With the Strathspey Railway now progressing with work on its extension towards Grantown on Spey as plans for the last major obstacle – the crossing of the A95 – are developed, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the closure of the line to passenger services.
With the Strathspey Railway now progressing with work on its extension towards Grantown on Spey as plans for the last major obstacle – the crossing of the A95 – are developed, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the closure of the line to passenger services. Work on the planning of the new terminus at Grantown on Spey and the final northward extension is in hand and consultations are taking place with interested parties.
The origins of the line stretch back to the1860s; the Inverness & Perth Junction Railway was authorised by an Act of 22 July 1861 to construct a line northwards from the Perth & Dunkeld Railway to Forres on the Inverness & Aberdeen Junction Railway. Work started at Forres on 17 October 1861 when Lady Seafield cut the first sod. The line opened in three stages: from Dunkeld to Pitlochry on 1 June 1863; between Forres and Aviemore on 3 August 1863; and between Aviemore and Pitlochry on 9 September 1863. The line included, at Druimuachdar, the highest summit on a standard gauge railway in the United Kingdom. This was to remain the case until 1902 when the final section of the Leadhills & Wanlockhead Light Railway opened. The new line had a summit of 1,498ft, 14ft higher than that at Druimuachdar. The Highland Railway summit, however, regained its pre-eminence on 31 December 1938 when the L&WLR closed.
The I&PJR took over the Perth & Dunkeld Railway on 28 February 1864 and, on 1 February the following year, the newly-enlarged railway took over the Inverness & Aberdeen Junction Railway. The new railway was named the Highland Railway and the result of the mergers meant that it was now possible from Perth to Inverness on the metals of a single railway.
Boat of Garten became a junction station on 1 August 1866 when the Great North of Scotland Railway’s line from Abernethy, later Nethy Bridge, was extended southwards. Although the two routes met at Tullochgorum, some three miles north of Boat of Garten, there was no physical junction at this point and parallel running existing to the actual junction at Boat of Garten station.
The route that the railway took from Aviemore to Inverness was, however, somewhat circuitous and, in order to reduce the mileage, the Highland Railway promoted the Inverness & Aviemore Direct Railway. Authorised by an Act of Parliament dated 28 July 1884, the new line was opened in three stages. The first section was that from Aviemore to Carrbridge, which opened on 8 July 1892. Carrbridge to Daviot, via Slochd Summit, opened on 19 July 1897, with the final stretch, from Daviot to Millburn Junction, slightly to the east of inverness station, opening on 1 November 1898. The new route cut the mileage from Aviemore to Inverness from 60½ miles via Forres to 34¾ via the direct route.
Looking back on the so-called ‘golden age’ of railways, it is always strange to note how relatively sparse passenger services were and this is particularly true of lines in remote areas such as the route from Aviemore to Forres. With the opening of the cut-off route, the main Perth to Inverness services were inevitably transferred to the new line, leaving the old route with little more a local service. In 1910, the timetable records that there were three return workings per weekday between Aviemore and Forres with a fourth running only between Aviemore and Grantown on Spey. There was one working in each direction on Sundays. The journey time for the 35¾-mile route from Aviemore to Forres was 68 minutes by the fastest train.
In 1923, at the Grouping, the Highland Railway became part of the LMS; little else changed other than that the old Highland Railway types of steam locomotive were gradually to disappear as the LMS’s locomotive designs, most notably the Stanier ‘Black Five’ came increasingly to dominate. The summer timetable for 1947, the last summer that the LMS operated, saw the original line through Grantown with four services operating each weekday from Aviemore towards Forres with five in the reverse direction. Again, there was one working in each direction on Sundays; heading northwards, the only intermediate stop was as Grantown but, with the southbound train, Boat of Garten was also served.
At Nationalisation in 1948, the entire route passed to British Railways (Scottish Region). The first major change to occur was, now that the two railway lines in Grantown on Spey were in common ownership for the first time, that the ex-Highland station acquired the suffix ‘West’ whilst that serving the ex-GNoSR route to Craigellachie acquired the suffix ‘East’. Diesel traction also started to appear, with railbuses being introduced to the ex-GNoSR route.
With the economics of the railway rapidly deteriorating in the late 1950s and early 1960s, lines such as those through both Grantown stations were under threat. The death-knell for both routes was sounded in the Beeching Report of March 1963, which advocated the closure of both routes with all traffic between Aviemore and Inverness to be concentrated on the cut-off route via Carrbridge.
The Scottish Region timetable for the period from September 1964 through to June 1965 recorded a service of five down and four up services through Grantown on Spey West on weekdays with two on Sundays.
It was on 18 October 1965 that passenger services were finally to be withdrawn on the ex-Highland line from Aviemore to Forres and the ex-Great North of Scotland line from Boat of Garten to Craigellachie. The ex-Highland line from Boat of Garten northwards closed completely on the same date but it was not until 4 November 1968 that freight traffic from Aviemore through Boat of Garten to Aberlour, just south of Craigellachie ceased.
Three years later the Strathspey Railway was established with the intention of preserving the Aviemore to Boat of Garten section. Preserved operation of the line commenced in 1978 from a separate station in Aviemore; 20 years later, services were extended into the main line station. Four years later in 2002, services were extended north of Boat of Garten to Broomhill, about halfway to the eventual destination at Grantown, as part of the scheme to more than double the length of the line. The line was further extended, in 2014, one mile to the north of Broomhill, when the bridge at Dulnain, demolished after closure, was replaced.