Ardlui (Ard Laoigh) is a hamlet at the north end of Loch Lomond, Britain's largest freshwater loch. The station is across the busy A82 road from the hotel, holiday lodges and marina. The picture below shows north and southbound trains crossing at Ardlui Station - a procedure which has been in place since the 100 mile-long main line was opened as a single track to Fort William in 1894.  It is a scheduled stop for all trains, except the Caledonian Sleeper, which calls by request only.

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A Network Rail 'Rail Rover' negotiates a reverse from the down line side of the island platform to the siding. The station is hemmed in by the A82 road and Loch Lomond on the east and the steep slopes of Ben Vorlich on the west side. The picture is looking north towards the steady climb through Glen Falloch to Crianlarich. This section of the route makes a spectacular crossing of the Dubh Eas (Black Water) by a viaduct where the drop to the gorge floor height is just marginally lower than the Forth rail bridge is above the Forth. The train travels slowly over the viaduct since it is formed in a tight rising curve, however travellers need to keep a sharp lookout because the section is densly wooded.


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CLASS 156 DMU, 12.21 Glasgow - Mallaig summer service, on climb up Glen Falloch towards Crianlarich on 11th September 2009. Ben More, Britain's highest mountain south of Strathtay, in background.    


260909gmarquis nrfallsoffalloch copy.jpgThe K4, No. 61994 The Great Marquess, making a spirited climb up Glen Falloch from Ardlui to Crianlarich on 26th September 2009. Note the open cylinder draincock. Designed by Gresley specifically for the North British line from Glasgow to Mallaig which imposes real challenges because of the steep gradients, tight curves and limited allowable axle weight, the K4 has 3 cylinders, a 2-6-0 wheel arrangement, 200psi boiler and a 36,598lb tractive effort. No 61994 entered service in 1938 and is the only K4 in preservation. The locomotive is in charge of a steam charter for the Railway Touring Company's, 'The West Highlander', to Fort William.


110909class66gfalloch01b copy.jpg  Fort William bound Alumina train, headed by a Class 66, in Glen Falloch with Ben Chabhair (perhaps meaning 'hill of the antler' or the more prosaic 'ridge of a roof ') behind.




Ardlui is one of several West Highland Line stations where trains use right-hand running through the crossing loop, a practice in existence since 1988 when Radio Electronic Token Block (RETB) signalling was introduced. This gives easier access to the sidings, still frequently used for track maintenance machines.

The two photographs below show the change. The shot at the top of the page was taken in August 1986 before RETB, with the southbound Class 37-hauled train arriving on the traditional 'up' side. Note the signalman and footplate crew getting ready to swap the single line token. Of interest is the first class Mk 2 brake coach (behind the loco) and the passengers taking shelter from the rain under the signal box gutter! 'Railtourers' more likely, as the train on the left is a special charter to Mallaig, so they are probably stretching their legs as it awaits the passage of the Glasgow train. The bottom shot shows Ardlui after RETB came in, with two Class 156 Sprinters passing on 18 February 2002, now both using the right-hand side. The unit on the left has collected a dusting of snow crossing Rannoch Moor! 



With RETB, it is also normal for trains to stop at stations so drivers can send and receive the electronic token for the single line ahead, communicating via radio with Banavie Signalling Centre. Ardlui has been a traditional crossing point ever since the line opened and today ScotRail services from both directions are frequently timetabled to pass here. However, the station is known as an Intermediate Token Exchange Point, meaning a driver is sometimes able to receive a long section token to pass through without stopping, if the train is not passing another one. Long section tokens are also provided for drivers heading through Glen Douglas loop. To this day, passengers still regularly enjoy a leg stretch or a cigarette on the platform at Ardlui if their train has to wait for another one to pass, especially if the incoming train is running slightly late.

The old goods yard loading platform still survives at Ardlui, as does the small, platform-mounted signal box, now in use as a waiting room. Semaphore signalling ruled until RETB arrived and the station hence became completely unstaffed.  Sadly, the West Highland Railway ‘Swiss chalet’-style station building had to be demolished in the 1970s due to subsidence.


The promoters of early railway schemes for the West Highlands were not unwilling to tolerate a water-break, at least in the short run, exploiting the Loch Lomond steamers. With connection from Balloch, Ardlui was starting point for the south-to-north arm of the cruciform Scottish Grand Junction project – its east-west arm running from Stirling to Oban. Much reduced from this grandiose vision, the Scottish Grand Junction Railway was eventually authorised as an Ardlui-Crianlarich-Oban, line; but the financial climate of the 1850s was not propitious and the scheme was abandoned.                                                            

The Glen Falloch Railway, promoted in 1887-8 but not pursued, was ostensibly a harmless branch connecting the Callander & Oban Railway with Ardlui and the Loch Lomond steamers. However, it was caught up in the machinations of the Caledonian Company and the North British, from which the West Highland Railway emerged two years later. In an unsuccessful attempt to block the West Highland, the Caledonian hastily re-activated the Glen Falloch scheme, for which plans were ready to hand.


In North British days, with the West Highland nominally independent until 1908, Ardlui became the frontier between Glasgow and Fort William administrative districts. In respect of local traffic and the elaborate summer tours and excursions which brought the West Highland into the Clyde Coast network, the southern half of the route logically belonged to Glasgow. Some summer weekend trains - even in their final, DMU-operated, period - reached beyond Arrochar & Tarbet to Ardlui and Crianlarich. There was one particular Saturdays-only Glasgow-Ardlui service in BR steam days, that was eventually extended to Crianlarich, where the locomotive could use the turntable.                                                                            

Under the LNER and on into the BR period while steam endured, Ardlui saw the regular winter crossing of the ‘evening’ Glasgow-Mallaig and the ‘afternoon’ combined Mallaig-Glasgow/Fort William-Kings Cross ‘sleeper’, when Eastfield (Glasgow) and Fort William depot enginemen exchanged locomotives. (On Saturdays the down service sometimes left later and the trains met instead at Glen Douglas.)  Ardlui’s passing loop was reputedly a tight fit for any lengthy rake, and there are stories, perhaps apocryphal, of complicated shunting and remarshalling, on occasions when it somehow escaped notice that both the northbound and southbound services had been strengthened and double-headed.

The ‘via Ardlui’ imprint on West Highland passenger tickets survived state-ownership, there being (with some exceptions) no availability via Stirling and Callander, or vice versa. Rationalisation and flexibility, in the public interest, were slow to follow nationalisation.


Reading list: 

McGregor, John: "The New Railway: Earliest Years of the West Highland Line" (Amberley Publishing, 2015); "Great Railway Journeys through time: West Highland Line" (Amberley, 2013); "West Highland Railway: Plans, Politics and People" (John Donald Publishers, 2005)

Thomas, John: "The West Highland Railway" (David & Charles, 1986)

Webster, Gordon D.: "The West Highland Lines: Post-Beeching" (The History Press, 2014); "Signal Boxes & Semaphores: The Decline" (Amberley, 2016)


Glasgow Queen Street

Glasgow Queen Street concourse.

The starting point for journeys on the scenic West Highland Line to Oban, Fort William and Mallaig, Glasgow Queen Street station is in the centre of Scotland's largest city, beside George Square and the majestic City Chambers.

Fort William/Mallaig is served by three daily departures (Mondays to Saturdays) from Glasgow, while Oban has six.  Some trains run combined, with a section for Oban, and a section for Fort William and Mallaig.   The two sections are uncoupled at Crianlarich which is the junction of the Oban and Fort William lines. On Sundays, there is one train in winter, with additional departures in summer.

Connecting trains from Edinburgh, Stirling, Perth, Dundee and Aberdeen also arrive in Queen Street. The station is also linked to Buchanan Street Subway station,and nearby Buchanan Bus Station. Glasgow Central, where trains from south and south-west Scotland and London arrive, is less than 10 minutes walk from Queen Street station. There is an inter-station bus service linking Central and Queen Street. The picture on the left shows the Dundas Street entrance and the adjacent Subway entrance.

Despite Queen Street Station's location on the corner of George Square, its status as Scotland's 3rd busiest (in excess of 17million passenger movements annually) and being Glasgow's 2nd city cente station (the other is Glasgow Central, Scotland's busiest with double the passenger numbers) it has a very inauspicious entrance on George Street.


Trains depart from Queen Street through a long tunnel with a 1:42 gradient. The picture below was taken from Glasgow' Buchanan Galleries shopping centre which straddles the departure lines as they enter what is known as the Cowlairs tunnel. On the left horizon the towers of Glasgow's City Chambers can be seen. Click on the small picture on the right for a view of Glasgow's vibrant George Square which lies immediately outside the station. Queen Street Station is a magic gateway between Scotland's premier cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh and the wonderful scenery of the West Highland Lines. It is also Glasgow's railway gateway to Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth, Inverness and the scenic delights of the lines to Kyle of Lochalsh and the Far North. Queen Street has also low level platforms serving the north Glasgow conurbations from as far as Balloch (Loch Lomond) and Helensburgh in the west to Airdrie and Motherwell in the East.


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