Rannoch Station on a busy weekend. A Glasgow bound ScotRail service train has just arrived from Fort William and a special steam charter train waits for clearance to resume its journey north. Rannoch Station shows the classic ‘Swiss Cottage’ architectural style of all the original North British West Highland Line stations. Rannoch station is a remote place, with a very small local population, connected by a narrow single track road to the nearest town of Pitlochry 40 miles to the east.
Rannoch Station is a very interesting location, located half way on the railway’s route across Rannoch Moor, it is an unusually isolated/remote station, albeit not quite as remote as the next station north, Corrour, which is not even favoured with a public access road. The line crosses remote country, the remotest by far in Britain, and a landscape which is hazardous and arduous to access, even dangerous. Viewing the images on this site will illustrate just how remote the line is.
The Steel lattice viaduct is typical of the structure of almost all the viaducts on the West Highland line between Helensburgh and Fort William. Most are built on curves to simplify the task of constructing the original railway. The lattice steel girder construction was also chosen to reduce costs. They are of relatively light construction and this, combined with the curve makes it necessary to restrict the crossing speed for heavy locomotives such as the class 67 (EWS colours maroon and yellow). The Green Class 73 locomotive is a recent introduction associated with the Caledonian Sleeper service now being operated by Serco, whereas the service was previously operated by the ScotRail Franchise Company. The current rolling stock is made up of Mk 2 and Mk 3 carriages and will shortly be replaced with Mk 5 carriages manufactured by CAF in Spain.
In addition to the Rannoch Viaduct, just north of Rannoch Station, the railway crosses on another viaduct about a mile south of the station where the line crosses a river named ‘Garbh Ghaoir’ which drains the vast area of Rannoch Moor and lochs such as Loch Laidon. The river connects to Loch Rannoch and is a link in the extensive Loch Tummel hydro scheme. The name Garbh Ghaoir refers to its very rocky river bed and the sound produced by the rapid flow of water over and between the rocks – Garbh is Gaelic for ‘rough’ and Ghaoir suggests the sound of hissing steam. Presumably the river, when heard from a distance, sounded like a boiling kettle to the local Gaelic speaking people.
The Rannoch Viaduct is one of the most photographed locations on the West Highland Line since it is easy to access, although a long drive or rail journey is required. Other sections of the line require plenty of effort and sufficient navigation skills. The ground is uncompromisingly challenging with soft bog, sink holes, deep creeks and many small and dangerous pools. In this video a special charter, the LNER, K4 steam locomotive, named ‘The Great Marquis’ is seen leaving Rannoch Station and crossing the viaduct towards Corrour, after a ScotRail service train.
Most years at least one of the many companies who organise steam hauled charter train tours in the UK, have a tour which includes the West Highland Line. This provides an opportunity for photographers but pictures, beyond the stations of Rannoch or Corrour, are not easily obtained. Long hikes over difficult ground, often in poor weather, is required plus a lot of waiting since charters must cede priority to public scheduled services. Patience is definitely a virtue and stoicism too since the trains passing may be lost in driving rain and/or low cloud.
Alumina is presently the only freight traffic on the West Highland Line. The alumina is shipped from Ireland*, landed at Blythe dock in Northumbria, and transported by rail to the smelter in Fort William. *(The bauxite required to create alumina is shipped from South America to Ireland where the bauxite is processed to produce the alumina.)