from FirstGroup and we look forward to working with them in the future.

We welcome the exciting plans Abellio has for the West Highland Lines, including a long-awaited upgrade to more suitable rolling stock to eventually take over from Sprinter DMUs.  Our society has campaigned for a long time to have trains which are more suitable for lengthy scenic journeys, with air conditioning, toilets in every coach, seating aligned with windows and better catering facilities.  The introduction of a summer locomotive-hauled tourist train will undoubtedly prove popular and provide the ultimate travel experience over what has been voted 'The Top Railway Journey in the World.'

Sunday Post article

To celebrate the 120th anniversary of the Glasgow-Fort William West Highland Line this year, the Sunday Post published a feature about the railway, with contributions from Friends of the West Highland Lines.  The online version can be viewed by following this link  http://www.sundaypost.com/news-views/scotland/happy-birthday-to-one-of-world-s-greatest-railway-routes-and-it-s-in-scotland-1.623557

 

Visit to Yoker signalling centre

FoWHL committee members Nick Jones and Gordon Webster paid a recent visit to Yoker signalling centre in Glasgow, which nowadays controls all train movements along the electrified North Clyde/Argyle lines between Drumgelloch/Dalmarnock and Helensburgh (via Glasgow Queen Street and Central low level stations).

This includes all West Highland Line workings from the Glasgow area out to Helensburgh Upper, where control passes over to Banavie signalling centre using Radio Electronic Token Block (RETB) equipment. Our visit to Yoker allowed the chance to view the progress of several West Highland trains on the visual display units (VDUs) as they passed between the two areas of jurisdiction, alongside the intensive electric train services.

The signalling centre's proper title is Yoker Integrated Electronic Control Centre (IECC) - one of many new installations built in the 1980s, each of which replaced dozens of individual mechanical signal boxes. It uses a computerised system known as Automatic Route Setting (ARS), which automatically sets signals and points according to a prearranged timetable database. Solid State Interlocking (SSI) means that no conflicting train movements can be made onto the same defined section of track (e.g. a train cannot be signalled into the next section until the one in front has passed it).

Two workstations are manned each by a single operator, one watching over the western section of the North Clyde/Argyle lines and one the east. CCTV monitors are provided for nearby level crossings, which are also controlled by the operators. There are also monitors covering other areas along the railway such as the platforms at Glasgow Queen Street low level station.

On our visit to Yoker, we were able to track the progress of Glasgow-Oban/Mallaig services (see photo top right) as well as the Fort William-North Blyth freight train. All of these must stop at Helensburgh Upper in either direction to allow the transfer of control between the Banavie RETB and Yoker jurisdictions.

Our thanks go to Network Rail for arranging this visit, particularly the staff at Yoker for their help and hospitality on the day.

 A more detailed article can be found in the next issue of our magazine West Highland News Plus. In addition, Nick Jones is contributing photographs and video from our visit to the FARSAP (Film Archive of Signalling and People) project, which is being led by the Friends of the National Railway Museum. The aim of FARSAP is to provide a photographic record of all remaining signal boxes and signalling centres before they are eventually replaced by new Regional Operations Centres.

Photographs are Copyright of Gordon Webster and must not be copied without permission.