The Highland Railway was created from a number of smaller railways based around Inverness. It served a large area of Northern Scotland based around its headquarters in Inverness, reach as far south as Perth, Elgin to the east, Kyle of Lochalsh to the west and Wick and Thurso in the Far North. Given the low population of the area it serves, a remarkably large percentage of the original route mileage remains in use today, with loss of only one section of main line between Aviemore and Forres although all the branches have now disappeared.
During the 19th century the Highland spent much effort in fending off rival railways’ efforts to reach Inverness, in particular those of the Great North of Scotland Railway, with no love lost between the two companies. However the early years of the 20th century brought more cooperative behaviours, going so far as to almost result in amalgamation of the two companies before the Great War. During that war, the Highland carried a great deal of additional traffic, particularly in servicing the Fleet bases in Scapa Flow in Orkney and Invergordon.
The grouping saw the company absorbed into the London Midland and Scottish Railway resulting in little immediate change to operations although development brought change, including the closure of some stations. Similarly, nationalisation brought more of the same for a while, but economic circumstances forced the closure of many stations leaving just the larger ones open for passenger traffic. Current circumstances see station re-openings being proposed and carried out to support the Inverness commuter market. Passenger train frequencies are much improved, although little freight traffic now uses the railway.
Given the sparse population with the resulting lack of business, the vast majority of the company lines were single line, although there were long passing loops, particularly on the main line between Inverness and Perth. Being generally an impecunious company, the emphasis was on minimising earthworks rather than speed, which in the mountainous terrain in many areas resulted in sinuous curves. Surprisingly, there were only three tunnels on the whole network, although some impressive viaducts were needed to span over rivers.
Due to the nature of the land and the climate, maintaining the railway in operational condition during could be challenging, particularly during heavy snowfall in remote areas.
Stations tended to be modest affairs, with buildings of timber, although some substantial stone buildings were provided at larger stations. Signalling was generally provided by Westinghouse with timber cabins to the railway company’s design.
Locomotives and Rolling Stock
After initial development, 19th century locomotives were generally 2-4-0 tender, changing to 4-4-0 as loads increased. From the 1890s, more modern 4-4-0s and, later, 4-6-0s were introduced. The LMSR introduced new locomotives, in particular the Black Fives which took over main line duties with Highland locomotives being “cascaded” to lesser duties. However, many Highland locomotives lasted well through LMSR days, with a few making it into the BR era; the last one being withdrawn in 1957.
Passenger carriages tended to be fairly sparse in terms of passenger comforts (although some later carriages for main line use were better in this respect). The LMSR rapidly addressed passenger concerns by importing cascaded carriages from companies further south, in particular those of the Midland Railway.
Goods stock was generally fairly routine, although double deck sheep wagons and the brake vans were quite recognisable as being of Highland Railway origin.
Modelling the Highland
Information can be found in the HMRS archives, with 70 drawings and 59 photographs available. There is a large trove of photographs and drawings to be found in Am Baile (the Inverness museum) which provides a good search engine at www.ambaile.org.uk Further information is available from the Highland Railway Society whose website is at www.hrsoc.org.uk For a small railway, there are a reasonably large number of publications covering many aspects of the railway. A bibliography is available on the Highland Railway Society’s website.
There is no Highland Railway ready to run stock available from the proprietary trade. However, 4mm and 7mm modellers have been well catered for by Lochgorm Kits www.lochgormkits.co.uk Due to the recent death of the proprietor, the supplier is currently (November 2019) not available, but it is hoped that the products will be made available through another source in future.
Liveries are described in our publication Highland Railway Liveries: Dathan na Gaidhealtachd.Members may borrow it from our library.
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