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About The West Highland Line

Some information about the West Highland Railway Line between Fort William and Mallaig

The Fort William-Mallaig railway was one of the last major railway-building projects in the British Isles. Completed in 1901, it is widely regarded as one of the world's most scenic rail journeys and all the better to make that journey by steam train during the summer months. The West Highland Railway which was completed in 1894 terminated at Fort William, but its promoters rapidly realised that although they had reached the West Coast they were still far from the fishing grounds of the Minch and the ability to get to market.

The railway took 4 years to build, and was one of the first major constructions in the world to use mass concrete. In fact, the bridge across the Borrodale Burn was once the largest concrete bridge in the world. Concrete was also used to build the 21 arches of Glenfinnan viaduct, 11 tunnels and many other bridges across the numerous burns and rivers.

Before the line opened in 1901, access to the rest of the world was by coastal steamers, by the rough hill tracks or by a mail coach which travelled from Arisaig to Fort William three times a week and took seven and a half hours to make the journey. People living along the new line were now able to travel to Fort William in less than two hours, at a fraction of the mail coach fare, and crofters could send their animals to market by train instead of driving them long distances on foot.

Mallaig itself was transformed in ten years from a small community of crofter-fishermen into a vigorous fishing centre, landing huge quantities of herring to be taken swiftly south along the new railway. The line improved the economy of the area enormously, although it relied on Government support from the very beginning. Now the days of the great fish specials have gone and the principal ferries to the Outer Isles leave from Oban and Ullapool, but the railway continues to contribute to the local economy. Every year many thousands of people travel along it enjoying the spectacle of steam hauled trains, re introduced to the line in 1984, after an absence of 20 years, or simply to enjoy the many fine views it offers.

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