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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

Winter Talk - Calum Macleod

"The loco that went further north than any others!"

The FOFNL winter talk for this winter was held in Inverness at the Royal Highland Hotel in the Magnus room and was organised by Bob Barnes-Watts. The speaker for the evening was Calum Macleod, who at one time was Commercial Manager for the Highlands, who took us on a virtual journey, first to Kyle and then the Far North.

Despite a very bad weather forecast for the evening it was indeed pleasant to see familiar faces with quite a few from the past of one time serving drivers and guards and others.

Calum had an excellent supply of slides for the area and during the show we saw most of the type of locos in use at the time including the observation coaches used on the Kyle line.

After leaving Inverness we travelled over the original Ness Viaduct before it was later destroyed by floods, and came to Clachnaharry, which at that time was still a working signalbox (it only houses the bridge controls now). The bridge, at that time, was still manually operated by hand wheels. We then came to Bunchrew which had the facility to function as a signalbox, being able to switch in or out, there was a resident crossing keeper there working the "gates" for the level crossing. Next seen was Lentran with a "loop". There, also, McCreath Taylor had a tar depot and got a daily supply of tar by rail.

We then came to Clunes, where the double line from Clachnaharry ended. Then on to Beauly, showing the station as it was with two platforms. A busy station with all the presflo's of cement for the Hydro schemes. Then along to Muir of Ord with the token being exchanged between driver and signalman. Muir of Ord, being the junction for the Black Isle branch, had arrival and departure platforms.

Next we came to Dingwall where trains go to either to North or the West.

Calum took us to Kyle showing us all the stations giving a brief explanation about them. We were shown the, then, new station at Lochluichart where the track was diverted to create a new loch. At low water, traces of the old station can still be seen. Garve, as was pointed out, had the unique situation of a bridge being replaced by an AOCL. Kyle station was shown too in its former glory as being the terminus for the ferry service to the Outer Hebrides. It also had a turntable for steam locos, now the local swimming pool area.

A noteworthy point, there were no AOCLs in those days, two gated level crossings at Dingwall Tulloch Street and the West End, one at Achterneed station and one at Balnacra.

So, back to the north line. After Dingwall we came to Foulis, a wartime loop was there and also a gated level crossing which still exists as a miniature red/green crossing with user instructions. Then on to Evanton station which had a wooden slatted up platform, and also had a loop which we would like replaced along with Lentran. They are both currently token exchange points on single line, so, to convert to loops would be "peanuts" in terms of rail engineering costs.

Next was Alness, no trace of the beautiful railway station, closed and left to be vandalised until it was demolished on safety grounds. It was also a station with a loop. At Invergordon we were shown the 'new' sprinter trains arriving by road when the Line was being operated during the collapse of the Ness Viaduct. We passed along the minor stations of Delny, Kildary, Nigg, Fearn and on to Tain which had been a former loco depot, as was Dingwall. Having drivers based there a local service ran between Tain and Inverness, so Invernet is not entirely new.

We then proceeded north again showing the smaller stations. The Mound was shown too, where the line branched off to Dornoch, this being one of several branch lines e.g. Georgemas to Thurso, Muir of Ord to Fortrose and Dingwall to Strathpeffer.

Rogart station was also shown and it was rumoured to have been sold for £5 which saved it from the same fate as Alness. At Golspie station a railway camping coach was located there and people could book them akin to a residential caravan. These camping coaches were also located at Stromeferry and Plockton. Our attention was drawn to the fact that Brora had been at one time a busy place, wool mill, coal, bricks and distillery. Next up was Helmsdale, also in its time a loco depot. With the morning train to Inverness originating there and some trains terminating there.

We then moved north looking at the minor stations which, in their time, served their communities well. Forsinard was shown and is excellent for anyone wanting to visit the flow country and bogs. Scotscalder is also a station bought and renovated.

Georgemas was next and the renovated platform which originated from Ballinluig was in place. Views of Wick and Thurso were shown, the stations being of much the same design. Calum also made comment that Thurso had the distinction of having one loco going where no other loco had gone by travelling further north than the others. It went though the buffers. I remember it going back to Inverness on its own power, driven by the late Jock Russell who was nearly frozen due to the draughts in the damaged cab.

Calum took the opportunity to show us the video of the rebuilding of the Ness Viaduct and how, remarkably, the steel was purchased instantly for the girders. I had dubious honour of sending the last train over the old viaduct. The same train crews and signallers were on duty for the first trains coming over the new bridge. I asked the driver why he was nearly two years late! Also shown was the temporary loco service shed built at Muir of Ord, one must place on record the work done initially to the motive maintenance staff servicing the locos in winter weather in the sidings at Dingwall through the night. Everyone rose to the occasion and the service kept going.

Finally we were shown a video of the R.E.T.B in its infancy working the Kyle line in tandem with the electric token block system.

In all, a very enjoyable evening and fond memories for quite a few of us.

Our thanks go to our speaker Calum Macleod and to Bob Barnes-Watts for making all the arrangements.

Iain MacDonald, Committee member and retired signalman.