scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

Travelling Post Office Van at Dingwall

The Travelling Post Office (TPO) van seen at Dingwall by David St John Thomas was at the start of, or maybe the end of (or, perhaps, somewhere in the middle of?) its two-day circuit between Helmsdale at Perth and back. Its journeys are quite interesting, but being continuous, it is difficult to know at which part to start! However, to make it logical, we will commence with its departure from Perth in the early hours of the morning northwards to Inverness. The West Coast Special from England and Southern Scotland was split at Perth, part going on to Aberdeen and the other forming the Down Highland TPO.

At Inverness the TPO van was shunted off of the incoming train, which had arrived in Platform 6 and attached to the Wick & Thurso train in Platform 7.

The TPO van ceased to be a Sorting Van at Dingwall and only handled mail already bagged at stations from there to Helmsdale. At Helmsdale the mail for places north thereof were handed to the guard of the train for him to pass out at the appropriate stations and the van itself was placed in a siding. Next morning the van was loaded with mail at about 6 o'clock from the early morning south-bound service train from Wick. It was then attached to that train and, working again as a Sorting Carriage, it was carried as far as Dingwall, where it was put off and shunted into the bay (and then seen by David). It waited there until early afternoon, when after receiving the mail from the Kyle train, it was worked forward by that train to Inverness. At Inverness it received mail from the Main Post Office and the following mail train from the north and eventually departed south to Perth, where it connected with the Up Postal Special to the South.

That explains why the van was seen at Dingwall, but I find the manning rotas for the sorters themselves to be quite fascinating. Their circuits started at Inverness. Three letter sorters left that station each afternoon with the southbound TPO and worked through to Perth. They then stayed overnight in Perth and came back again next morning with the Down TPO. But they did not finish at Inverness.

They were joined at Inverness by a further sorter and all four then went as far as Dingwall. At that station the three sorters from Perth alighted and the man from Inverness remained with the van until Helmsdale, where he stayed the night before working the TPO back to Dingwall next morning. After the van was detached at Dingwall, this sorter travelled back to Inverness as a passenger.

Meanwhile, the three sorters who had alighted at Dingwall, after a well earned break of some 45 minutes, then prepared the TPO van waiting in the bay and sorted any mail which had come in from the west. They then worked the van, after it was attached to the front of the train ex Kyle, as far as Inverness, when they were relieved by a new crew of three for the journey south.

There being no Sunday TPO workings, the Saturday afternoon men to Perth and the Saturday morning man to Helmsdale all had to kick their heels in those places until their turn of duty recommenced on the Monday morning.

The vans that David would have seen were ex Highland Railway vehicles, constructed at Lochgorm Works, Inverness in 1916 and 1917. Three were built and, as seen above, two were needed to maintain the six days a week service, leaving one in reserve. They were withdrawn from use in 1961, at that time being the last Highland railway vehicles to be in service.

From 2nd May 1954, the Saturday TPO from Inverness was altered to run on Sundays, thus the Post Office staff could avoid spending all-day Sunday in Perth. The TPO north of Inverness ceased to run on the night of 4/5 November 1967, by which time more modern TPO vehicles had been introduced.

And finally (as they say!). Postmarks and nomenclature of the various workings. In the 1920's the down train was known as the "Perth-Helmsdale RSC". The up trains were the "Helmsdale-Dingwall RSC" and the "Dingwall-Perth RSC". In July 1930, they were re-designated the "Highland TPO Down", the "Highland TPO Up (Northern Section)" and the "Highland TPO Up (Southern Section)". There was, of course, no Down Northern section, as no sorting of letters took place `twixt Dingwall and Helmsdale.

The above article was submitted by our member John Roake, Hon. Treasurer of The Highland Railway Society. Thank you for your contribution John, and thanks also to the former sorter on the TPO that helped you with your research.