If you have ever spent anytime in the UK’s largest National Park, chances are you will have come across one of the area’s most special visitor attractions – the Strathspey Steam Railway!
The Strathspey Steam Railway has been taking visitors on a stunning journey through the countryside between Aviemore and Broomhill for the past 10 years. Yet keeping this spectacular visitor attraction running does not come easily. In fact, 130 volunteers many of whom are experts in their field and in operating a heritage railway work tirelessly to ensure each journey runs smoothly and each train is in tiptop condition. What’s more, with an extension to the line planned in the next few years, the Strathspey Steam Railway will be kept even busier, so What’s On climbed “all aboard” and caught up with the team to find out more about the project and the history of our steam railway.
1) What purpose did the railway serve in its heyday?
In the mid 1800’s, landowners throughout the UK wanted the railway to come to their estates. In the Highlands, this was primarily for their convenience serving as a means to move goods and animals, but it also played a massive part in early tourism for the area – bringing an influx of hunting, shooting and fishing visitors. In response to the railway arriving, large villas and hotels were built in Grantown On Spey and served to host the new visitors to the Highlands. In addition, the railway was vital to the war effort in both world wars with large numbers of servicemen and weapons moved along these tracks. However, as the popularity of motor transport increased the use of the line declined and eventually closed in 1966.
2) What happened next?
In 1971, the Strathspey Railway Company was established and then a year later in 1972, a voluntary supporting organisation ‘The Strathspey Railway Association’ was formed. That same year, the Company agreed to purchase the line from Aviemore to Grantown from British Rail. The Station at Boat of Garten was still standing but the remainder of the line to Grantown had been lifted, the bridge over the River Dulnain removed and a later road re-alignment at Gaich, near Grantown, caused embankments to be removed with the new road now crossing where the track bed originally went through to Grantown. However, after much renovation and restoration, the Company (with a great deal of volunteer help from the Association) began running trains from Aviemore, “Speyside Station”, to Boat of Garten in 1978.
The Company had no access to the main line British Rail Station at Aviemore until 1998 when the privatised “Railtrack PLC” consented to lease station buildings, Platform 3 and the nearby Car Park.
Finally in 2002, the line from Boat of Garten to Broomhill was re-opened with a new station, in traditional style, built at Broomhill. Viewers of the popular ‘Monarch of the Glen’ series on the BBC will recognize Broomhill as ‘Glenbogle’ station.
3) So now, after all these years you are looking to reinstate the line to Grantown?
Yes, in addition to providing a logical terminal in Grantown where people live and business is transacted, the reinstatement will encourage more visitors to travel to Grantown and make it a base from which to explore the Spey Valley and develop Grantown into a Western gateway for the whisky trail, a Southern gateway to Forres and Elgin and not least a gateway to the Cairngorm Mountains.
We view this Project as a significant part of the economic regeneration of the area and hope that the additional visitor traffic will also help the Strathspey Railway expand its business and employ more local people to run essential parts of the business.
4) What does reinstating the last 3 miles involve?
The final 3 miles, is proving to be a tough engineering, legal and financial challenge but much progress has been made. We are close to being able to submit our Application to construct and operate a railway to the Scottish Government: we are awaiting new plans from Transport Scotland to enable the railway to cross the A95. The engineering task of creating a new crossing and incorporating farm access while improving road safety through realignment of the road, is technically and financially significant.
The track has been laid as far as the River Dulnain and the river has been bridged. The remainder of the old trackbed is no longer owned by the railway and the negotiations with the landowners to secure the necessary land are close to conclusion.
Finally there is no longer a station at Grantown as the original Highland Railway station of 1863 was demolished to make way for an industrial estate. A more suitable site, closer to the centre of Grantown, has been identified for the new Grantown terminus creating space and design challenges.
In order to make all of this a reality we need support from everyone living, working, doing business in and visiting the area.
5) How long do you anticipate until we have a railway to Grantown on the Steam Railway line?
Reinstating a heritage railway is not a simple process under current legislation and regulatory requirements. Once the Application is made to the Scottish Government, the timetable is very much in the hands of the Government, the Office of Rail and Road and Transport Scotland. We cannot give a realistic date but assure everyone we are working hard to make Rails to Grantown a reality as soon as possible.
6) Do you plan on having a visitor attraction at the Grantown terminus?
Yes! However, plans are at a very early stage and will be revealed in due course.