The Mallaig Railway

The Fort William – Mallaig railway was one of the last major rail building projects in Britain.  Today it is widely known 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 (the Jacobite steam train, aka ‘Harry Potter’ train) runs from Fort William to Mallaig and back.

Originally the terminus of the West Highland Line was at Fort William, reached in 1894, but it soon became apparent that they needed to reach the fishing grounds of the Minch (access to which had previously been by coastal steamers), and so it was decided that a station would be built at Mallaig. The railway took 4 years to build, and was one of the first major constructions in the world to use mass concrete. Concrete was also used to build the 21 arches of Glenfinnan viaduct, 11 tunnels and many other bridges across the numerous burns and rivers.

People living along the new line, which opened in 1901, were now able to travel to Fort William quicker and crofters could send their animals to market by train instead of driving them long distances on foot.  The line meant that Mallaig was soon transformed from a small crofting and fishing community to a vigorous fishing centre, landing huge quantities of herring to be taken swiftly south along the new railway.

Today the railway continues to contribute to the local economy with thousands of people traveling each year to enjoy the spectacle of steam hauled trains, re introduced to the line in 1984, after an absence of 20 years.

Mallaig Railway Buildings

Built around 1900-1901, the Mallaig Railway Buildings were lived in by incomers to the village, known as the ‘Railway people.’  There were four blocks which housed sixteen families in all, with probably four children per household: about sixty children in a very closely knit community.  In the 1920s and 30s these homes were lucky enough to not only have hot and cold water, a bath and a flush toilet, but also electricity installed (used only for lighting)!

More information can be found at the Mallaig Heritage Centre.