The Kyle line is another one of those long, slow but very beautiful lines that few places in the UK have. Like with so many of them, it was threatened with closure, but dodged it due to local efforts. The line itself traverses many lochs and mountains across the Highlands from Inverness in the east across to Kyle of Lochalsh in the west, where people can continue on to the Isle of Skye and others. The line continues to ferry tourists (ironically no longer by ferry since the road bridge was built) between the Isle of Skye and the rest of the world. It has also become a tourist attraction in itself because of the views one can enjoy from the train. Locals also use to line to do normal things, like buy food.
Duirinish itself is a request stop, and is the station just before Kyle of Lochalsh, located about 8-10 minutes (depending on what timetable one looks at) from the end of the line. It serves 3 nearby cluster of houses: Duirinish (the surprise), Drumbuie and Port an Eorna. Drumbuie is technically the closest of the three. The usage of the station has remained stable in the past decade or so, staying around the 800/900 mark. It has recently climbed to just over 1000, but the most recent statistics put it back down at 930. The stability indicates that this station is mainly used by locals needing to get to places, rather than the majority of the patronage being based on nutters like me standing on the platform in bracing wind and rain for 3 hours between trains.
To do the journey in a day is possible, but takes most of the day. I got myself to Edinburgh in time for the 06:33 departure to Dunblane, where I changed for the first service up the Highland Main Line to Inverness. After a 30 minute wait there, I boarded the second of the four trains per day that use the Kyle line in each direction. I settled down in my reserved seat, before someone else sat opposite me. I disliked this because there were still plenty of other empty four-seater tables available. I made my feelings apparent by immediately getting up and sitting in one of these for the duration of the journey. After I had made sure that the conductor knew I was getting off at the request stop, I enjoyed the Kyle Line. 3 elderly couples were sitting around me and making conversation with each other. When the trolley lady came round (they probably now have some ghastly over-the-top management-type title like On-Board Refreshment Receptacle Assistant), discussions were had about how long it was worth staying in Kyle of Lochalsh. “Should we stay on the train and just go back or wait four hours for the next one?” enquired one couple.
“Just go straight back, there's nothing to do. And I live there!” was the response. I feel that this was a bit harsh on the small town. When I was there last year, I bought some shortbread from the corner shop and took pictures of the train, station and the surrounding area. Certainly 20 minutes and 69p well spent.
At the first passing loop, Garve, we passed the Royal Scotsman charter train, with various people commenting that they “had never seen a train like it” while I tried not to laugh as it was being hauled by a class 66 re-painted into the Royal Scotsman livery. For those who don't know, the class 66 is the diesel locomotive that looks like a big shed and hauls most of the freight services in this country. I'm sure I saw Princess Anne on it.
The second passing loop was Achnasheen, where we passed a normal service going back to Inverness. The driver was without his coffee or and, with no On-Board Refreshment Receptacle Assistant on his train, the lady on ours made one and handed it over by opening the door at the back of the train and handing it through his cab window. This was alien to me as someone who has grown up on a suburban rail network. It was sweet. If this had happened in London, someone would have filed a health & safety complaint.
We continued onwards past various other small request stops, none of which were stopped at (I will be doing these in turn later on in the series), until the time came to make sure that we were stopping at Durinish and that I didn't need to get out at a particular door. We were and I didn't.
The train pulled into Durinish a few minutes late, and I popped off, thanking the conductor. I watched the train departing before I assessed the situation.
I've been very lucky with the weather so far in this series, so I was due a bad weather day. The wind was vicious and the clouds kept trying to spit at me. I was glad of my extra layers and wind-proof coat. The facilities, as one would expect, are pretty basic. There is a small waiting room which can hold all of 3 people, some benches located at one end of the platform, a phone, some notices and a bike rack. The station is protected by a small gate in the entrance area. The bigger one has rusted itself out of use, as has the cover for the phone. It was warped to the point where it required significant banging to shut it.The only annoying part about Duirinish is the level crossing. For a road down to a village with a maximum of 15 inhabitants, putting something, metal, white, electric and loud is madly out of place. It was also rather large, because of the three crossing points it grouped into one. The first was for cars and other road vehicles, protected by the normal barriers and a cattle grid to prevent the free-roaming Highland Cattle from trespassing. There was then a small gate for pedestrians and a third telephone-controlled gate to be used by horses and farmers wishing to herd their cattle across. This was all surrounded by tall white metal fences. In conclusion, yuck.
Whilst I was at the station, a person pulled up in a car, and proceeded to walk around the station, making sure that everything was working, well-kept and existed. She was from Transport Scotland and doing one of the semi-regular checks on the many unstaffed stations to make sure that there was nothing wrong with them.
The Surrounding Area
I did a 2.5 mile circular walk around the coast path, where I appreciated the bleakness, remoteness and beauty of the Highlands. About half-way round, I passed a couple, one of whom stood aside for me. I thanked them and got no response. Having crossed the road bridge that was visible from the station, I returned.
20 minutes later, the couple from earlier returned from the other direction. They were unsuccessfully wrestling an umbrella.
Kyle of Lochalsh
2 and a half hours after I arrived, I checked on the status of my train from Durinish to Kyle of Lochalsh, and discovered it was running slightly late. After a tense wait, it appeared, activating the horrible alarms of the level crossing. The train sat by the crossing for about 30 seconds, before I registered that, in the time that I had been there, it had developed a fault meaning that the signals allowing trains to pass refused to clear, despite the barriers being down and nothing obstructing the crossing. Therefore, the driver had to blast his horn for several seconds to make sure he didn't run anything over, further disturbing the natural beauty of the area. Once he had done that, I flagged him down, getting a thumbs up exchange in response. I approached a door, boarded, and enjoyed the final 10 minutes to the end of the line.
I would have got some more pictures at Kyle of Lochalsh, but the weather had completely closed in at that point, making everything come out very grey and very wet. I stayed on the train for most of the hour-long layover, before we departed going back to Inverness.
The 17:13 departure from the Kyle, which I was on, continues to Elgin, and is technically a parliamentary service because it takes the chord between the Far North & Kyle lines and the lines down south to Aberdeen and Perth, avoiding Inverness station itself. Once the train has taken this chord, it reverses, backs into the station, reverses again, and continues to Elgin. It is possible for a service to go from one side of Inverness station to the other without using this loop. Platform 5 has tracks to both the northern and the southern sides, meaning that a better path would be to have this service reverse there. However, it doesn't. It is only there to not close down the chord now that there is no longer freight traffic beyond Inverness.
I changed at Inverness, boarding a service to Perth, where I changed again and continued to Edinburgh, arriving back at 00:23. Or, I was supposed to. The train from Inverness to Perth was delayed at Carrbridge because of a late-running northbound service. We left 5 minutes late, and got later and later, finally arriving into Perth 15 minutes late. I had spoken to the conductor who had asked the staff at Perth to hold the connection to Edinburgh. This was done, and the departure made up some time, and, with the help of padding in the timetable, we arrived in Edinburgh only a few minutes late.
I hate level crossings in remote areas. They should be more discreet than this huge metal thing plonked in the middle of the countryside. Not that level crossings are a bad thing. Clearly, making sure people and animals don't walk out in front of a train is important. But, designs have to be changed and toned down in rural areas with few users. In the 150 minutes I was at Duirinish, I saw three people use the level crossing. One was me. The other two were pedestrians and were travelling together. A telephone-controlled gate would work perfectly well.
Otherwise, Duirinish station is a perfect example of a station that should be least used. It is in a remote area with a small population. The patronage is stable because it provides a good service to the area it is built to serve. While it may not be massive, it is certainly useful to the local population. This is something that Beeching did not recognise, even for larger populations like Hawick or Kenilworth, but has been preserved. And this is a good thing. Even if a station is only used a few times per week by people going into the big town to buy food and supplies, then it should remain open because it provides a useful service. Duirinish shows this.
IBM railway station (3 character code: IBM) is a railway station built to serve the IBM buildings in Inverkip, south of Glasgow. It is also referred to as IBM Halt by the passenger information screens, despite it not being called IBM Halt, and not being a request stop.
The station is on the Wemyss Bay branch of the Inverclyde Line, linking the Isle of Bute ferry to the railway to Glasgow with an integrated timetable that works to varying degrees of success. IBM itself is served by all but one train during the week, a level of service that has remained stable. Therefore, the patronage should also be stable, right? Wrong. Since 2013, patronage has declined from over 123,000 per year to 6,000, with drops of at least twenty thousand per year. This is something that warranted an investigation, so I popped down one day after lunch. I also wanted to travel on the soon-to-be-withdrawn class 314s (or maybe not so soon, given the current farce with the 385s).
With a level of frequency that I has never existed before on a least-used station trip before, I was spoilt for choice as to when to travel. I left Edinburgh after lunch, traversed the semi-newly electrified Edinburgh to Glasgow Queen Street route on an electric train, walked to Glasgow Central, and sat around for the next Wemyss Bay service to be given a platform. GOOD NEWS! A 314 pulled up, even in the old Strathclyde livery. Wonderful.
After a blast towards Port Glasgow, we turned off onto the single-track Wemyss Bay branch, stopping at all the minor stations. Despite the low patronage, IBM isn't a halt, meaning that every train actually stops there, although most do not pick up any passengers. We arrived into IBM without drama, and I got off.
The station is a fairly standard if sparse single-platform affair. There are 3 sets of 4 benches, a large-ish waiting room, and all the normal signs and notices. The only one of note is the one that informs people that the station is only for IBM Staff and Contractors, which I am not.
Ignoring the sign, I decided to go on an explore of the area around the station to see what the cause of the plummet in patronage is.
Leaving the platform, I immediately saw the problem. It is vacant, and in the process of being demolished. Just outside the station is a broken wire fence with a large notice telling people not to climb over it as the area behind it is unmaintained and dangerous. There were several of these notices up as I followed the open path from the station to civilisation. I arrived at a fairly modern looking car park, full of air. There was no sign of a road or path to the footbridge that was at the northern end of the platform. I walked through the car park and past a modern-looking building, complete with smoking area and pick-up/drop-off point, more notices telling me not to climb over fences and walked down the only open road, which, after a 5 minute walk, lead me to the A78.
At the entrance to the what is now known as Valley Park Business Park, there was a faded sign telling me that this is what is was, and larger less faded signs telling me that the entire thing was for sale. No signs anywhere gave a clue that there was a station up the private, unused road.
The other mystery is the bridge. I walked back towards the station, looking out for a path or road up in the direction of the bridge. None existed, except a slightly trodden area of grass by the car park that led into some fly-tipping by some trees. Using a sense of direction, I continued through the trees, coming up to more faded signs and the bridge.
I then walked back to the path and back to the station, where I took some more pictures and waited for a train to take me on to Wemyss Bay.
Bonus: Wemyss Bay
Wemyss Bay is a seriously beautiful station, with several nods to history, including the reminders to thousands of passengers about the cost of inflation. (Imagine being able to get to Glasgow for under £1....)
Because IBM has no ticket machines, and there was no guard on the train, I had to buy my IBM to Wemyss Bay return at the ticket office. “We don't get many going there any more” commented the bloke in the office as I paid my £2.05 and showed my railcard. I nodded, and attempted to sort out the confusion as I had “just missed the train”. I explained that I had just come from IBM, and needed a ticket for the journey I had done, as well as one back because I would be returning later. I was given my two tickets, and continued to admire the station until the train arrived me to take me back to Edinburgh.
The Journey Back
I say the train back to Edinburgh. There is a passing loop just south of IBM, where we waited for a train to pass. The first of the extra peak hour services from Glasgow were filtering through, and it was a 314. I decided to get off at IBM again and wait the half an hour for it to return there.
I returned to Edinburgh the same way, taking advantage of the declassified first class on the 170 from Glasgow Queen Street, feeling very proud of myself.
It is worth looking at a comparison between what the Valley Park area was like in 2012, and what it looks like now. Below are various screen-captures from Google Maps, and, where possible, my pictures from my trip.
The reason for this stations decline is purely external. The business park is now a demolition site, and the station is not advertised at all. And, why would it be? It was built precisely to serve the park, and, now that it has been taken away, it has no reason to exist. The nearby settlements are served by Branchton and Inverkip stations, both with healthy annual patronage levels. With about 12,900 trains per year, IBM should have 1 person per 2 trains. However, it didn't. The 6 trains I was able to observe at the station (bearing in mind this included a period across the evening rush hour) had nobody using it, or just me. The annual patronage next year will be even lower. By the time the statistics for my period come out (in December 2019), it may well be down in the hundreds. There is literally no reason to visit this station except to say that you have visited it. And, that was my reason. There are houses nearby, but one can gain access to the railway much more easily by using another station.
As for Wemyss Bay: what a gem of a station. Certainly worth a visit from anyone.
I should point out that at no point did I climb over or cross any fences at Valley Park. I obeyed all signs telling me to keep out of certain areas.
Author - Felix