11th August 1894

Formal opening of the West Highland Railway

The West Highland Railway officially opened four days after the opening of one of the most important stations on the route: Fort William. It was built in two stages, with the first section, running from Craigendoran to Fort William, coming into operation in 1894, and the latter part, to Mallaig, in 1901. Trains on the line were operated by the North British Railway.

A long campaign

However, getting agreement to build the line was difficult. It took almost 50 years from the height of ‘railway mania’, when all manner of improbable schemes for the construction of unprofitable lines were being approved, for the West Highland Railway to come into being.

Even then, it required considerable work, both locally and in Parliament, before permission was granted.

West Highland Railway construction

Construction began in 1889 and, on 24 October, the Glasgow Herald reported that “a commencement was practically made with this undertaking yesterday by the cutting of the first turf.

“The ceremony took place in a grass field near the Ben Nevis Distillery and was witnessed by a crowd of about 1000. Mr Aird, MP, representing the firm of Messrs Lucas & Aird, contractors, asked Lord Abinger, chairman of the railway company, to cut the first turf… Finding the first spade placed in his hands not altogether adapted to the work, [Lord Abinger] discarded it in favour of a more substantial implement, which he used so vigorously as to call forth hearty cheers. Having filled the barrow to his satisfaction, he wheeled it to the end of the extemporised embankment and toppled the contents over, a performance which was received with loud applause.”

“Event of the highest importance”

The first stage of the line took just under five years to complete, and The Scotsman of 13 August 1894 declared that “the construction of the West Highland Railway, with its terminus at Fort-William is an event of the highest importance in the history of Scottish railway enterprise.”

Reporting the official opening by the Marchioness of Tweeddale (wife of the railway company’s chairman) one week to the day after the event, the Linlithgowshire Gazette explained that “at 8.15 in the morning the train [carrying a large number of officials] consisting of 11 handsome saloon carriages and drawn by two powerful engines decorated with banners, left Queen Street (High Level), Glasgow, the departure being witnessed by a large number of persons.”

Picturesque line

The passengers would have enjoyed a fine view, with the Linlithgowshire Gazette describing how “the new line starts at Craigendoran, and after leaving there, it skirts Gare Loch and proceeds for a considerable distance along the side of Loch Long. No sooner is Loch Long lost to view than on the other side Loch Lomond appears in sight. Loch scenery thereafter gives place to mountain scenery, and subsequently a great tract of moorland – Rannoch Moor – has to be traversed, while later on the Spean River, with its fine waterfalls and deep ravines, attracts the attention of the traveller. Immediately before Fort-William is reached Ben Nevis stands boldly out.”

The weather on the day of opening had been fine and clear, showing off the new line at its best.



Other events that occured in August

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