Some Early Lines – Great North of Scotland Railway

Some Early Lines

Great North of Scotland Railway

Strathspey 1The last of the Great North of Scotland 4-4-0s was No.62277 Gordon Highlander, nick named ‘The Soldier’.  Before being retired for preservation and resorted to its original green livery, No.62277 spent its remaining days in regular service working the goods between Keith and Elgin, and over the Speyside branch. – Photo: W.J.V.Anderson

Dates of operation 1854–1922

Successor London and North Eastern Railway

Track gauge  4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)  Length 334 miles (538 km)

Headquarters Aberdeen

The Great North of Scotland Railway (GNSR/GNoSR) was one of the smaller Scottish railways before the grouping, operating in the far north-east of the country. It was formed in 1845 and received its Parliamentary approval on 26 June 1846, following over two years of local meetings. The GNoSR’s eventual area encompassed the three Scottish counties of Aberdeenshire, Banffshire and Moray, with short lengths of line in Inverness-shire and Kincardineshire. The railway operated its main line between Aberdeen and Elgin via Keith. There were connections westward with the Highland Railway at Boat of Garten, Elgin, Keith and Portessie and southward with the Caledonian Railway and North British Railway at Aberdeen, where the three shared a station.

In 1921 the railway comprised 334 miles (538 km) of line, the company’s capital was £7 million, had headquarters at 89 Guild Street in Aberdeen and works at Inverurie. The company also owned hotels in some of the towns and resorts served by its stations. In the early 20th century it also developed a network of feeder bus services. In 1923 it was absorbed into the London and North Eastern Railway as its Northern Scottish area. Although the line had several branches its remoteness has resulted in only its main line remaining today.

1 & 2The Great North built a branch from its most easterly terminus at Fraserborough to the little town of St. Combs.  The LNER imported some Great Eastern ‘F4’ class 2-4-2 tanks to work the service and these stayed until well into BR days, when they were replaced by Class ‘2’ 2-6-0s.  As the line is unfenced for a considerable part of its length, engines are fitted with ‘cowcatchers’.  Nos. 67151 and 67157 make their way towards St. Combs near Golf Course Halt in August 1950.  (C. Lawson Kerr

Establishment and construction

In 1845 the Great North of Scotland Railway was formed to build a railway from Aberdeen to Inverness. The proposed 1081⁄4-mile (174 km) route, which needed few major engineering works, followed the River Don to Inverurie, via Huntly and Keith to a crossing of the River Spey, and then to Elgin and along the coast via Nairn to Inverness. Branch lines to Banff, Portsoy, Garmouth and Burghead would total 301⁄2 miles (49 km). At the same time the Perth & Inverness Railway proposed a more direct route south from Inverness to Perth across the Grampian Mountains, and the Aberdeen, Banff & Elgin Railway proposed a route that followed the coast to better serve the Banffshire and Morayshire fishing ports. The Aberdeen, Banff & Elgin failed to raise funds, and the Perth & Inverness Railway was rejected by parliament because the railway would be at altitudes that approached 1,500 feet (460 m) and needed steep gradients. The Great North of Scotland Railway Act received Royal Assent on 26 June 1846.

Two years later the railway mania bubble burst and no investors could be found. At meeting in November 1849, the company estimated that whereas approximately £650 thousand was needed for a double track railway from Aberdeen to Inverness, only £375 thousand was needed for a single track railway from Kittybrewster, 11⁄2 miles (2.4 km) from Aberdeen, to Keith, half way to Inverness. The meeting recommended that the bridges and works would be wide enough for a second track when this was needed. Construction began in November 1852, albeit to Huntly, 121⁄2 miles (20 km) short of Keith, with William Cubitt as engineer. The following winter was severe, delaying work. Between Inverurie and Aberdeen the line took over the Aberdeenshire Canal, and the sale of the canal to the railway company became complex as it was necessary to settle the claims of each shareholder individually.

Strathspey 2The Speyside branch train from Boat of Garten terminated at Craigellachie.  No.62275 Sir David Stewart pauses for refreshment at the shed before being turned for the journey back over the single line with the afternoon train. – Photo: J.D.Mills


After an inspection by the Board of Trade in September 1854, the railway opened to goods on 12 September and approval for the carriage of passengers was given two days later. The railway was officially opened on 19 September, two locomotives hauling twenty-five carriages with at least 400 passengers left Kittybrewster at 11 am. The number of passengers had grown to about 650 by the time the train arrived to a celebration at Huntly at 1:12 pm. Public services began the following day.

The railway was single track with passing loops at the terminii and at Kintore, Inverurie and Insch; the loop at Kittybrewster was clear of the platform to allow the locomotive to run round the carriages and push them into the station. Initially there were three passenger services a day taking two hours for the 39 miles (63 km). A daily goods train took up to 3 hours 40 minutes, the goods to Aberdeen also carrying passengers and mail. Two classes of accommodation were provided, fares being 1 3⁄4 d a mile for first class and 1 1⁄4 d for third; on one train a day in each direction it was possible to travel for the statutory fare of 1 d a mile. Although these fares and the charges for the transportation of goods were considered high, they were not reduced for thirty years.

Strathspey 3Pickersgill-designed ‘D41’ class 4-4-0 No. 62248, late of the Great North of Scotland Railway, leaves Craigellachie with the afternoon goods for the Highland line at Boat of Garten.  The line to the right of the picture is a siding and the track is single for the whole journey, closely following the windings of the River Spey, as it threads its was between the hills of Cromdale.  Many of the wagons will probably be dropped off at various distillery sidings en route.  (W.J.V.Anderson

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