Morvern Lines – week 07

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Here, by popular request from railway enthusiasts, is a list of some incidents and mishaps which occurred on the famous West Highland line during its construction, taken from police and other records.

September 1890: lt has been decided to try three prisoners in connection with the recent outrage at Ardlui, Loch Lomond, and the recent assault and robbery at Arrochar, before the forthcoming Glasgow Circuit Court.
In connection with the first case, a lodging-housekeeper, named Daniel Carswell, is charged with a murderous assault upon a woman, and then setting her house on fire. Two other men are also charged with being accessory to the crime.
In the Arrochar case, two navvies, named James Roger and Charles Charlton, are charged with assault and robbery, and also with housebreaking.

November 1890: While a squad of navvies were engaged in a cutting of the West Highland Railway, near the farm of Glenfalloch, Killin parish, an accident occurred which might have been attended with serious consequences. The cutting is through hard rock, and consequently blasting is carried on. It was after a blast that the navvies set to work to clear away the stones and earth, and while doing so one of them struck an unexploded cartridge with his pick, causing it to burst. The explosion was a pretty severe one, but luckily no one was seriously injured, although one man named John M’Kechnie was badly cut about the face and head.

February 2, 1892: Fort-William – Early this morning there was a renewal of the storm in the Lochaber district. Loch Linnhe rose to an unusual height and a number of the houses in Low Street, Fort William, were flooded to a depth about foot. On account of the gale today the mail steamer Fusilier, which leaves Fort William at eight, could not proceed till after eleven o’clock. Intelligence has just come to hand that two bridges – one over the Blackwater, Kinlochbeg and another on the public road near M’Braynes pier at Ballachulish—have been swept away. A bridge in Glen Nevis, about six miles from Fort-William, has also been carried off. Loch Shiel rose to almost unprecedented heights, and inundated the public road for a distance of three miles, making it necessary to convey the mails from Arisaig in a sailing boat.

The monument to Prince Charles Edward at Glenfinnan stood to a depth of ten feet in water, and the wall which surrounds it has been destroyed by the flood. The river Spean during the height of the flood, was washing over the top the railway bridge which crosses it near Spean Bridge. When in its normal state the Spean is about 30 feet below the girders of the bridge.

July 23, 1892: On Saturday morning, on the new West Highland Railway, near Helensburgh, an engine and a number of empty wagons left the rails and went over an embankment 18 feet deep. The stoker, Thomas Jarrow, an unmarried man, was killed on the spot, and Robert Warnest, the driver, was severely injured about the head and shoulders.

January 1893: Smallpox has broken out in one of the huts at Ardlui in which the navvies employed on the West Highland Railway are lodged. The most careful precautions are being taken to check the outbreak by isolation. It is alleged that the outbreak of smallpox on some part of the West Highland Railway is due to the filthy state of the huts in which the navvies live.
April 1894: When a navvy, named John Campbell, employed in the construction of the West Highland Railway, was engaged blasting on Rannoch Moor yesterday afternoon, he was accidentally blown to pieces.

June 25, 1894: This morning an accident occurred on the West Highland Railway near Inverarnan through a couple of North British engines dashing into a siding. It is alleged that the points on the main track had been maliciously shifted. The engines were thrown off the metals, and the four drivers and firemen were injured.

July 30, 1894: On Monday evening a case of a stabbing occurred at Rannoch Moor Station on the West Highland Railway, whereby a man named John Smith was injured.

May 1894: A large meeting was held at Plockton the other day to resolve to requisition the authorities for the establishing of a police station in the locality, in view of the large number of navvies collected in the district by the railway works.

June 18, 1895: On Tuesday morning while Hector M’Kinnon, surfaceman on the West Highland Railway, was attempting to enter a train in motion at Fort William Station, he missed his footing and, falling on the rails, one of the vehicles pasted over his left arm. On being conveyed to the Belfort Hospital, Fort-William, it was found necessary to amputate the fractured limb.

December 1896: On Wednesday, Ronald Campbell, son of John Campbell, boat builder, Corpach, was seriously injured by a distress rocket. Finding the rocket near the shore, the lad, not knowing what it was, commenced hacking it with a hatchet, with the result that it exploded. Campbell was injured about the face and one of his hands was severely lacerated, was conveyed to the Belford Hospital here, where it was found necessary to amputate four of his fingers.

January 26, 1898: A peculiar accident happened on the Skye section of the Highland Railway yesterday morning. The 6 am passenger train from Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness was proceeding on its way, when about a mile east of Strome Ferry Station a big boulder was observed lying on the line. The train could not drawn up in time to avoid a compact, and the engine and several of the carriages were somewhat damaged. It is supposed the boulder had fallen from the cutting.

December 1898: Another terrible dynamite explosion, the third within a limited period, occurred this morning on the Mallaig Railway works at Craigag, near Glenfinnan. Two workmen were killed and several injured.

The work on the new Mallaig extension of the West Highland Railway is already far advanced. Although the construction of this railway has proved one of the most difficult engineering jobs ever tackled in this country, it is hoped that with the system of rock cutting in operation the greater part of the heavy work yet to do will be carried through within the next six months.

It is stated as an interesting comparison that on the forty miles of the Mallaig Railway there is twice the amount of rock cutting that there was on the whole of the hundred miles of the West Highland Railway.
Another interesting feature of the railway is the large number of viaducts that have had to be erected.

The principal viaduct at Glenfinnan consists of 21 spans; it is 50 feet across and 100 feet high. The Glenfinnan viaduct was only begun in the autumn and the contractor hopes to have traffic over it in August next.

There are, on average, from 1,000 to 1,800 men employed at the works.

Iain Thornber
iain.thornber@btinternet.com