Past The Tracks
The Aviemore to Forres Line
The section of railway between Aviemore and Forres was originally constructed in 1861 and became part of the Highland Railway's main line intended to link Inverness to Perth. Due to the difficulties of the terrain encountered in the highlands, the line was routed via Grantown on Spey and Dava to Forres instead of directly to Inverness. This option, though no where near as direct was a lot cheaper to construct and was seen as the sensible option at the time. Construction of the line took a total of only two years and it had opened throughout by September 1863.
Leaving Aviemore, the line made it's way northeast towards Grantown on Spey. Between Aviemore and Grantown there where intermediate stations at Boat of Garten and Broomhill where the Speyside line to Dufftown branched off. The biggest station on the line apart from the two terminus stations was Grantown on Spey. Later renamed Grantown on Spey West to distinguish it from the Speyside station of Grantown on Spey East, the station was very substantial and over the lifetime of the line was the subject of many improvements and upgrade schemes. After Grantown the line climbed over Dava moor with further stations at Dava, Dunphail and Rafford (closed in 1865) before the line reached Forres.
In it's early years the line was very successful, and the southern section south of Aviemore was upgraded several times to increase capacity. However, demand for a more direction route to Inverness began to grow, and in 1890 construction on the direct route via Carrbridge began. However, it would be eight long years before the line opening in it's entirety. This was mainly down to the fact that the terrain north of Aviemore was very difficult for Railway builders to negotiate, and the route required several large viaducts and bridges to cross the rugged terrain. The line finally opened in 1898 and when it did so it became the main line with the Grantown section assuming secondary status. The new line shaved a whole hour off journey times between Inverness and Perth, the trip now being able to be completed in just over three hours.
The line was still well used throughout the first part of the twentieth century, and it was only as the railways in general began to decline that the line suffered. In 1963 the section of line between Aviemore and Forres was included in the document published by the British Railways Board - "The Reshaping of British Railways" written by the chairman Dr Richard Beeching. The closure was opposed with the reasoning being that closing the line would bring hardship to people in the more remote areas it served, This however was rejected and improvements where to be made to local bus services when the line closed. On 18th October 1965 the line closed to passengers between Aviemore and Forres and all of the intermediate stations closed. Forres station remained open for trains between Aberdeen and Inverness, and Aviemore station remained open for trains between Perth and Inverness. Despite frequent investment the impressive station at Grantown on Spey West which had received an expensive modern signal box in 1952 closed as well leaving Grantown with no railway connections, as the Speyside station at Grantown on Spey East had closed a week earlier.
However, unlike a lot of railways, this was not entirely the end of the story. In 1978 the Strathspey railway company reopened the five miles of line between Aviemore and Boat of Garten as a preserved line. However, British Railways where rather antagonistic to this situation and refused permission for the new company to run trains into Aviemore station. A new station, Aviemore Speyside was constructed to get around this, and it remained in use until 1998 when Aviemore station was rebuilt and Railtrack granted access to the Strathspey company to use the station. In 2002 Broomhill station reopened and saw its first train in nearly forty years. The line is still going strong and there are plans in place for the line to eventually extend to Grantown on Spey.
Boat of Garten station has been totally refurbished by the Strathspey railway and a replica building has been constructed at Broomhill after the original was demolished after closure. Grantown on Spey West station has been totally demolished and only parts of the platforms and the station masters house remain. Both Dava and Dunphail remain in use as private houses. The vast majority of the trackbed north of Grantown has been turned into a walk known as the Dava way. It is possible to walk most of the way from Grantown to Forres along the remains of the line.
The closure of the Aviemore to Forres line is yet another example of the poor way railways where treated in the 1960's. Had the line survived it would most likely still be an important part of the railway network. The section north of Grantown was never over used and passes through areas of low population, however the southern section would still have been well used and with tourism being the main industry in the Spey valley today, the line would have been an important part of this. However, thanks to the efforts of the Strathspey railway company the line has at least partially recovered and hopefully in the not to distant future the residents of Grantown on Spey will be welcoming the first train for nearly fifty years.