West Highland Line

The West Highland Line (Scottish Gaelic: Rathad Iarainn nan Eilean - "Iron Road to the Isles") is a railway line linking the ports of Mallaig and Oban in the Scottish Highlands to Glasgow in Central Scotland. The line was voted the top rail journey in the world by readers of independent travel magazine Wanderlust in 2009, ahead of the notable Trans-Siberian line in Russia and the Cuzco to Machu Picchu line in Peru.[2][3][4] The ScotRail website has since reported that the line has been voted the most scenic railway line in the world for the second year running.

West Highland Line
A First ScotRail train to Fort William crossing Rannoch Moor in August 2007
TypeRural Rail[1]
SystemNational Rail
Argyll and Bute
TerminiGlasgow Queen Street
OwnerNetwork Rail
Operator(s)Caledonian Sleeper
Abellio ScotRail
West Coast Railways
Rolling stockClass 156 "Super Sprinter"
Caledonian Sleeper stock
Line lengthGlasgow Queen Street to Crianlarich: 59 miles 22 chains (95.4 km)
Crianlarich to Oban: 41 miles 73 chains (67.5 km)
Crianlarich to Fort William: 63 miles 14 chains (101.7 km)
Fort William to Mallaig: 41 miles 28 chains (66.5 km)
*Total (including reversing at Fort William): 205 miles 57 chains (331.1 km)
Number of tracksOne
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Operating speed70 mph (110 km/h) maximum[1]

The West Highland Line is one of two railway lines which access the remote and mountainous west coast of Scotland, the other being the Kyle of Lochalsh Line which connects Inverness with Kyle of Lochalsh. The line is the westernmost railway line in Great Britain.

At least in part, the West Highland Line is the same railway line as that referred to as the West Highland Railway.


The route was built in several sections:-

There is an additional section from Fort William (or a junction near Fort William) to Mallaig, built as the Mallaig Extension Railway.

Route description

Shortly after leaving Glasgow Queen Street station, and beyond Queen Street Tunnel, the line diverges from the main trunk route to Edinburgh and Perth at Cowlairs and follows a northwesterly course through the suburbs of Maryhill and Kelvindale. Between Westerton and Dumbarton, the route is shared with the North Clyde Line to Helensburgh before branching northward at Craigendoran Junction towards Garelochhead, the section where the West Highland Line itself is generally accepted to begin. It gives high-level views of the Gareloch and Loch Long before emerging alongside the northwesterly shores of Loch Lomond, then climbs Glen Falloch to Crianlarich.

The branch to Oban diverges at Crianlarich, an important Highland junction of both road and rail, and runs through Glen Lochy to Dalmally and through the Pass of Brander to reach salt water at Taynuilt and Connel Ferry before a final climb over a hill to Oban. Both the Maillaig and Oban branches of the line pass through the village of Tyndrum about 5km from Crianlarich, making it both the smallest and most-northerly settlement in the UK to be served by more than one railway station.

After Bridge of Orchy, the line climbs onto Rannoch Moor, past the former crossing point at Gorton Crossing to Rannoch station. In winter, the moor is often covered with snow, and deer may be seen running from the approaching train. The station at Corrour on the moor is one of the most remote stations in Britain and is not accessible by any public road. This is the summit of the line at 410 m (1347 ft) above sea level. Carrying on northwards, the line descends above the shores of Loch Treig and through the narrow Monessie Gorge. The final stop before Fort William is Spean Bridge. The section between Fort William and Mallaig passes over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, through Arisaig with its views of the Small Isles of Rùm, Eigg, Muck and Canna, and the white sands of Morar before coming to Mallaig itself.

With the exception of the route between Glasgow Queen Street and Helensburgh Upper, and the short section between Fort William Junction and Fort William station, the railway is signalled using the Radio Electronic Token Block, controlled from the signal box at Banavie station.


Passenger services on the line are operated by Abellio ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper: six daily return services between Glasgow Queen Street and Oban, three daily return services between Glasgow Queen Street and Mallaig, and one nightly (except Saturdays) Caledonian Sleeper service between London Euston and Fort William.

During the summer season from May until October a steam locomotive-hauled daily return service between Fort William and Mallaig known as The Jacobite is operated by West Coast Railways. There is one train a day in May, September and October, and two trains per day from June until the end of August.

Onward ferry connections operated by Caledonian MacBrayne are available from Mallaig to the Isle of Skye, to the small isles of Rùm, Eigg, Muck, and Canna, to South Uist, and to Inverie on the Knoydart peninsula. From Oban ferries sail to the islands of Lismore, Colonsay, Coll, Tiree, Mull and Barra.

Route timings

Since improvements to Scottish trunk roads in the 1980s, a train journey can take significantly longer than the equivalent road journey. There are several reasons for this. The line is entirely single track once it leaves the North Clyde suburban network at Craigendoran and trains must wait at stations with crossing loops for opposite direction trains to pass. Even when no crossing is timetabled, each train must pause at the various token exchange points whilst the driver contacts the main signalling centre at Banavie to swap tokens electronically and obtain permission to proceed. Up to 15 minutes have to be allocated for trains to divide or combine at the junction station at Crianlarich, whilst trains heading to/from Mallaig also have to reverse at Fort William & traverse the Banavie swing bridge at low speed. A further issue is finding suitable timetable paths for Oban & Mallaig trains on the busy North Clyde line, which carries an intensive local stopping service. As West Highland trains only stop at Dumbarton Central and Dalmuir on this stretch, it is not uncommon for them be delayed by a preceding local train and so recovery time has to be included in their schedules to reduce the possibility of a late arrival in Glasgow.

Over much of the Rannoch Moor section the speed limit is 60 mph for the Sprinter and 70 mph on the approach to Rannoch station. The Caledonian Sleeper travels at 40 mph maximum, slowing down for a number of bridges on the route due to the heavy weight of the Class 67 locomotive which hauled the train until the end of the old franchise in April 2015. New sleeper operator Serco has replaced these with refurbished Class 73/9 electro-diesels since it took over, which have a lighter axle load; it isn't yet clear if the new locos will be cleared to run at higher speeds now they are in service.[5]

Rolling stock

Past, present and future rolling stock on the line

Past Rolling Stock (From 1980)
Class Image Operator Route Maximum Speed Builder/


In Service Leased From Other Notes
mph kmh
37 British Rail (Until 1983)
BR ScotRail (From 1983)
Glasgow Queen Street to Oban/Mallaig (Until 1989)
London Euston to Fort William
(Takes over from electric loco at Edinburgh)
80 130 English Electric
1981-1985 N/A Class 37/0
BR ScotRail Glasgow Queen Street to Oban/Mallaig (Until 1989)
London Euston to Fort William
(Takes over from electric loco at Edinburgh)
90 145 1985-2006 Class 37/4
67 First ScotRail (Until 2015)
Caledonian Sleeper (Until 2018)
London Euston to Fort William
(Took over from electric loco at Edinburgh)
125 201 Alstom 1999-2000 2006-2016 DB Cargo UK
Mark 1 Passenger Coach British Rail (Until 1983)
BR ScotRail (From 1983)
The Royal Scotsman (1985 - 1989)
Glasgow Queen Street to Oban or Mallaig 100 160 1951-1963 1961-1989 N/A
Current Rolling Stock
156 BR ScotRail (until 1997), National Express (1997-2004), First ScotRail (2005-2015), Abellio ScotRail (2015-present) Glasgow Queen Street to Oban/Mallaig 75 121 Metro-Cammell 1987-1989 1989- N/A
73 Caledonian Sleeper London Euston to Fort William
(Takes over from electric loco at Edinburgh)
90 145 British Railways Eastleigh Works 1962
English Electric 1965-1967
Rebuilt 2014-2016
2016- GB Railfreight Replaced Class 67 when their lease from DB Cargo UK Expired Class 73/9.
66 DB Cargo UK Freight 75 121 Electro-Motive Diesel 1998-2015 2000- N/A Class 66/0

GB Railfreight

Class 66/7
Belmond Limited Special Passenger Workings

(Royal Scotsman)

GB Railfreight
37 West Coast Railways Special Passenger Workings

(Royal Scotsman)

90 145 English Electric 1960-1965 1985- Direct Rail Services Class 37/5
Direct Rail Services Freight/Special Passenger Workings N/A Class 37/6
LMS Stanier Class 5 4-6-0 West Coast Railways Mallaig to Fort William 40 64 - - The Jacobite
Peppercorn Class K1 40 64 - -
Mark 1 Passenger coach 100 160 Cravens 1951-1963
Mark 2 Passenger Coach Caledonian Sleeper London Euston to Fort William 100 160 BREL 1963-1975 1964-December 2018 Replaced in 2019 by new British Rail Mark 5s.
West Coast Railways Special Passenger Workings
Mark 3 Sleeper Coach Caledonian Sleeper London Euston to Fort William 125 201 BREL 1979-1980 1980-December 2018 Replaced in 2019 by new British Rail Mark 5s
Belmond Limited Special Passenger Workings
(Royal Scotsman)
Pullman coach Metro-Cammell (1960) 1990- N/A
Future Rolling Stock
153 Abellio ScotRail Glasgow Queen Street to Oban/Mallaig 75 121 Leyland Bus 1987-1988 as Class 155s[6]
Converted to Class 153 by Hunslet-Barclay 1991-1992[7]
2019 (Scheduled) N/A These single car units are to be completely adapted to accommodate bikes, skis and other outdoor equipment.
They will be attached to the Class 156s either as centre cars, or as extra coaches at either end.[8]
Mark 5 Passenger Coach Caledonian Sleeper London Euston to Fort William 100 161 CAF 2016-2018 Mid-2019 (Scheduled) Caledonian Sleeper Rail Leasing Replaced the Mark 2s
Mark 5 Sleeper Coach Replaced the Mark 3s

In early 2018 it was widely reported that Class 158s would be used from Q3-Q4 2018 to replace the Class 156s. However, following investigation it was discovered that the line does not have sufficient gauge clearance for the class. As of August 2018 studies were still ongoing.[9]

The two branches of the line are described in detail by John Thomas in his two books (see Sources).

The route in detail

West Highland Line
from Glasgow
264.3 Mallaig
259.5 Morar
252.3 Arisaig
Stops on request
Stops on request
224.1 Glenfinnan
Stops on request
207.6 Loch Eil Outward Bound
202.8 Corpach
201.2 Banavie
197.5 Fort William
183.5 Spean Bridge
178.2 Roy Bridge
169.0 Tulloch
152.9 Corrour
141.2 Rannoch
.... Gorton
116.3 Bridge of Orchy
103.8 Upper Tyndrum
163.3 Oban
153.3 Connel Ferry
142.4 Taynuilt
Falls of Cruachan
summer only
127.9 Loch Awe
123.5 Dalmally
104.2 Tyndrum Lower
96.2 Crianlarich
82.1 Ardlui
69.2 Arrochar and Tarbet
51.9 Garelochhead
41.0 Helensburgh Upper
35.0 Cardross
26.6 Dumbarton Central
16.1 Dalmuir
Glasgow Queen Street
Buchanan Street

Places served along the route from Glasgow Queen Street are listed below. Sleeper services to Fort William start, however, at London Euston, calling at Edinburgh Waverley and Queen Street Low Level (to pick up or set down depending on direction).

Place Station OS reference Notes
Glasgow to Crianlarich
Glasgow Glasgow Queen Street NS592655
Dalmuir Dalmuir NS484714
Dumbarton Dumbarton Central NS397755
Helensburgh Helensburgh Upper NS298833
Garelochhead Garelochhead NS242910
Arrochar and Tarbet Arrochar and Tarbet NN311045
Ardlui Ardlui NN317155 Request stop for the Caledonian Sleeper.
Crianlarich Crianlarich NN384250 At Crianlarich the former West Highland Railway route to Fort William and Mallaig links to the remaining section of the former Callander and Oban Railway to Oban.
Crianlarich to Oban
Tyndrum Tyndrum Lower NN327301
Dalmally Dalmally NN159271
Loch Awe Loch Awe NN124274
Loch Awe Falls of Cruachan NN079267 Falls of Cruachan is a request stop, used mainly by hikers.
Taynuilt Taynuilt NN003312
Connel Connel Ferry NM916340
Oban Oban NM857298
Crianlarich to Fort William
Tyndrum Upper Tyndrum NN333302
Bridge of Orchy Bridge of Orchy NN300394
Rannoch Rannoch NN422578
Corrour Corrour NN356663 Request stop for the Caledonian Sleeper.
Tulloch Tulloch NN354802
Roy Bridge Roy Bridge NN272810 Request stop for the Caledonian Sleeper.
Spean Bridge Spean Bridge NN221814
Fort William Fort William NN105741 Services from Glasgow reverse out of Fort William to continue to Mallaig.
The Jacobite runs from Fort William to Mallaig.
Fort William and Mallaig route
Banavie Banavie NN112767
Corpach Corpach NN096767
Loch Eil Loch Eil Outward Bound NN054783
Loch Eil Locheilside NM994786 Request stop.
Glenfinnan Glenfinnan NM898810
Lochailort Lochailort NM768826 Request stop.
Beasdale Beasdale NM709850 Request stop.
Arisaig Arisaig NM663867
Morar Morar NM677929
Mallaig Mallaig NM675970 Ferries link Mallaig to Armadale, the Isle of Skye, South Uist and the Small Isles.

West Highland Line in film

Glenfinnan Viaduct, on the line between Fort William and Mallaig, is a filming location for the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter series of films.

Eddie McConnell's poetic documentary A Line for All Seasons (1970) showcases the line and its history set against the scenery of the western highlands as it changes through the seasons.[10]

Corrour station features in Trainspotting (1996), directed by Danny Boyle.


There is a museum dedicated to the history of the West Highland Line situated at Glenfinnan Station.



  1. Business Plan 2007 Network Rail. Retrieved 2011-07-09.
  2. "Highland train line best in world". BBC News. 6 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  3. "Wanderlust Travel Awards announced". Wanderlust. 5 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  4. Brian Donnelly and Marianne Taylor (6 February 2009). "Highland line voted world's most scenic train journey". The Herald. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  5. "Class 73s for sleeper train"Friends of the West Highland Line; Retrieved 26 August 2016
  6. Dave Coxon. "Class 155 Super Sprinter DMU". Archived from the original on 3 November 2014. Retrieved 2 March 2014.
  7. "Class 153 - Arriva Trains Wales, Great Western Railway, East Midlands Trains, Arriva Rail North". Angel Trains. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  8. Options Revealed for ScotRail Class 153 Conversion The Railway Magazine 31 December 1981
  9. "2018 AGM Report - Friends of the West Highland Lines". Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  10. "Scottish Screen Archive - Full record for 'LINE FOR ALL SEASONS, a'". Retrieved 6 February 2009.


  • Thomas, John (1965). The West Highland Railway. Newton Abbot: David and Charles (Publishers) Ltd. ISBN 0-7153-7281-5.
  • Thomas, John (1966). The Callander and Oban Railway (1st ed.). Newton Abbot: Devon: David & Charles. OCLC 2316816.
  • Thomas, John; Farrington, J. H. (1990). The Callander and Oban Railway (2nd ed.). Newton Abbot: Devon: David St John Thomas. OCLC 60059451.
  • Thomas, John (2000). The Callander and Oban Railway (3rd ed.). Newton Abbot: Devon: David St John Thomas. ISBN 0-9465-3761-5. OCLC 228266316.

Further reading

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