Gorton

Gorton is not a station on the line and never was available for public use. It is situated half way between Bridge of Orchy and Rannoch Stations. It is a remote location with a passing loop which originally housed a signal box and accommodation for the signal man and his family. Employees were forbidden from letting down or taking up passengers. The penalty for failure to adhere to this regulation was dismissal. A condition imposed by the landowner when the railway company sought permission to build the line. The signal box and buildings were demolished following closure when the staffed facility was no longer required. All that remains is the passing loop, the controlling ground frames, and containerised basic facilities for Network Rail/contractor use. Access to Gorton involves a considerable treck of some 14km from Achallader Farm or a similar distance from Rannoch. It is a wild and remote place. Situated at 1100ft above sea level, in winter it can be a grim place and it must have required real grit for the family who lived here. Fresh water and coal was delivered by train and lighting by paraffin. Provisions involved travelling 40miles on the train to Fort William. In winter when the line was blocked would have involved real hardship. The above picture is looking south.

A sense of the wild open space can be obtained from the images below. Passengers on the sleeper will awaken to an amazing contrast to the busy London metropolis they left the evening before.

The London - Fort William Caledonian Sleeper passes through Gorton, 8.40a.m., 1st May 2015

10.10ex Mallaig -Glasgow Queen Street service has just cleared the Gorton passing loop. 1st May 2015

Garelochhead

Garelochhead (Cean a' Ghearrloch) lies at the head of the Gareloch. The Clyde submarine base at Faslane, the home of the UK's nuclear submarine fleet, is located on the Gareloch on the south approach to Garelochhead. The railway station is situated on the outskirts high above the town.

The station is built in the traditional West Highland line 'Swiss chalet' style on an island platform. The line in the picture was the original down line, however following the replacement of the original semaphore signalling with radio electronic tablet block line control, the running order was changed to RH working. The line in view is now the Up line to Glasgow. The Station fabric is being maintained and the view shows the building recently finished in the ScotRail corporate livery. Perhaps controversial since the original cream and green colour scheme dates back to the original North British colours.

Unfortunately the building is currently unoccupied despite ScotRail's attempts to find an organisation that could make good use of the accommodation. The distance from the town and the long access climb are not helpful.

 The 12.21 ex Glasgow Queen Street, Oban, Fort William and Mallaig train sits at Garelochhead station at 13.21 on Friday 10th October 2014. The view south includes the redundant, and typical, West Highland platform signal box. The main station lies beyond. The scenery around Garelochhead and the nearby Roseneath peninsula is very attractive with its mixture of rugged hills and sheltered lochside views, moored yachts and Victorian villas. However the presence of the Submarine base and the relative closeness of the Royal Naval Armanent Depot at Couplort means that the area is not exactly a rural idyll. An idea of the area can be appreciated by taking in the view west, over the town and loch. Click on the small image to view.

 

 

The train below has just passed Whislefield, close to where Loch Goil meets Loch Long, one mile north of Garelochhead on the long stretch to the next stop at Arrochar & Tarbet Station. The views are especially fine since the train travels on the line high above Loch Long. Visitors are advised to travel in the winter or early spring since the lineside is heavily wooded and when the trees are in leaf much of the scenery is obscured by a 'Tunnel of Trees'.

 

 

 

Arrochar and Tarbet

Arrochar and Tarbet station is midway between the villages of Tarbet (an Tairbeart), on Loch Lomond, and Arrochar on Loch Long. 1355 a&t webcopy.jpg Tarbet is on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, Scotland's largest freshwater loch by surface area. On the other side of the loch lies Ben Lomond, Scotland's most southerly Munro. There is a hotel, a cafe/restaurant, a tearoom and a local shop in Tarbet.

 

 

Arrochar, some distance west of the station, is at the head of Loch Long which is a spectacular fjord-like sea loch. There are a number of hotels and a local shop in the village. Across the loch from Arrochar are the spectacular Arrochar Alps, including Ben Arthur known from its shape as "the Cobbler". Forest Holidays has a log cabin resort on the lochside at nearby Ardgartan.

 

Arrochar and Tarbet are located on either side of an isthmus which separates Loch Long, a sea loch, and Loch Lomond, a fresh water inland lake. The gap is just over 2km and the Vikings were able to haul their longboats over the narrow strip of land to access Loch Lomond and advance their invasion into the heart of the country. The West Highland Line follows this gap and passengers can enjoy the changing scene as the line swings across from high above Loch Long to Loch Lomond. The picture shows a charter train crossing the isthmus, known as the 'Tighness Gap'.
 The train is just about 200m from Arrochar & Tarbet Station.

 


(Above) The northbound Caledonian Sleeper calls at Arrochar in July 2002, hauled by a Class 37.

STATION LAYOUT

When opened on 7 August 1894, Arrochar & Tarbet station was laid out with a crossing loop and an island platform. 
When the platform was extended southwards, the redundant signal box was relocated slightly further north for use as a waiting room. In 2000, a replica of the signal box was built in the centre of the island platform, after the station building had to be demolished due to subsidence.

From the time of its opening in 1894, the West Highland Railway was worked throughout by the electric token system. Arrochar & Tarbet signal box, which had 17 levers, was situated on the island platform. An interesting feature of the box, before it closed, was safety equipment used to warn of any earth tremors along the Highland Boundary Fault, which the West Highland Line crosses over just north of Glen Douglas. A bell was fitted as a warning system and there was also one inside Glen Douglas signal box. Neither are believed to have ever been activated. Arrochar's semaphore signals were removed on 19 January 1986 in preparation for the introduction of Radio Electronic Token Block (RETB). The RETB, which is controlled from a Signalling Centre at Banavie railway station, was commissioned between Helensburgh Upper and Upper Tyndrum on 27 March 1988. After the signal box closed, the lever frame was removed for re-use on the Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway. Train Protection & Warning System (TPWS) was installed in 2003.

Trains approaching Arrochar from the south face a short but steep incline towards the hillside station after crossing over the A83 road. Many a rookie train driver was said to have run into trouble here over the years.

FREIGHT FACILITIES

The former goods yard is still used by permanent way teams, often for stabling on-track plant machines. As at Ardlui, the small oil store hut is still standing. The yard was still used as a goods yard until very recent years, as it was one of several log-loading points for timber trains. These were operated after privatisation by Transrail and later the freight company EWS, with lorries carrying timber from the nearby forestry plantations in Argyll, which would then be loaded onto wagons. 

The timber trains mostly ran during the day, though for the last few years EWS instead operated a night-time 'pick-up' service, which deposited and picked up wagons at both Arrochar and Crianlarich. This allowed them to be loaded during the day and as there were no booked crossings with other trains during the hours of darkness, longer trains could be run. The night-time train ran Monday-Friday, as the 2055 service from Mossend Yard, near Glasgow, and the 0233 return from Crianlarich (headcodes 6Y38/6D40). Operations ended in December 2006, though there was a period between 2007-2008 when daytime timber trains returned to both Arrochar and Crianlarich, operated by the short lived company AMEC-Spie railfreight. Timber by rail in the Highlands is now regarded as being impractical and uneconomical, so road transport has taken over.

EARLY HISTORY

Arrochar and Tarbet station opened to passengers on 7 August 1894 by the West Highland Railway company, along with the rest of the Glasgow-Fort William line. The West Highland Rly would go on to be absorbed by the North British Rly.  From the 1840s to the 1880s, railway schemes to penetrate the Western Highlands had generally followed Loch Lomond (there are both ‘eastern shore’ and ‘western shore’ examples). A route via Aberfoyle, cutting to upper Lochlomondside or striking for Crianlarich via Glen Gyle, was also scouted. The Gare Loch-Loch Long-upper Loch Lomond option, eventually chosen for the West Highland Railway, received relatively little attention. However, a local extension of the Helensburgh line, to Garelochhead and Lochlongside, was several times mooted, and the Caledonian Rly company were well aware that Arrochar might become a North British railhead rivalling the Callander & Oban's Dalmally for the traffic of Loch Fyne. In the aftermath of the Glasgow & North Western promotion, defeated in 1883, Caledonian-North British tensions increased. That the North British might advance incrementally to Crianlarich (with Garelochhead, Arrochar and Ardlui as staging posts), then bid for running powers to Oban, became the Caledonian’s serious anxiety.

Landlord support, or at worst, forebearance was essential to the West Highland promotion. The Colquhouns of Luss wanted 'residential' development between Helensburgh and Arrochar. On the basis of Charles Foreman's survey north from Craigendoran, they were ready to make common cause with the proprietors of Lochaber.

The Loch Fyne Light Railway, authorised in 1897 but never built, would have made junction with the West Highland at Arrochar & Tarbet. Having described a horseshoe in and out of Glen Loin, behind Arrochar village, the line would have run below the 'Cobbler' and over the 'Rest-and-be-thankful', terminating at St Catherine’s opposite Inveraray. Additionally, the West Highland promoters claimed that Loch Long, with Loch Goil, would offer worthwhile fish traffic. But consignments from Arrochar & Tarbet, carted from Arrochar pier, were always modest.                                       

THE 'BIG FOUR' AND BR

Until the big changes of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s, there was a local train service which covered the southernmost section of the West Highland Line, running between Arrochar and Craigendoran. It ran under push-pull operation, usually an ex-North British C15 4-4-2 tank engine hauling two non-corridor coaches. 'Push-pull' meant it could run in the opposite direction propelled by the locomotive without it having to run round the train. This practice continued until the 1960s when BR diesel railbuses and DMUs took it over, but not for long. Craigendoran closed as a West Highland station in 1964 and the service was axed. Running a shuttle service like this had not been the original intention in the early days of the railway. The North British planned an outer-suburban Glasgow-Garelochead service, co-ordinating with West Highland trains to/from Fort William; but this was short-lived. 

Ironically, a Glasgow-Garelochhead service did come to fruition much, much later. In October 1996, the newly-privatised ScotRail introduced a southbound Monday-Friday early-morning service for commuters and in 2005 it was extended to start at Arrochar. It has remained in the timetable since but now starts back at Oban. Arrochar & Tarbet has been a well-used crossing point for trains on the single-track line through the decades. Its compact nature is typical of many West Highland stations; of particular note is the sharp radius of the points at each end. This layout could prove problematic when lengthy trains had to pass and during the days of steam many services had extra coaches added, with through carriages from Edinburgh or London on the sleeper service. Summer loadings were particularly heavy, with double-headed locomotives to boot, continuing into the diesel era. This saw Oban trains start to use the line also, and these frequently passed the Fort William services at Arrochar.

Many traditional circular tours (Clyde Coast, Loch Lomond and Trossachs) by train and steamer included a rail journey to/from Arrochar & Tarbet. A few examples were still being offered during the 1960s.                                                                

 

Reading list: 

McGregor, John: "The New Railway: Earliest Years of the West Highland Line" (Amberley Publishing, 2015); "Great Railway Journeys through time: West Highland Line" (Amberley, 2013); "West Highland Railway: Plans, Politics and People" (John Donald Publishers, 2005)

Thomas, John: "The West Highland Railway" (David & Charles, 1986)

Webster, Gordon D.: "The West Highland Lines: Post-Beeching" (The History Press, 2014); "Signal Boxes & Semaphores: The Decline" (Amberley, 2016)

 

 

Helensburgh Upper

Helensburgh UpperHelensburgh Upper is the first station on the West Highland Line after it diverges from the electrified Glasgow suburban rail network.

 

Helensburgh is the largest town in Argyll and Bute, and is situated on the north bank of the Firth of Clyde. The town has many facilities including a wide range of restaurants, cafes, shops, hotels and guest houses.   The famous Hill House, designed by the famous Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, is a five minute walk from Helensburgh Upper. Run by the National Trust for Scotland, the house is open in the afternoons from Easter to the end of October.

 

 

          Passengers waiting the arrival of the 09.52 Fort William & Mallaig train and on the right the ScotRail poster which tells visitors that "The Top rail Journey in the World", as voted by 'Wanderlust' magazine, can be taken from this station.

 

The town of Helensburgh was founded in 1776 by Sir James Colquhoun of Luss and named in honour of his wife, Helen. The town is planned with a grid pattern of wide tree-lined streets.The first Provost of Helensburgh was Henry Bell, who introduced the first steamship in the world, the Comet, to sail from Glasgow to his hotel in Helensburgh. The Comet's flywheel is on display on the East Bay promenade. 

 

John Logie Baird, the inventor of television, was born in the town and is commemorated by a bust on the town's seaside promenade. 

 

(Helensburgh Central station, which is not on the West Highland Line, is a ten-minute walk from Helensburgh Upper station, and has a half-hourly service of electric trains from Glasgow). 

 

 

 

Tyndrum Lower

Tyndrum (Taigh an Droma)

is a small village which has developed as a popular tourist stop with cafes, restaurants, shops, bars, hotel, campsite, bunkhouse and bed and breakfasts. There is also a tourist office. Tyndrum Lower station is an unstaffed halt on the Oban line and is near the village. The West Highland Way long distance footpath passes through Tyndrum.

Gold is mined at Cononish, two miles from the village.

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Glasgow - Oban 4 coach summer service train has just left Tyndrum Lower Station and is accelerating towards the Clifton summit (840ft). Cruach Ardrain and Stob Binnein in background.

 
On the left the Oban train accelerates from Tyndrum Lower Station on a cold November day.   On the right, 'Topped & Tailed with Black 5 Locos, the Royal Scot' charter approaches the line summit, north of Tyndrum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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