Dalwhinnie, snow and wind are a deadly mixture. The station platforms are three feet above the rails and I've seen the snow completely covering the rails and platforms so that all is level, the only indication that there is a railway being the neat furrow made by a snowplough. In the late 1960's a train had been climbing up Glen Garry heading for Inverness.
An engine and snowplough were ploughing on the other line heading for Perth. When the two trains passed each other the snow that the plough threw up pushed in the window of the diesel of the other train, wrapping the glass around the Fireman's face. Since then if an engine is ploughing, nothing is to travel on the opposite line.|
One day in winter, arriving at Dalwhinnie heading for Perth, we were told that the plough was working from Blair Atholl and we were to remain at the platform until it arrived. The snow on the station was about two feet deep and it covered the wires of the old semaphore signals still in use there. A squad of linesmen were digging a trench to clear the wires. I sat and watched them from the comfort of my van. They dug out the snow, piling it between the rails on top of the existing snow to expose the wires. They stood back to admire their work when there was a sharp blast of a whistle and the snowplough passed by throwing the snow on the line to each side. When the plough had gone, so had the trench. It had been filled in with the snow which had been taken out. The squad started to dig again but this time discarding the snow away from the rails. The last trains to the north at night from Glasgow and Edinburgh would combine at Perth and leave for Inverness at 1.10am. Perth crews would work it to Inverness arriving at 3.30am, working back to Perth the first train in the morning at 6.45am. On Tuesday 7th February 1989 I was booked to work the train. There was torrential rain during the night that never let up and we literally set sail for Perth at the booked time in the morning. Between Kingussie and Newtonmore the track travels through the Spey marshes with the Monadhliath mountains on one side and the river Spey and the Cairngorms on the other. We arrived at Kingussie and I saw that the burn which runs by the side of the Signalbox there had burst its banks and had made a new course through the local High School. It poured under the glass doors leading to the Assembly hall to exit under the glass doors at the other end, tumbling down the steps like a miniature waterfall. As we left Kingussie I felt like Livingstone discovering Lake Victoria. There was an enormous new loch stretching the five miles to Newtonmore with the shoreline at the base of the mountains on either side. The railway lines were just discernible under the water as we cautiously travelled through, eventually reaching higher ground passing Newtonmore.
We reached Perth to learn that the worst floods in years had struck the Highlands. The railway bridge over the river Ness in Inverness had collapsed severing the lines to the Kyle of Lochalsh and to Wick and Thurso. I later learned the story of the Ness bridge. The bridge had been built in 1861 by Joseph Mitchell and had stood for over 127 years until that fateful morning in 1989. The 7.15am Goods train bound for Lairg had crossed the bridge and shortly after, it collapsed. The Signalman phoned the Driver on his cab radio. "Did you feel a bump going over the bridge?". "No", said the Driver. "Well you should have," replied the Signalman, "you've knocked it down." Of course the Driver didn't believe him until he tried to return home. In May 1990 a brand new bridge was opened restoring the route from Inverness to the North. Little did I realise at the time that almost four years later I would experience a similar disaster when the city of Perth was flooded and my home was under water.
For nine years every day was an adventure until in October 1989 I became a Senior Conductor working for Intercity at Perth...