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The Highland Line: our derelict railway stations should no longer be neglected

It could be a pier where a ferry no longer calls, a once busy hotel now bypassed and boarded up, or a former main road only used by sheep and the occasional Italian tourist.

The remains of Invergarry station

It is always somehow sad to see what has been left behind by the progress of the modern age.

That is certainly true of the railways that used to provide the vascular transport system of much of rural Scotland.

According to the ‘Disused Stations’ website in 1955 the British railway system had 20,000 miles of track and 6,000 stations. By 1975 this had shrunk to 12,000 miles of track and 2,000 stations, roughly the same size it is today.

The biggest cuts were in the rural lines. Most of this had been due to the work of Dr. Richard Beeching, the chairman of British Railways from 1961 – 1965 and his report  “The reshaping of British Railways” published in March 1963 which became known as the Beeching Report.

But there were railways and stations that went long before him. One long forgotten line ran through much of the Great Glen, along the east side of Loch Lochy and Loch Oich. It connected Fort William and Fort Augustus on the south western end of Loch Ness.

After Spean Bridge it called at a series of stations now mostly consumed by man and nature - Gairlochy, Invergloy, Aberchalder, Fort Augustus and Fort Augustus Pier where passengers could board steamers lying up and down Loch Ness.

A group of local businessmen and landowners had formed the Invergarry and Fort Augustus Railway Company proposing a line from Spean Bridge on the West Highland line to Fort Augustus, in the hope that the line would eventually be extended to connect Glasgow with Inverness.

They had little money to run the line themselves, so it was decided to build the line and sell it to the highest bidder.

The Highland Railway company, which operated lines north of Perth, opposed it but an Act of Parliament was passed in  August 1896, allowing its construction,  and it opened in July 1903. It was an expensive project as its backers were so convinced of the huge potential of the Great Glen Line that they built it to main-line standards.

It cost £350,000 leaving the Invergarry and Fort Augustus Railway Co without the money to provide trains and carriages to put on it. So the Highland Railway rented it at £4,000 a year and provided a service. But it wasn’t a great success. Indeed it was really a financial disaster.

The villages it served were sparsely inhabited and most of its money came on market days and from monks coming to and from Fort Augustus Abbey and its seminary.

According to Disused Stations “The section from Fort Augustus Town station to the pier on Loch Ness, incorporating a swing bridge on the canal, a major bridge over the River Lochy a bridge over the main road, a terminal station and pier was closed in 1906 after only three years’ use.”

North British Railway ran the line from May 1907 But from November 1911 to August 1913 there was no service at all, as the North British refuse to operate it unless they were allowed to become its owners.

In the end they paid just £27,000 for the line and the Fort Augustus Hotel. Not much of a return on fraction of the £350,000 it cost building the line. The North British Railway (Invergarry and Fort Augustus) Vesting and Confirmation Act was passed in  August 1914 and the service resumed.

But the North British Railway was amalgamated into the London & North Eastern Railway after the First World War. It was largely freight that was run on the line, not least timber and coal, and the passenger service was finally withdrawn on  December 1933.     

 A daily freight train stopped in 1945 and a weekly coal train was withdrawn from January 1947.  The track was lifted in the spring of that year. But the line is not completely forgotten.

"Invergarry Station had a sizeable island platform, a subway with a covered ramp up to the platform. There was a siding, a goods shed and a loading bank. It was on the opposite side of Loch Oich from Invergarry village which has the A82 running through it today, and the ruined castle of the  MacDonell (Correct MacDonell) chiefs of Glengarry."

The island platform and the access subway still survive but are overgrown along with the ramp down from the platform. Much of the station area is now a Forestry Commission car park, but it is also on the popular Great Glen Way long distance walking route.

A year ago Invergarry Station Preservation Society was formed with the goal of preserving the station’s remains and creating a museum. A lease on the site was obtained and work to clear the platform and track beds completed. The renovation of platform and underpass is next followed by the construction of the museum.

It is hoped that freight wagons and a section of track to exhibit them on, will feature.

Preservation society chairman Christopher Ellice told this week’s edition of the Lochaber News: “The project is now at the stage that the platform and adjacent track beds have been cleared.

“Restoration work will be undertaken this year and establishment of the museum and arrival of artefacts is expected to commence in 2014.

“We are reaching the point where we will be able to excavate the foundations of the station building.

“Work will shortly start on the manufacture of station signs and other items for the platform, while another team will be looking for worn out track and freight vehicles for display in a short goods train.”

Being sited on both the Great Glen Way and proposed Sustrans National Cycle Route between Fort William and Inverness, as well as being within walking distance of the A82, it is the museum will attract interest from the general public as well as rail enthusiasts.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, who used to live in Invergarry, is due to visit the site next month, but there is no news yet of a Treasury grant.

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