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It’s the end of the line this week for well-known Oban train conductor Angus MacColl. He retires after 42 years having notched up 100 miles every shift and asking ‘tickets please’ more times than he can remember, writes Ellis Butcher.
‘Will you stick it?’ asked the Oban station master in September 1979 as 24-year-old Angy MacColl put in for a job at British Rail.
After 33 years onboard the passenger trains and nine years working between the station and the signal box, Angy, 65, was on the right track all along.
Growing up in a railway family, he remembers trains passing his childhood home in Alma Crescent every day.
Later, he would even end up working in the nearby signal box, now long gone.
Angy remembers climbing up the original station clocktower in Oban for the weekly job of winding it up.
And his retirement ends an historic family association which is unlikely to be ever seen again.
When Angy started on the railways, his father was a serving train driver and did so for 47 years until his retirement.
His grandfather, too, notched up 36 years until he bowed out, while his great uncle Jock also served time trackside.
And in February this year, Angy discovered that his great-grandfather was also employed as railwayman 125 years ago.
It means five generations of men – four of them called Angus MacColl – have all served this rugged corner of Scotland’s rail network; their roots around Oban, Achnacloich, Dalmally and Glen Orchy.
‘From my great-grandfather, all the way through to me now, there’s always been at least one of us with a railway company,’ says Angy.
His departure is so significant that his final journey out of busy Glasgow Queen Street was marked by a special announcement over the public address system.
Angy has seen it all from Victorian levers to change tracks, to hand-written train tickets and the roll-out of onboard wifi.
It’s been a career of lost international tourists to those wanting to know the best side of the train to sit on for the finest views of the lovely West Highland Line.
‘You’ve got to have a really thick skin for it,’ says Angus of the rowdy Saturday night ‘football express’.
Angy was even onboard during two derailments occurring 13 years apart and caused by landslips.
The first was on April 5, 1997, and the second on June 6, 2010 – both at night.
The locations were separated by a quarter-of-a-mile of track at the Falls of Cruachan.
His handwritten accident report recorded ‘strong braking and the lights going out’.
Angy remembers holding on to stop himself falling, getting passengers off, raising the alarm and helping shepherd them to safety.
He says: ‘You hope you never have one and some guards go through their whole career and nothing – but I got two. What happens in an incident is you’re trained to deal with it and you do.’
Incredibly, passengers walked away with only shock, a sprained ankle, a cut finger and a broken wrist.
But there have also been many funny moments and he shows me the hilarious note an elderly female passenger once handed him in place of a ticket.
And on the trains, there’s always the ‘mystery’ passengers which are there one year, gone the next.
‘You’ll see a lot of passengers, for a month, a year, two years. Then all of a sudden you won’t see them anymore. You’re always asking yourself: ‘What happened to them? What changed in their life?’
Married to wife Sandra for 45 years, I ask if she’s proud of him.
‘Aye yeah, very much so,’ she says. ‘It’s been in the family blood. He’s well thought of on the railway, both here and at Glasgow.’
Even during Covid, with no trains running for a time, Angus felt compelled to turn up at the station to sign in, she explains.
Angy adds: ‘I got on well with my colleagues and I will miss them, but I’ve done my time and it’ll be nice not to be clock watching.’
The father-of-four, who has six grandchildren with a seventh on the way, is also looking forward to some caravan breaks.
He also has a special box he plans to open in the loft. It contains a model railway set which until now he never quite had the time to enjoy.
And this time it will be Angy driving the Sprinter with no pressure at all about what time it departs!