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 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 extension 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 Mountain.
The additional visitor traffic will economically help the StrathSpey Railway expand its business and employ more local people to run essential parts of the business, and we would hope to expand the Grantown station to be much more than a terminus.
4) What does rebuilding the last 3 miles involve?
The final 3 miles, as the past 10 years has shown is a tough engineering, legal and financial challenge. The River Dulnain with a 30m span has to be bridged. Approximately 1 mile of track from the River Dulnain to the Craggan Estate boundary is not owned by StrathSpey Railway and has been used for agricultural access purposes. Legally, reinstatement of the track has been a challenge. Where the A95 road from Grantown to Aviemore and the track cross, has been demolished in favour of the road. The engineering task of putting rail track in a tunnel and incorporating farm access while improving road safety is technically and financially significant.
Finally there is no longer a station at Grantown as the original Highland Railway station of 1863 was built over by the industrial estate. A new station requires to be designed and built in a very confined space. A scale model of the proposed station building adjacent to the industrial estate has recently been displayed in Grantown.
To make all of this a reality we need passive and active support from all of the people living, working and doing business in the Spey Valley.
5) How long do you anticipate until we have a railway to Grantown on the Steam Railway line?
We wish it were tomorrow, but it has been already been in planning for 10 years! Through already mentioned engineering, legal and financial reasons we cannot give an estimate of a realistic date. However planning permission is currently being sought from the Cairngorms National Park Authority to re-erect the metal Dulnain Bridge over the River Dulnain – much like the original 1873 version and we hope to achieve this in 2012.
6) Do you plan on having a visitor attraction at the Grantown terminus?
Yes! We aim to have an engineering centre of excellence. There are more than 100 heritage railways in the UK and many more when working steam museums are included. We would like to create a national centre of steam excellence, which would employ local skilled people to do highly skilled engineering work and train tomorrow’s engineers in how to preserve and protect valuable steam assets using modern tools and technology.
For more information on the Rails to Grantown Project or to donate to the project visit www.railstograntown.org or to check out the Strathspey Steam Railway timetable, head to www.strathspeyrailway.co.uk
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