Published: 05/03/2014 17:32 - Updated: 04/03/2014 17:44

Reviews: New rail books steam into the shops

Written byRichard Ardern


The Highland Main Line (2nd edition)

Neil T. Sinclair

Stenlake Publishing Ltd


BR Steam in Scotland

George C O’Hara

Clyard Novella Ltd

THE prosperity of Inverness and the Inner Moray Firth area was revolutionised by the coming of the railways.

A new edition of Neil Sinclair’s The Highland Main Line gives a fascinating written and photographic account of the development of the line from Perth to Inverness from its opening in 1863 to the present day, a span of 150 years.

Although the chapters follow a similar pattern, very many of the photographs are new and nobody interested in the subject would want to be without this new, expanded and updated edition.

It is an exciting story, with the birth of railways in the Highlands said to have been financed from the opium trade, a line reaching the highest main line summit in Britain at Drumochter, threats of competition from the east and through the Great Glen, a Board composed mostly of landed gentry, a chief executive of 40 years forced to resign, a locomotive engineer way ahead of his time, huge amounts of extra wartime traffic, travelling post offices, and the grouse shooting influx every August.

The author’s family worked a farm above Clava school near the new direct line from Aviemore and draws on this personal knowledge to give an interesting cameo of the links between the railway and farming communities.

The new direct line was opened in 1898, shortening the route by 26 miles. With two massive viaducts at Culloden Moor and Tomatin, this was an expensive task and wiped out the dividends previously paid to share holders.

The line has not been immune to accidents. In one, which is not so well known because it happened during World War II, a goods train coupling broke at Slochd Summit and 21 coal wagons and the guard’s van ran away through Carrbridge and collided with an oncoming train north of Aviemore. The newly published photograph is a revelation of destructive forces.

A photograph of the diesel locomotive which ended up amongst the trees at Carrbridge in 2008 is shown opposite the famous picture of the nearby Baddengorm Burn disaster 100 years ago in June 1914 when five passengers were killed.

Between 1861 and 1891 the population of Inverness grew from 9500 to 19,300. By then some 900 were employed by the Highland Railway Company in the burgh alone. Inverness was truly a railway town.

The flavour of this era is captured by the photograph of the north departure platform circa 1910 which shows crowds of passengers transferring from the overnight arrival from London on to the train for the north.

First published in 1998, this hardback book has grown from 144 to 216 pages, but thankfully, there is a comprehensive index and extensive bibliography and notes on manuscript sources.

One unfortunate omission is the table of station and crossing loop distances from the first edition, but a new and useful feature comes in six pages of gradient profiles.

The book is expensive, but the author is giving all his royalties to the restoration of steam locomotive 5025 to operate on the Strathspey Railway at Aviemore.

Despite some poor proof reading in places, this work is invaluable as the authoritative account of the line and the photographs are a delight.

BR Steam in Scotland — George O’Hara’s massive book of 740 black and white photographs of steam locomotives and trains from 1948 on — begins in Inverness.

Photo number one is of the old "round house" engine shed with its Doric entrance arch which used to stand where Morrison’s supermarket car park is now. Such a unique and distinctive building would surely have been preserved and reused if it had survived into more recent times.

Considerable thought has been given to making the many photographs accessible, by following a geographical progression clockwise round the country from Argyll to Dumfries and Berwick. There is a comprehensive index and each chapter starts with a list of locations covered.

The collection comprises the work of many railway photographers to cover the 20 years until the last steam engines in Scotland were retired in 1967.

Many closed branch lines are illustrated, such as those to Fortrose and Dornoch, with pictures at Redcastle station and at The Mound junction. We are reminded of the long goods trains which used to run with many assorted wagons. Long trains with wagon loads of coal were a major feature, not only for domestic use, but also for locomotives themselves. This was one reason why the Highland railways were some of the first to change over to diesel traction.

With two, or more often three, photographs per page this hardback book extends to 320 pages and gives good value. There are also six colour photographs on the front and back covers and good maps of the railway system on the end papers.

The Highland Mainline, 2nd edition, by Neil T. Sinclair is published by Stenlake Publishing Ltd of Catrine, Ayrshire, priced £35. ISBN 978-1-84033-617-7.

BR Steam in Scotland by George C. O’Hara is published by Clyard Novella Ltd in Prestwick, priced £25. ISBN 978-0-9530821-3-1.

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