Fort William to Mallaig, North British Railway Company, 1901 [ebook]


Soft cover book, 6”x 4”, pp128, plus pp 12 advertising railway and steamer facilities. Numerous etchings and pen and ink sketches of scenery along the route, frontispiece High Level Station Queen Street Glasgow, tipped in folding map 12”x 12”.


(For a study in “Dignity and Impudence” it is interesting to compare this modest work, with the “Coffee Table” tome produced by the North British in 1902.)

“Fort William to Mallaig” is a delightful little book – just the right size for the breast pocket of one’s Norfolk Jacket – and was printed by Sir Joseph Causton and Sons., who also designed and printed “Mountain, Moor and Loch”, a guide to the West Highland Railway in 1894.

Although nominally independent the West Highland was controlled and operated by the North British Railway, which absorbed it in 1908. The Fort William to Mallaig extension was promoted by the West Highland with North British support. Traversing wild and unpopulated country it was hardly an exciting financial prospect but strategically important to the NB, as a way of blocking further northward extension by the hated Caledonian. It did however frighten the Highland Railway, which regarded any line pointing even vaguely north to Inverness, as a mortal threat. Highland opposition to the Bill in Parliament was bought of by a promise from the NBR and WHR not to promote a railway through the Great Glen towards Inverness for ten years and a contribution of £500 towards the expense of opposing the bill in Parliament. The only hope for the Extension to become viable, was the development of the fishing industry, and the Government advanced £30,000

towards the building of harbour infrastructure at Mallaig, guaranteeing a 3% dividend for 30 years on just shy of half the cost of building the line.

The demand for fresh fish in the conurbations of turn of the century Britain was immense,.. fueled partly by the rapid increase in the number of fish and chip shops, and the leading railways ran dozens of specials to diagrammed express schedules every day and night. Carried in special insulated vans, with continuous automatic brakes, fish was a very profitable business for the railways and the trains put up some sparkling performances, averages of 60mph were not uncommon. One contemporary commentator noted that a dead mackerel traveled faster on the North Western than a first class passenger did on the “Brighton”…

The Highland had one more scare over its Inverness traffic, with the independently promoted Invergarry and Fort Augustus Railway linking the West Highland line to the southern end of Loch Ness. The Highland decided to nip competition in the bud by agreeing to work the line when completed in 1903. Alas, tourists preferred the comforts of MacBrayne’s steamers on the parallel canal and purely local traffic sustained only one passenger and one mixed train each way per day. With no physical connection to the Highland system locos and rolling stock had to be supplied via Perth and Crianlarich, over “foreign” metals. The Highland gave up in 1907, and the IFA railway turned to the North British, who agreed to work the line as a branch of the West Highland, but in 1911 terms for working the line could not be agreed, and it closed on 31 October. In August 1913, just in time for the late tourist traffic, the NB again began working the line, and William Whitelaw, the canny NB chairman negotiated its purchase at a knock-down price. Despite publicity bn the NB and later the LNER passenger traffic never amounted to much and services were withdrawn in December 1933.

Fortunately, the West Highland and Fort William to Mallaig lines can still be enjoyed.



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