The Mallaig Railway

One of the World's Great Railway Journeys


The Fort William-Mallaig railway was one of the last major rail building projects in the British Isles. Today it is widely regarded as one of the world's most scenic rail journeys. Four diesel electric trains link Mallaig with Fort William and Glasgow daily and in summer a steam hauled train runs from Fort William to Mallaig and back on Sundays to Fridays.

Arisaig Station, about 1910

Arisaig Station, about 1910

The original terminus of the West Highland Railway was at Fort William, reached in 1894, but its promoters rapidly realised that although they had reached the West Coast they were still far from the fishing grounds of the Minch. Roshven on Loch Ailort was considered as a terminus, then Tarbert on Loch Nevis, which was already an important fishing centre, but finally the promoters decided to build their station and fish wharves at Mallaig. 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 to cross to Skye, enjoy 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.

Jacobite Steam Train headboard

Jacobite Steam Train:
During the summer the West Coast Railway Company operates a steam-hauled service between Fort William and Mallaig.

Further information about the Scotrail trains can be found in the West Highland Line train timetable[PDF file]