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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

Memories of Alness Railway Station

If you go down to the local station at Alness you will find a single platform, a bus-stop type shelter and electric lighting.

Well to reflect on by gone days, it wasn't always like that and I remember it as a typical Highland station. In the office was a big wooden desk, high stools and a bare wooden floor. In those days the station was a fine sandstone building with spacious waiting rooms, which always had a good fire on in the winter. The stationmaster's house was above the station, the same style of building can still be seen in Fearn. Unfortunately for Alness, the lead on the roof was removed and after several break-ins the building was soon wrecked and eventually demolished. As I was relief staff based at Inverness, I covered for holidays and staff that were off sick. Between the goods shed and the station there were a total of 14 staff. The Railway at that time was major employer. Now the entire 230 miles of the North line is signalled by one man.

Dalmore and Teaninich distilleries generated a large majority of the traffic at the station and between trains the signalmen and porters did their stint helping to load the malt, which weighed 1¾ cwt. per bag, no maximum lift per person then! There was also the whisky barrels that all had to be roped inside the wagons, some even sheeted by tarpaulins. Does anyone remember the 3-wheeled Scammel artics painted maroon and cream delivering the parcels and ferrying the barrels and malt to the distillery?

Dalmore distillery had it's own siding and the train used to go right down with vans of malt. The station had two platforms and signal cabins at each end of the loop so two trains could pass. A lot of passengers were from the R.A.F. and I remember they would have a warrant for a particular route and quite a few would want to go a different route to get home quicker. We had to charge them for the difference in the fares, and then calculate 5/7 of that for the forces rate. All without calculators! The accounting was very strict and on one occasion the clerk asked me to sign the book to say I had lost 1/- (a shilling or 5p today), which I refused, as did all the others, as we suspected that the clerk had lost the shilling himself.

The winters were dreaded at Alness as the entire station was lit by paraffin lamps, including the station building and both platforms. The big round lamps needed to be pressurised using bicycle pump. You had to be fairly accurate because if you didn't put enough paraffin in you ended up having to wind it down the pole again to put more air in it. The platforms were lit by six big lamps and two ordinary storm types for the footbridge. All in all it took about an hour to get all the lamps going and set them up on poles. The signal lamps were also fuelled by paraffin oil, and these had to be refilled once a week. The North line was well served by trains with a local service running between Tain and Inverness in addition to the long distance ones to the far north. In those days there were nine stops between Alness and Inverness. Now there are only two, soon to be three when Beauly re-opens. I think there is only one of the old train drivers on the go, George MacDonald and possibly a couple of firemen.

The station was a regular short cut for the old folk at Dalmore home, which gave us a few frights as some had poor eyesight or hearing and would occasionally forget to look for a train. Sadly, one such incident resulted in a fatality and the footpath there after was fenced off. All this was long before Alness Academy was built. A lot of children used the trains, as Alness pupils, in those days, mainly went to Invergordon Academy.

Although before my time, I believe a 'troop train' used to run during the war called the 'Jericho' and Alness's claim to fame for this was that it jumped the track and the lot came to grief at Alness, how true this is I do not know. In the winter of 1955 the last train going to Tain got stuck in a snowdrift ½ a mile North of the station. As it was a steam engine they had to put out the fire as the engine ran short of water and it was a cold night for all concerned. I also remember a particular Hogmanay shortly after the diesel locomotives came into service and the last train going to Inverness broke down at Fearn. I made it home for the bells with five minutes to spare!

So there it is, a world of difference at Alness Station, but still it survives with a handy commuter service at 7.35 every morning and returning at 6.15 for people who work in Inverness, costing £1.80 each way. So please use it as it's much better than driving to work, I know because I've to do it daily to signal the trains.

Iain MacDonald - Signalman