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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

The Highland Scots Become Interested in Railways

The earliest serious Highland thoughts of railways began to formulate in the minds of Invernesians by about 1840 after the astounding success of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in the thirties. Soon after that, the first formal proposal was originated by Aberdonians; it was to construct a line to Inverness to link up with the impending arrival (in about a decade's time) of the Aberdeen line from Carlisle planned by the Grand Junction Railway. Invernesians, always a stoutly independent lot, firmly rejected the idea as they considered that Inverness would then become subservient to Aberdeen, an intolerable situation, so they soundly rejected the idea. They then invited strong and influential railway promoters to plan a direct route to the south via Perth. The Great North of Scotland Railway immediately promoted its Aberdeen to Inverness Railway with an application to Parliament in March 1845, and in the following month the Invernesian's own Perth & Inverness Railway, via Nairn and Aviemore, was promoted. Unlike many local railway plans it was well thought out and coordinated to meet up with the line from Perth to Carlisle. Joseph Mitchell, perhaps Inverness's most famous engineer, was called in to survey the route, and he had the backing of another well-known railway name, Joseph Locke. The Great North of Scotland fought the bill tooth and nail every inch of the way with every ploy imaginable, including the claim that "steam locomotives would be quite unable to climb such inclines throughout the year" - not a bad idea in 1845 to put before parliamentarians in London, many of whom knew of the fearsome Scottish topography and climate only by hearsay. Perhaps not surprisingly, in the absence of a similarly vehement campaign from the Invernesians, in 1846 Parliament threw out the direct line and authorized the Aberdonian one.

Invernesians gradually became more and more incensed as the Aberdonians took six years before the first sod was cut! By that time patience had run out and technology had come on apace, so Invernesians shrewdly obtained their own Act of Parliament in 1853 to construct a separate line, initially only as far as Nairn; presumably this was in the hope that a short line would not arouse hostility from the Great North of Scotland. The first sod was cut on 21 September 1854, and a public holiday was called in Inverness. There was a procession led by "8 stalwart navvies clad in moleskins". Lady Seafield "placed a silver spade under an [already cut] turf and tossed it lightly into a mahogany wheelbarrow by her side; the handsome Chief of the MacPhersons wheeled it away to a loud and prolonged applause". Celebrations nearly became a riot when the merry crowd swept away the barriers as though they were matchwood. The fact that Thomas Brassey, a railway builder of national fame, was amongst the largest shareholders showed that this was not an isolated small-town project. The line was opened on 6 November 1855 after all the equipment had been brought in by sea; the total cost of all the locomotives and rolling stock was £9,200.

At this point the Aberdeen faction, stung into action at last by the Invernesians, planned to cock a snook at them and extend its line, which was still only partly constructed, to Nairn, and then on to Inverness by a separate line by-passing the new and already operational one. This really got the backs up of the Invernesians who, seeing the threat to the profits of their infant line, immediately floated the Inverness & Perth Junction Railway, a ploy which received Parliamentary approval on 22 July 1861, turning the tables on those dreadful Aberdonians and achieving a resounding victory. The word 'Junction' in the title was because, such were the effects of the Railway Mania, it was already unnecessary to run all the way to Perth itself as by then there was in existence the branch railway from Dunkeld to Stanley Junction (half of the 15 miles to Perth) on the Scottish North East Railway Company's line from Perth to Aberdeen. The Inverness & Perth Junction Company, to save itself the expense of building its own route, obtained running rights over the Dunkeld to Perth stretch, but discovered too late that they would cost the crippling sum of £10,000 per annum; however, soon afterwards it managed to have this reduced to £5,000 pa in perpetuity. Immediately on receipt of parliamentary approval, work started from both Nairn and Dunkeld. Incredibly, by 1 June 1863, less than two years after the Act of Parliament, the line was opened from Dunkeld to Pitlochry; on 3 August the Nairn gang moving southwards reached Boat of Garten and Aviemore, and on 9 September 1863, on completion of the Pitlochry to Aviemore stretch, the first train steamed triumphantly out of Inverness en route for Perth. The journey times of the two up trains each day were 5 hours 55 minutes, whilst the two down trains to Inverness took six hours. By 1885 there were four trains each day, and the journey took four hours; today, a century later, the journey time is only 2.5 hours (some do it in 2 hours).

On 29 June 1865 the Highland Railway was born by amalgamation of several railways including the Inverness & Nairn and the Inverness & Perth Junction. The Boards of the Great North of Scotland and the Highland were permanently at loggerheads, but occasionally they met to try to iron out their difficulties. However, the cordiality was said to last about ten minutes before acrimony again set in. One wag was moved to break into verse:

Then McTavish of Cromarty raised a point of order when
A chunk of Scottish granite hit him in the Abdomen
He gave a sickly sort of smile, and curled up on the floor
And subsequent proceedings interested him no more!

The next two decades were the heyday of Boat of Garten and its main line through to Forres and Inverness, and it was not until 1884 that a shadow began to be cast on it by the Act of Parliament which authorized the construction of the direct line from Aviemore to Inverness. In marked contrast with the euphoria which completed the line all the way from Dunkeld to Forres in two years, it was 14 years before the present shorter line was completed. One must not, however, underestimate the engineering problems which had to be solved; the new line was finally opened throughout on 1 November 1898.

Laurence Draper, Member