Highland observations

The 1980s and early 1990s saw a renaissance in the use of observation saloons on the Kyle of Lochalsh route, this culminating in the conversion of a Class 101 DMU car. To mark the release of Bachmann’s model of this vehicle, Simon Bendall profiles the last 15 years of loco-hauled passenger trains on the scenic Scottish line.

With the Isle of Skye shrouded in mist, Class 26/0 No. 26013 stands at Kyle of Lochalsh during August 1980. Immediately behind the Type 2 is saloon No. 45018 (registered on TOPS as No. 99052), the vintage vehicle being 88 years old at this point, albeit rebuilt several times in the intervening decades. Finished in the stylish WCJS plum and spilt milk colours, it contrasts sharply with the Mk.1s behind, where the formation can be discerned as CK-TSO-BG-RMB-TSO-TSO. Simon Bendall Collection

THE Kyle of Lochalsh route had enjoyed a long association with the provision of observation saloons during the steam era, British Railways recognising the additional revenue it could generate. However, under the rebranded face of British Rail, such elderly and specialist vehicles were incompatible with the new image, so their use was curtailed.

For much of the 1960s, the Kyle line had been covered in the summer months by the former ‘Devon Belle’ observation saloon No. M280, the Pullman vehicle being conveyed on the rear of a service from Inverness in the morning. Turned after arrival at Kyle on the still functioning turntable, the coach then returned on an afternoon train. Withdrawal finally came in 1967, and today it can be found at the Dartmouth Steam Railway.

Vintage return

It was not until 1979 that an observation saloon was reintroduced to the Kyle line, helping to boost its status as a summer scenic route for tourists. This came in the form of former West Coast Joint Stock (WCJS) coach No. 41, the vehicle having begun life in 1892 as a six-axle restaurant car before being rebuilt several times between 1918 and 1960. Ultimately, it ended up as saloon No. 45018 with a new underframe, standard Gresley bogies and a sloped observation end.

Read more in the April issue of RE – on sale now!

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