Mile by rolling mile, the delights of Scotland's most scenic rail line
TWO OF the world's most beautiful rail journeys are to feature in an illustrated guidebook being launched by First ScotRail in a move to boost tourism.
The guide gives a mile-by-mile insight into the scenery visible from the train window on two of Scotland's most scenic routes - the West Highland Lines from Glasgow to Oban and Mallaig.
The routes recently enjoyed a major tourism boost after the Glenfinnan viaduct, between Fort William and Mallaig, was featured in the second of the Harry Potter films. The daily Jacobite steam train, which runs between the stations every summer, has also become one of Scotland's biggest tourist draws.
However, First ScotRail hopes the 50-page Iron Road to the Isles guide could encourage more tourists to use ordinary train services - most of which receive substantial taxpayer subsidies as lifeline services.
Although millions of tourists explore Scotland on holiday every year, the majority do so by road. The West Highland Lines currently attract only 350,000 passengers a year, two-thirds of whom are leisure travellers. Many use the Highland sleeper service, which runs between London, Edinburgh and Fort William.
The author of the guide, the railway writer Michael Pearson, said: "You wouldn't think about going to a football match or a music concert without buying a programme, so why embark on some of the most beautiful railway journeys in the world without an equivalent guide?
"Hopefully, those travelling by train will find it enhances their journey. If it encourages some to make a train journey they wouldn't otherwise have considered, that is even better."
The guide, which costs 4.99, is a revised and updated version of an earlier book published by Mr Pearson in 2001. It features 19 one-inch-to-the-mile maps, each accompanied by a detailed commentary on the route, including sights of interest.
It will be sold from on-board catering trollies as well as at staffed stations, such as Fort William, Oban, Dumbarton Central and Glasgow Queen Street.
A First ScotRail spokeswoman said wider distribution would be considered in future, as well as a possible reprint of Mr Pearson's other guides, which include Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh and Wick to Inverness.
She went on: "As part of our sponsorship of this book, staff will be taking a proactive approach to promote it, ensuring it is clearly visible for passengers to purchase.
"We are also looking at some additional opportunities for raising awareness of the book as well as our support of it, which we will highlight once confirmed."
Mr Pearson said Scotland's railways should be promoted as a tourist attraction in their own right. "The lines really are so beautiful and it is a shame that so many people visit Scotland without even considering them," he said.
A spokeswoman for VisitScotland denied that not enough was being done to promote ordinary rail services. She said: "Touring is a major part of visitor activity in Scotland and our website does give details of rail services that are available. This book is another fantastic way of promoting the lines and their amazing scenery. Certainly, we will consider how we can help with this."
Among the sights mentioned in the book is Britain's highest station, at Corrour, the viaduct which carries trains across Glen Finnan, and Anderson's Piano - a series of tripwires on the lower slopes of Beinn a' Bhuiridh which protect trains by turning signals to red in the event of rockfalls.
Gordon Dewar, the commercial director of First ScotRail said his company was delighted to be supporting the new edition of Iron Roads to the Isles, which he described as "a great opportunity to raise awareness of the West Highland Line among people of all ages".
"The route is one of our most popular, especially with leisure travellers, and the book provides an easy-to-follow guide to discovering more about the fantastic scenery and history from your train window," he said.
First ScotRail operates three trains a day in each direction between Glasgow and Fort William and Glasgow and Oban, and four trains a day in each direction between Fort William and Mallaig. The line is also used by the Caledonian Sleeper service from London Euston to Fort William.
Virgin Trains offers a complimentary "windowgazer's guide" to passengers on its routes, which include the line from Glasgow to north-west England over Beattock Summit, but it is much smaller and less detailed than the First ScotRail one.
Not all of Scotland's scenic railways are served by ScotRail. The stretch of the GNER-run east coast main line, which hugs the Berwickshire coastline, was recently voted the most attractive rail route in the world.
OTHER GREAT RAILWAY LANDMARKS
LIKE the A9 north of Inverness, the "Far North Line" follows the coast. Built mostly in the 1860s, it only extends beyond Ardgay in Ross-shire due to the enthusiasm of the eccentric 3rd Duke of Sutherland, who realised a dream of being able to run his own private train from his own station at Dunrobin Castle. The line became strategically important during the world wars as a supply route from Scapa Flow to southern Britain.
Kyle of Lochalsh
THE most endangered of Scotland's lines runs from Dingwall to Kyle of Lochalsh. It was built in the late 1800s to connect Skye to Inverness, and was per-mile the most expensive railway in the UK.
THE dramatic main line between Perth and Inverness includes the summit of Drumochter Pass (from the gaelic Druimuachdair, ridge of the top) which, at 1,484ft, is the highest British railway pass. The A9 road summit, immediately to the right, is at 1,516ft. Stations on the line include the imposing Kingussie, and Aviemore - which provides connections to the privately-run Strathspey Railway which operates steam trains to Boat of Garten.
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