Slow, Snow, Block, Block, Snow
The weekend from Friday 27 January 1978 is one I remember well as being atrociously snowy in the town of Inverness. On the railways in all directions it was far worse and the Far North Line was not cleared until Monday 6 February. The late Syd Atkinson who was Operations Manager at the time spoke to a FoFNL winter meeting a few years ago and gave me a copy of the Inverness Control records from which this account has been compiled.
By 11.45 am on Saturday 28th Forsinard reported points blocked by snow and no communication with Helmsdale. Several block failures occurred during the afternoon and Inverness control became exercised by the failure of the 18.55 Inverness-Euston north of Dalmagarry, the train having to be drawn back to Culloden Moor and then travel via Aberdeen so that the Slochd line could be ploughed. This was done and 1S59 the 09.40 Euston-Inverness, which had been standing at Aviemore since 20.26, reached Inverness at 03.43 carrying stranded motorists who had been picked up at a special stop at Blair Atholl.
Meanwhile, a report was received from Georgemas at 23.09 to say that the 17.15 Inverness to Wick, which had left Forsinard at 22.20, had not yet arrived. "Wick loco to proceed to Georgemas ready to assist"
"00.50 After telephone conversation with Georgemas signalman, Outdoor Superintendent (OS) instructs LD 26031 into section accompanied by signalman. Guard left to man Georgemas telephone. Loco to proceed at extreme caution, sounding whistle continuously, headlight switched on and keeping very good lookout."
"07.30 OS contacted police requesting assistance rescuing signalman (on duty since 16.00) cut off in Tomatin signalbox by drifts. Police unable to help, no helicopters available. Line blocked since ECS became stuck 2 miles N of Carrbridge at 03.20. (A neighbour eventually got food across to the signalbox at lunchtime.)"
"07.50 LD 26031 arrived back at Georgemas. Had reached MP 135 (approx 1 mile north of Altnabreac) and stuck in a drift. Men had dug her out and returned not having seen anything of the 17.15."
"08.00 LD ordered back to Wick for crew change. Pick up P'way Inspector (PWI) and re-enter Forsinard section to find the 17.15."
"09.35 Georgemas signalman reports message received on lineside phone from driver of the 17.15 that five coaches are derailed just beyond a rocky cutting approx MP 133½. Two locos and one coach have gone forward approx 1½ miles and are stuck in snow drift. 70 passengers on coach. No injuries. About 2 miles of track damaged in rear of derailed coaches."
"09.45 Georgemas PO phone now out of order. Messages being relayed via Thurso police station." Haymarket and Aberdeen ploughs both on their way to Inverness.
"11.05 Georgemas. LD re-entered section at 10.00. Lineside phone message from PWI to say LD derailed one pair of wheels and stuck in snow drift approx 1½ miles north of stranded locos and coach. OS contacted General Manager requesting helicopter rescue of passengers." Inverness plough working north of Carrbridge to reach stranded ECS.
"14.25 Dingwall. AM [Area Manager?] reports 08.45 special ex Kyle departed Garve 11.20 has not arrived" Stopped west of Achterneed by fallen trees. Loco and P'way staff sent with power saw. Rescued 16.05.
"15.00 Lairg. All wires and telephone poles from The Mound to Golspie are down."
"16.10 Carrbridge. Inverness plough derailed about one foot in the air 100 yards to rear of ECS."
"17.03 Wick. Station Assistant Wick reports from Thurso - no PO phone communication from Wick - three helicopters airborne with food and blankets and will lift as many passengers as possible from Saturday's 17.15."
"17.33 Wick. All passengers from train landed, some at Halkirk and some at Wick Airfield. All well and, after refreshments, proceeding home." PWI and some rail staff eventually uplifted at 21.00.
"21.00 Signal check. Aberdeen line normal; Dingwall/Achnasheen no block or phones except PO; Achnasheen/Strathcarron no block; Strathcarron/Kyle normal. North Line: Ardgay/Georgemas no block or phones except PO; no communications whatever to Rogart or Forsinard.
South Line: Millburn Jnc/Blair Atholl no phones except PO and no block. South of Blair normal.
No crossing facilities between Culloden Moor and Blair Atholl. Haymarket plough working Blair Atholl-Carrbridge. 11.30 special Perth-Aviemore stopped at BA, passengers given refreshments in hotel and returned 17.10 to Perth where accommodation arranged.
You can see that Sunday 29 January was quite a day for the rail staff battling on so many fronts to clear the different lines. Many days of hard work lay ahead and that will be the subject of a concluding article "Slow, Snow, Block, Block, Go" in the next issue.