Far North Line

(Far North Railway Line)

The Far North Line provides a railway service to the extreme northeast of Scotland, running from Inverness mostly along the east coast to Thurso and Wick, with ferry connections to Orkney. The line comprises a single track with passing loops and is currently operated by diesel multiple unit trains.

The line extends west from Inverness along the southern shore of the Beauly Firth, then turns north across the head of the Black Isle peninsula to Conon Bridge and Dingwall, where the Kyle of Lochalsh Line branches off. The Far North Line continues along the northern shore of the Cromarty Firth to Evanton, Alness and Invergordon. The line then crosses to Tain on the south shore of the Dornoch Firth, then following the coast northwest to Edderton, and Ardgay before heading inland to Lairg. It then extends east southeast along Strath Fleet, eventually returning to the coast at Golspie. It then hugs the Moray Firth coast to reach Brora and Helmsdale before turning into the heart of Caithness along the Strath of Kildonan and Strath Halladale, before turning northeast across the Flow Country towards Halkirk. The lines then splits at Georgemas Junction, with a northern branch reaching Thurso and an eastern branch terminating at Wick. The total length of the line is 167.8 miles (270 km).

The line was built in several phases; the Inverness and Ross-shire Railway opened in 1862 as far as Ardgay. The Sutherland Railway followed in 1868, extending the line to Golspie, while George Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 3rd Duke of Sutherland (1828-92), personally funded the extension to Helmsdale, which opened two years later and passed his home at Dunrobin Castle. Finally, the Sutherland and Caithness Railway opened in 1874 connecting Helmsdale with Wick and Thurso. All of these lines were absorbed into the Highland Railway between 1880 and 1884.

The line became of significant strategic importance during the First and Second World Wars, as it served the naval base at Invergordon and also conveyed supplies and personnel north to Scrabster where they were ferried over to Scapa Flow on Orkney, the base for the British Navy's Home Fleet.

The Beeching Report of 1963 recommended the closure of the entire railway network in the north of Scotland, however the Far North Line continues despite being the least successful of these lines in recent times, with declining passenger numbers.

Beginning at Inverness, the stations are Beauly, Muir of Ord, Conon Bridge, Dingwall, Alness, Invergordon, Fearn, Tain, Ardgay, Culrain, Invershin, Lairg, Rogart, Golspie, Dunrobin Castle, Brora, Helmsdale, Kildonan, Kinbrace, Forsinard, Altnabreac, Scotscalder, Georgemas Junction, Thurso and finally Wick. Kildonan is the least-used station on the line with just 76 passengers in 2016-17.

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