Completion of re-signalling work early last year at Pitlochry and Aviemore has left just a handful of mechanically-signalled locations along the splendid Highland Main Line between Perth and Inverness, most northerly of which are those at Dalwhinnie and Kingussie.
Taking advantage of another ScotRail Club 50 £17.00 flat fare ticket, I was keen to see what signalling interest there was at remote Dalwhinnie and then move on to Kingussie, where its unusual signal box is one of many across Scotland to enjoy Listed status.
Dalwhinnie must rank as the remotest spot on the Highland Main Line, a small settlement just off the A9 trunk road, which enjoys a pretty sparse train service and is dominated by its large and well-known distillery, located north of the railway station.
Scotrail 170404 speeds past Dalwhinnie’s up home signal DW2 on 7 February 2020 with the 10.46 Inverness-Edinburgh Waverley
The village stands at an altitude of 1,152ft (351m) and is one of the coldest in Britain, with an average annual temperature of the just 6.6C. For those in need of warming up, the distillery’s highly-regarded single malt is “elegant, smooth and medium-bodied, with a light, fruity palate and a whiff of heather on the finish”.
A total of five up and six down services a day call at Dalwhinnie on weekdays, along with the Caledonian Sleeper to London Euston. Latest ORR figures for 2018/9 show that the station was used by 3,368 people, so roughly 65 a week or about ten per day.
The station marks the northern end of a section of double track extending from Blair Atholl to the south, with its unattractively modernised Highland Railway signal box (1909) standing some distance north of the two platforms and controlling a total of six semaphore arms.
A view looking south from Dalwhinnie station on 7 February 2020, as 170470 is about to stop with the 10.36 Edinburgh Waverley-Inverness
Looking north from the station three of the six semaphores can be seen beyond the signal box, with down starting signal DW17 behind the box and a down starter for what is normally the up line (DW7) to its right, with up home DW2 beyond, at the point where the single track divides into two lines.
South of the station platforms are an up starting signal DW3, which is slightly offset from its post, and a bracket housing down home signals DW18 (down main) and DW15 for any northbound service using a cross-over to serve the bi-directionally signalled up platform.
There is a track leading south from the station that takes you to a crossing of the line close to the home signals, but there seems no easy way of getting a shot of a train passing the signal bracket, so the best shots in both directions are those from mid-way along the northbound platform.
Scotrail 170407 approaches Kingussie on 7 February 2020 with the 12.50 Inverness-Edinburgh Waverley
Heading 17 miles north along the Highland Main Line, and passing another remote stop at Newtonmore (150 passengers a week in 2018/9) brings you to the attractive station at Kingussie, with its bi-directionally-signalled passing loop and Listed signal box at the north end of little-used platform 2.
Snow on the mountains beyond as Scotrail I7C HST, formed of power cars 43131/152, departs Kingussie on 7 February 2020 with the 12.08 Glasgow Queen Street-Inverness
Kingussie station (which is also Listed) stands close to the heart of a small and attractive Highland town, and enjoys rather better rail services than Dalwhinnie, with all trains scheduled to call here, including both the Caledonian Sleeper and the day-time Inverness-London King’s Cross Highland Chieftain.
Its unusual looking signal box is a Mackenzie & Holland type 3 design, which was opened by the Highland Railway in 1922 and boasts a 17-lever frame. Like Dalwhinnie, it controls a total of six semaphore arms, all of which can be seen either from the station or from a nearby footbridge that offers a great vantage point in both directions.
Looking south from the station, KG4 is the up starting signal for platform 1 and KG13 alongside it for platform 2, with tall down home signal KG2 beyond (as seen above). At the north end of platform 1 is down starter KG3 almost opposite the signal box, while beyond the footbridge are up home signals KG14 (platform 2) and on a shorter post KG10 for platform 1.
DRS 66203 passes signal KG14 on its approach to Kingussie on 7 February 2020 with a train of Stobart Rail containers from Inverness to Mossend
One amusing reminder of how temperamental mechanical signalling can be came after the Stobart Rail freight train had passed KG14, when the signaller was unable to return the signal to danger, possibly due to the freezing temperature, so my 15.38 departure from Kingussie for Glasgow Queen Street had to hastily be moved to platform 2!
My book “Britain’s last mechanical signalling” is out now, and is available from publishers Pen & Sword, from good transport bookshops and from many online retailers.