156banavie 110908 no1 copy.jpgBanavie (Banbhaidh) station is adjacent to Neptune's Staircase, a set of locks on the Caledonian Canal which crosses Scotland linking Loch Linnhe and the Atlantic Coast of Scotland with Inverness and the North Sea via Loch Ness. There is a hotel with bar/restaurant near the station. Picture shows the 08.30 Fort William - Mallaig train just leaving Banavie station, where it immediately crosses the Caledonian Canal via a swing bridge.

 Looking down the 'staircase' from near the mid point. The staircase consists of 8 locks and is the longest in Britain. It was an early 19th century feat of engineering and an outstanding example of Thomas Telfords many achievements.

 The frozen top basin in winter with Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor behind.




Fort William

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Fort William (An Gearasdan) is the outdoor capital of the UK, at the head of Loch Linnhe and at the foot of Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis.It is the northern terminus of the West Highland Way long distance path.



The largest town in Lochaber, Fort William has every facility including hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, supermarkets and a sports centre.

It is a mountaineering centre for Ben Nevis and adjacent mountains. The Nevis Range Gondola system gives access to skiing areas in winter and transports walkers into the hills in summer.Fort William also hosts the Mountain Bike World Championship and Scottish Six Day Motorcycle Trial.


(Above) Ben Nevis rises above Fort William, Viewed from Corpach.
(Below) The Caledonian Sleeper and 'Jacobite' steam-hauled train meet at Fort William, 25/06/13.


The current Fort William station was opened by British Rail (BR) on 13 June 1975, replacing the old terminus that was formerly located on the shores of Loch Linnhe. The old station had a cramped layout and a lack of space for expansion, as it sat between a sea wall and the streets of the town centre. It made way for a new dual carriageway road which avoided Fort William town centre.


(left) A very early photo of Fort William station. [FWHL Collection]

The original Fort William station was opened by the West Highland Railway on 7 August 1894, upon completion of the main line from Glasgow. It was the end of the line and built as a terminus, only assuming its present status as a through station (by reversal) when the branch line to Banavie Pier was opened on 1 June 1895. On 1 April 1901, the branch was extended and the full line to Mallaig was opened. For a long time after, the Mallaig route was self-contained, with little through trains running from Glasgow. Being entirely separate workings, using different locomotives and coaching stock, it meant the station was very busy and platform space was limited. This was exacerbated by often lengthy double-headed trains and remarshalling of vehicles. Parcels vans would often have to be attached and re-attached to/from services, as did restaurant and sleeper cars. Over and above that there was the fish vans from Mallaig which also needed shunting; often carried on passenger trains or, more appropriately, 'mixed' services.

One of the three platforms at Fort William ran right along the sea wall, extending on past the buffer stops of the other two, and on to the roadway for a short section where MacBraynes buses met the train. At the adjoining pier, passengers could change on to steamers to head for the Isles, so it was a very convenient transport hub. The station nameboards proudly read "Fort William: For Ballachulish, Glencoe and Kinlochleven". A signal box guarded the single line section between the station and Mallaig Junction, where the Mallaig and Glasgow lines diverged (now named Fort William Junction). 


(Above) Old Fort station frontage in the late-'50s/early-'60s, showing how platform 1 reached on to the pier area. K2 2-6-0 No. 61787 has arrived on a Mallaig train. [FWHL Collection]

Along the single line was the original Fort William goods yard and - just further north - the Motive Power Depot (MPD). 

The various manoeuvres involved to shunt trains at Fort William were the responsibility of the station pilot. A North British Rly 'C' Class 0-6-0 would perform this duty, right up until the end of BR steam in the 1960s, by which time they were re-classified as LNER J36s (BR Class 2F). Towards the end in the late-1950s/early-'60s, duties included shunting the 'Beaver Tail' observation car which was used on the Mallaig road and had to be taken to the nearby shed to be turned on the turntable. 


Fort William Motive Power Depot (MPD) was used for servicing steam locomotives used on the West Highland and Mallaig Extension lines from the days of the North British and LNER up until the end of BR steam in 1963. Its shedcode in BR days was 65J, latterly 63B in the 1960s. There was a sub-shed at Mallaig. 

Fort William included a two-road engine shed and vacuum-operated turntable. In BR days, Peppercorn K1 (for Mallaig traffic) and Gresley K2 moguls formed the bulk of the locomotive allocation, alongside several J36s as pilots for the shed and goods yard area, plus Fort William station. An ex-LMS Fowler 4F 0-6-0 - No. 44255 - was an odd inclusion for a while in amongst the LNER types towards the end of steam, kept for snowplough duty in the winter. Class 5MTs - both ex-LMS and BR Standard varieties - were daily visitors used on the Glasgow road. They were largely based at Glasgow Eastfield (65A) and double-headed on the heavier trains, helped by K2s plus the more-than-capable Thompson B1s. Fort William had its own allocation of 'Black Fives' during the 1950s too.

Fort William MPD and goods yard were on the now-truncated section of line between Mallaig Junction and Fort William (Old) station. Following the opening of New Fort William station, goods became concentrated on Mallaig Junction Yard and a replacement locomotive depot was established at Tom-na-Faire, near Inverlochy. This included a small shed with inspection pits and fuelling facilities for diesels. In the 1980s, it became the servicing point for locomotives and stock used on the summer steam workings to Mallaig, a function that it continues to serve today.

Despite the old Fort William MPD being condemned, its turntable survives preserved at Kidderminster on the Severn Valley Railway. Ironically, a new turntable now resides at Fort William Junction Yard for preserved steam, relocated from London Marylebone.




The current Fort William station is located around half a mile north of the old one, incorporating a single, but lengthy, island platform (platform faces on either side are numbered 1 and 2). By the time the terminus opened in 1975, traffic was sparser and there was less requirement for shunting parcels vans and goods wagons. Locomotive run-rounds were the norm, far quicker and simpler than the often-complicated moves which needed a station pilot. The addition of two long sidings was welcome and something which was lacking at the old station. The run-round loop on platform 1 is necessary today for loco-hauled workings including the daily 'Jacobite' steam services and the Caledonian Sleeper. Platform 2 has no loop, hence propelling manoeuvres became common and a pilot locomotive was still deemed to be required into the 1980s. A Class 20 diesel was frequently used for this, as well as working in Mallaig Junction Yard and performing the freight 'trip' workings to the aluminium smelter and Corpach paper mill. Crews in Fort William also became familiar with Class 08 shunters, though the '20s' were preferred, offering greater power and speed that made them better suited to local freight turns. They could also be pressed into passenger service when necessary and were sometimes seen on the lightweight teatime train to Mallaig in the early-mid '80s.

Fort William station sidings have always been used for daytime stabling of the sleeper from London and there is still a ramp where cars used to drive up onto the train to be carried south (or unloaded). This was part of InterCity's 'Motorail' service during the 1990s, where the sleeper had special vans attached which carried passengers' cars for them all the way to their destination at London Euston, saving hundreds of miles' driving on the motorway. Motorail ended in the mid-1990s but the sleeper remains.

Signalling at the new Fort William station has been colour lights since 1975, though they are controlled manually from Fort William Junction signal box, using Track Circuit Block (TCB) working.



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)




Roy Bridge

      Roy Bridge is a village with hotels, bar/restaurants and a camping and caravanning site on the River Spean. The Parallel Roads of Glen Roy are unique geological features left by a glacial lake.


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Mallaig/Fort William, Glasgow Queen Street Summer evening service arriving to pick up passengers at Roy Bridge Station.







Between Tulloch and Roy Bridge the line shares the narrow route of the River Spean where it flows through the Monessie gorge. A spectacular place after heavy rain and snow melt when the river forms a foaming torrent which can reach the footings of the protecting railings at the side of the line. In normal weather and after a dry summer the waters of the River Spean are diverted at the Laggan Dam, through 14 miles of tunnels under the Grey Corrie mountains, to the aluminium smelter at Fort William. For most of the time only a small trickle of compensation water remains in the gorge, as when the picture below was taken in mid October 2014.

The Caledonian Sleeper to London Euston (Fort William departure 19.50) passing near Roy Bridge in July with the mountain Aonach Mhor in the background. Aonach Mhor is the location for the Nevis Range Skii facility and visitors can take a gondala lift up this mountain for spectacular views of Ben Nevis and westwards across Loch Eil to the mountains of Kintail and as far as the Cuillin mountains on the Isle of Skye.

Spean Bridge

Spean Bridge (Drochaid an Aonachain) is a major village with hotels, bars, restaurants, and shops. The nearby Commando Monument commemerates the commandos who were trained in the area between 1942 and 1945. The village also stands at the junction where the A86 road to Kingussie and Aviemore meets the A82 Glasgow to Inverness road. Situated at the foot of the Grey Corries mountain range the village is well situated for walkers to enjoy the impressive views of Aonach Mor, Carn Mor Dearg and the imposing north east face of Ben Nevis, best seen from the Commando Monument mentioned above.

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 Scottish Railway Preservation Society Rail Tour passing through Spean Bridge Station on 9th May 2009.

 Spean Bridge was the junction where the Invergarry & Fort August joined the West Highland Line. The Invergarry & Fort Augustus Line opened in 1903 and extended as far as a pier on Loch Ness. The Line had a brief history and closed to passenger traffic in 1933. It remained open, serving coal delivery and strategic requirements during the 2nd World War. It finally closed in 1947. The Invergarry Station Preservation Society is constituted to rebuild Invergarry Station and establish a museum dedicated to the line and its chequered political and financial history.



Tulloch (An Tulach) is a wayside station near the end of Loch Treig, which is the source of hydro power for the Fort William aluminium smelter.

The station building has been adapted for use as a bunkhouse.

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Tulloch Station in summer. Scotrail, Glasgow Queen Street train from Mallaig and Fort William. 4 coach Class 156 DMU bearing earlier livery (of previous franchise operator, National Express Group)


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As the sun sets on 11th May 2009, a Class 67 Diesel heads the London bound ScotRail, 'Caledonian' Sleeper high above the head of Loch Treig on the long climb from Tulloch Station to the Corrour summit.


Loch Treig was made into a reservoir in 1929 and the water piped 15 miles through the mountains to the aluminium smelter at Fort William. The dam is located at Fersit near Tulloch station. In 1932 the line was raised at the Fersit end to accommodate the rising level of the water. This also required the building of a short tunnel which is an unusual feature of the Glasgow to Fort William section of the line.


There is a rough estate track to Corrour but the area is devoid of public roads and this section of wild country is only seen by hill walkers and travellers on the West Highland Line. Hemmed in on both sides by high mountains it is an impressive place.


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