From 1901 `Mallaig fish' was for some sixty years a staple traffic on the West Highland Railway, while the 40-mile Mallaig Extension became (and has remained) a renowned scenic experience. But the prospects of the West Highland, a late-comer to the region and authorised no further than Fort William, were at first uncertain. Continuation to the western seaboard was not assured. Extension through the Great Glen to Inverness was fiercely contentious. The ensuing inter-company strife was complicated rather than resolved by half-hearted governments, who recognised the economic and social needs of the western Highlands and Islands but baulked at a comprehensive policy of transport improvement.
In 1894, against this politically-charged backdrop, the West Highland opened to Fort William, a town of scarcely 2,000 inhabitants; and there began the down-to-earth business of operating a new and exacting line, on which much remained unfinished, through 100 miles of largely empty country - altogether a story in its own right.
In this book, Dr John McGregor brings the early years of the line to life with a lively, richly illustrated discussion.
John McGregor recently retired as a lecturer at the Open University. He is a trustee of the Glenfinnan Station Museum and a member of the Friends of the West Highland Line. In 1994 he wrote 100 Years of the West Highland Railway for Scot Rail, and in 2005 produced The West Highland Railway: Plans, Politics and People for Birlinn. He lives near Edinburgh.