The Story of the West Highland, by George Dow, second (enlarged) edition, 1947 [ebook]


Book, card covers 8.5”x 5-5”, pp. 63. Map, 64 black & white half tone photographs, folding 4mm scale drawings plans and elevations typical island platform station, folding sheet gradient profiles, large folding sheet drawings of first and third class carriages built for the line, folding table listing North British and LNER locomotive classes used on the line, with main dimensions.


Originally published in 1944, when war time restrictions on paper were more stringent, this enlarged edition contains much more information. It shows George Dow, with his attention to detail, developing into the historian who would eventually write what is still one of the best histories of an English railway company, the magisterial three-volume Great Central.

Outside the prosperous central belt, railway development in the rest of Scotland was a much more prolonged affair than in England. With few industries away from the coastal towns and cities, it might need the personal effort and investment by a wealthy local aristocrat, like the Duke of Sutherland to get a line built. With returns on investment precarious, on a railway line serving a district where sheep and grouse outnumbered the human population by many thousands, established railway companies were reluctant to risk diluting their share capital to raise money for a line which might, all funds and ambition spent, peter out in the middle of nowhere, many miles short of its intended destination. The solution was the nominally independent line, but in practice controlled by a majority shareholding by the parent company, which also operated the trains. If things went wrong, the damage to the parent was minimized.  The West Highland Railway, always a creature of the North British, obtained an act of Parliament in 1889 to build a line linking Glasgow with Fort William. It was completed in 1894, not without some engineering difficulties, overcoming which made the reputation of “Concrete Bob” McAlpine. An extension to Mallaig was authorized in 1894 and opened in 1901. Having proved its viability, the West Highland was absorbed by the North British in 1908. As the last 19thc railway of any length to be built in Scotland, it is interesting to make a comparison with the almost contemporaneous Great Central main line in England. This last has been closed for many years, but the West Highland is still open, and busy with summer tourists. Dow tells the story well, and includes a good selection of fine photographs.


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