Ardgay station

Far North Line

The Far North Line is a rural railway line entirely within the Highland area of Scotland, extending from Inverness to Thurso and Wick.

Route

Like the A9 road north of Inverness, the Far North Line generally follows the line of the east-facing Moray Firth coast. Much of the population of the far north of Scotland is concentrated in coastal areas and, in places, the railway is almost on the shore, the track running along the raised beaches left behind as land rebounded following the end of the last Ice Age.

The railway links many of the same places as the road. Many more places were served by both the railway and the road before three new road bridges were built: across the Moray Firth (between Inverness and the Black Isle), the Cromarty Firth and the Dornoch Firth. The railway is now, in many places, a long way inland from the route of the A9.

The railway loops inland from Tain to Lairg, which has never been on the A9, a diversion intended at the time of construction to open the centre of Sutherland to trade. The route then returns to the coast at Golspie. For many years there have been proposals to bypass this Lairg loop with a line across the Dornoch Firth, linking Tain (via Dornoch) more directly with Golspie. This would involve building a new bridge over the Firth, or making dual-purpose the bridge which now carries just the A9. At present there seems to be little real prospect of such plans being implemented.

Beyond Golspie, the railway continues along the coast as far as Helmsdale, then inland up the Strath of Kildonan and then across the Flow Country to Halkirk and back to the east coast at Wick. At Georgemas Junction near Halkirk, there is a branch to Thurso.

Service provision

Connections to other services

At Inverness the line connects with the Highland Main Line, which links Inverness and Perth, and a line to Aberdeen (the Aberdeen-Inverness Line).

Provided by BR Scottish Region (1948 to 1997)

In 1963, the line was listed for closure on the Beeching Report. However whilst the Dornoch branch was closed, the Far North Line remained open. If the Beeching report had been totally acted upon there would have been no rail service north of Stirling.

In latter years the service was provided by Class 37 locomotive and Mark 1 rolling stock. These were replaced by Class 156 units.

Provided by ScotRail (1997 to 2004)

The service provided by ScotRail replicated by that provided in the latter years of BR Scottish Region. ScotRail was owned by National Express until 17 October 2004 when First Group took over the franchise.

Since 2004 this service has been operated exclusively using Class 158 DMUs as two coach trains. Prior to this some Class 156 units were used and trains were split at Georgemas Junction one half going to Thurso to other to Wick.

Provided by First ScotRail (from 2005)

Passenger trains on the line are operated by First ScotRail. Along the full length of the line there are three services each way Monday to Saturday, with a fourth service south in the morning allowing a connection from the Orkney ferry, and one service each way on Sundays. Also, Kyle of Lochalsh services run between Inverness and Dingwall. First ScotRail also operates a number of commuter services on the line between Inverness and Ardgay, via Invergordon and Tain, as an alternative commuter route to Inverness in addition to the A9 road.

Towns and villages

Towns and villages (and other places) linked by passenger services (Ordnance Survey grid references are for stations, unless otherwise indicated):

Places Grid references Other Notes
Inverness
Beauly
Muir of Ord
Dingwall The Kyle of Lochalsh Line diverges at Dingwall.
Alness
Invergordon
Fearn This small village (full name Hill of Fearn, ) is about two kilometres (one mile) east of the station. This station also benefits the Seaboard Villages.
Tain
Ardgay When first built, and for many years afterwards, Ardgay station was named for the nearby village of Bonar Bridge.
Culrain
Invershin
Lairg Lairg station is over two kilometres (one mile) south of this small town ().
Rogart
Golspie
Dunrobin Castle
Brora
Helmsdale
Kildonan
Kinbrace
Forsinard
Altnabreac
Scotscalder
Georgemas Junction railway station In the past, passenger services divided at Georgemas Junction, part of the train going to Thurso, the other to Wick. In the 1990s this practice was changed. Trains now run to Georgemas, reverse to reach Thurso, and then return through Georgemas a second time before continuing to Wick.
Thurso
Wick

History

The line was built in several stages:-

Much of the work was done by the Inverness-based Highland Railway company or, when completed, taken over by that company. In 1923 the Highland Railway was grouped into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, under the Railways Act of 1921.

Like railway lines generally in Britain the line was not a product of any strategic plan, but was an ad hoc development, facilitated by Private Acts of Parliament (which were themselves a significant expense for developers) and dependent on cooperation between companies and individuals, each with their own private vested interests. The line did become strategically important during World War I and World War II as part of a supply route for Scapa Flow, Orkney: Jellicoe's Express linked Thurso directly with London (Euston) and Portsmouth.

That the line extends beyond Ardgay in the county of Ross and Cromarty is due, to a large extent, to the railway enthusiasm (some might say madness) of the 3rd Duke of Sutherland. The duke did realise his dream of being able to run his own private train to and from his own station at Dunrobin Castle.

The duke's enthusiasm took the line as far as Gartymore, a little south of Helmsdale, in the county of Sutherland, but this development was more of a financial liability than an asset: the long-term viability of the line then depended on a Caithness willingness, not least from the 17th Earl of Caithness, to link the line to the population centres of Wick and Thurso.

North of Helsmdale the line was built by the Sutherland and Caithness Railway. Turning inland it reaches Forsinard in the Flow Country. The building of the line through the Flow Country - one of the least densely populated parts of Scotland - was to avoid the Berriedale Braes. North of Helmsdale as far as Lybster, it would have been impractical to have built a railway without massive civil engineering projects. Thus coastal villages such as Latheron and Lybster are not served by the line.

In 1902, under the provisions of the Light Railways Act of 1896, the standard gauge Wick and Lybster Railway was built along the east coast of Caithness, running south from Wick to Lybster. This line was never profitable, and it closed in 1944.

Historic branch lines also served Dornoch and the Black Isle.

Future expansion

Discussions have been held concerning the shortening of the Far North Line involving a bridge over the Dornoch Firth and the possible use of the trackbed of the former light railway. Nothing has yet come of these ideas.

References

Notes

Sources

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