Highland Main Line

Not to be confused with the West Highland Line.
Highland Main Line

The Highland Main Line viaduct over
the River Findhorn at Tomatin
Type Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Perth and Kinross
Termini Perth
Stations 10
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Abellio ScotRail
Virgin Trains East Coast
Caledonian Sleeper
Rolling stock Class 43 "HST"
Class 158 "Express Sprinter"
Class 170 "Turbostar"
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)

Highland Main Line

Kyle of Lochalsh Line & Far North Line
Rose Street Junction

Welsh's Bridge Junction
Millburn Junction

Aberdeen to Inverness Line
Slochd Summit
Strathspey Railway
Aviemore Heritage railway
Drumochter Summit
Blair Atholl
Dunkeld and Birnam
Glasgow to Aberdeen Line
Moncrieffe Tunnel

Edinburgh to Aberdeen Line

Edinburgh to Aberdeen Line
Bridge of Allan
Croy Line
River Forth
Edinburgh to Dunblane Line
Glasgow to Aberdeen Line & Croy Line

The Highland Main Line is a railway line in Scotland. It is 118 mi (190 km) long and runs through the Scottish Highlands linking a series of small towns and villages with Perth at one end and Inverness at the other. Today, services between Inverness and Edinburgh, Glasgow and London use the line. At Inverness the line connects with the Far North Line, the Aberdeen-Inverness Line and services on the Kyle of Lochalsh Line. All trains are diesel-powered, since the line is not electrified.

Much of the Highland Main Line is single track, and trains coming in opposite directions are often timed to arrive at stations at the same time, where crossing loops permit them to pass. Journey times between Inverness and Edinburgh or Glasgow are approximately three and a half hours.[1]


Highland Main Line and A9 highway next to each other in Perthshire, September 2000

The vast majority of the line was built and operated by the Highland Railway with a small section of the line between Perth and Stanley built by the Scottish Midland Junction Railway, amalgamated with the Aberdeen Railway to become the Scottish North Eastern Railway in 1856, and then absorbed by the Caledonian Railway in 1866. Originally, the line between Inverness and Perth went via Forres, but the Inverness and Aviemore Direct Railway was opened in 1898 to allow for a more direct routeing.

There are two significant summits on the line; Drumochter Summit between Blair Atholl and Dalwhinnie, and Slochd Summit between Carrbridge and Inverness. Other distinct features on the route include the viaducts at Culloden and Tomatin, the spectacular mountain pass at Drumochter and the severe gradients encountered in both directions, particularly the extended climb from Inverness to the Slochd summit which averages around 1 in 60 the whole way.

Stations and services

As of 2004, there are stations on the line as follows:

Places served Ordnance Survey grid references
and other notes
Perth NO112230
Dunkeld and Birnam NO030417
Shared station
Pitlochry NN937580
Blair Atholl NN870653
Dalwhinnie NN634848
Newtonmore NN715984
Kingussie NH756003
Aviemore NH895123
Connection with Strathspey Railway
Carrbridge NH899224
Inverness NH667454

Services on the line are provided by Abellio ScotRail and Virgin Trains East Coast. A roughly two-hourly Abellio ScotRail service operates between Perth and Inverness throughout the day, with all services running from either Glasgow Queen Street (via Stirling) or Edinburgh Waverley (via Kirkcaldy). The Virgin Trains East Coast service is titled 'The Highland Chieftain'. Formed of a HST unit, it departs Inverness at around 8am and runs to London Kings Cross, via Perth, Stirling, Falkirk, Edinburgh and the East Coast Main Line, arriving in London at about 4pm. The return working leaves London at midday and reaches Inverness in the late evening.

There is also the Caledonian Sleeper operated sleeping car service that travels overnight between Inverness and London Euston via Perth, Stirling, Edinburgh Waverley and the West Coast Main Line. This joins portions from Aberdeen and Fort William at Edinburgh Waverley and south of there becomes the longest locomotive-hauled passenger train in the UK - regularly loading to 16 Mark 2/3 coaches.

All trains between Perth and Inverness call at Pitlochry, Kingussie and Aviemore. Most ScotRail services call at Dunkeld and Birnam and at Blair Atholl, with the stations at Dalwhinnie, Newtonmore and Carrbridge being served less often. On Sundays, a couple of services continue through to Elgin, calling at Nairn and Forres. [2]

Panoramic view of the Highland Line Culloden Viaduct with a First ScotRail train on it


Station usage at some stations remain stable. Overall usage on the line comparing April 2003 to April 2010 has increased 154%.


  1. Highland Main Line timetables at https://www.scotrail.co.uk/sites/default/files/assets/download_ct/edinburgh_glasgow_-_inverness_0.pdf
  2. https://www.scotrail.co.uk/sites/default/files/assets/download_ct/edinburgh_glasgow_-_inverness_0.pdf
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