The West Highland Railway : the politics of promotion in late nineteenth century Scotland

McGregor, John Alexander (1998). The West Highland Railway : the politics of promotion in late nineteenth century Scotland. PhD thesis The Open University.



Popular histories have dealt generously with the West Highland Railway, authorised in 1889 and completed to Mallaigin in 1901. This study taps sources hitherto unavailable or under-utilised, to focus in much greater depth on railway development in the north west of Scotland after 1880, when the Callander & Oban route was completed and the Dingwall & Skye route was taken over by the Highland Company.

The general introduction identifies the wider social and economic issues which might be further pursued via the primary materials exploited here. It then reviews existing literature. Chapter 4 deals selectively with these issues, exploring the hopes invested in the new Glasgow-Fort William route.

After some discussion of the background, from the 1840s to the 1880s in Chapter 2, the West Highland Railway proper, opened to Fort William in 1894 and to Banavie in 1895, is examined in Chapter 3. Chapter 5 takes up the question of subsidy. Discussion then concentrates on the West Highland Mallaig Extension and the Treasury Guarantee which underpinned the Mallaig promotion (Chapters 6 and 7).

Other projects, including the Callander & Oban Railway's Ballachulish branch, the extension of the Dingwall & Skye route to Kyle of Lochalsh and the Invergarry & Fort Augustus Railway, necessarily appear. Ballachulish and the Great Glen are the principal topics in Chapter 8. It was impossible to ignore the activities of the Highland Railway in the Far North, or those of the Great North of Scotland Railway on the eastern margin of the Highlands. The main concentration, however, is on the West Highland Railway itself. Chapter 9 offers a limited postscript on the Mallaig Extension and the Treasury Guarantee after 1901.

The West Highland promotion had several elements; creating a new railway to Lochaber and the west coast was not the only consideration. Though the West Highland was the single most important scheme in a remarkable burst of late nineteenth century projects in the North, described at the time as a latter-day 'Mania', contextualisation had to take account of wider and earlier railway politics. Essential background included not only the broad pattern of rail services in mid-Victorian Scotland, but also the onset of unrest in the western Highlands and Islands. Studies of agitation and reform in the crofting counties have not concentrated on transport. With transport, as with 'land', there are important Irish parallels. From these complexities emerged the possibility of a third rail route to the coast.

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