The Railways in Scotland: Book Reading Guide

In 1963 Dr Beeching's axe fell on the railways of the UK, slashing services to Scotland's towns and villages, and tearing up miles of track from - Stranraer to Braemar and Galashiels to Fort Augustus. His aim was to rationalise the rail network, to close down unprofitable lines, and to enable the modernisation of a steam-driven rolling stock. Although railway enthusiasts vilify Beeching, in truth many lines, especially in rural areas, were unprofitable and under-utilised. As Charles McKean explains in his excellent book Battle for the North, Scotland's Victorian railways were built haphazardly, with competing companies building parallel tracks, investors pouring money into madcap schemes, and towns being over-run with trains while others were left ignored. So there was no doubt that the railways were a mess, and line closures and company mergers were happening long before nationalisation in 1948 and Beeching's cuts in 1963.

Yet today, old lines are being re-opened, such as the Airdrie-Bathgate Rail Link and the Borders Railway, part of the old Waverley line. New stations are being built or refurbished, and passenger numbers are rising again.

BooksfromScotland.com Essentials: Top Railway Books


Most of the books on Scotland's railways look to the past rather than the future. Probably the best of these is Discovering Scotland's Lost Railways by Julian Holland, which showcases 12 abandoned railway lines with black and white period pictures, and full-colour images of the modern-day remains of the tracks, bridges and stations. Holland has followed this book with a sequel, Discovering Scotland's Lost Local Lines, which traces the history of many smaller local lines across Scotland.

The best single-volume history of all of Scotland's railways is Philip John Greer Ransom's The Iron Road, a handsome hardback which begins with horse-drawn coal wagons on wooden rails, to the height of Victorian engineering, to railway's decline in the 1960s and 70s. A.J. Mullay's Scottish Region is a history of Scottish rail during the early British Rail years, from 1948 to 1973.

There are several local history books on Scotland's railways, such as Highland Railway by Neil T. Sinclair. This book was published to mark the 150th anniversary of the Inverness and Nairn Railway, and is of as much interest to highland historians as railway enthusiasts. At the other end of the country Rails Across the Border by A.J. Mullay examines the fate of the five lines which once crossed from England to Scotland - there are only two such lines today.

The Battle for the North

One cannot write about the railways in Scotland without mentioning the Forth and Tay bridges - one an engineering marvel still standing as an iconic image of Scotland, the other a civil engineering disaster which inspired an equally bad poem. Charles McKean's Battle for the North explains how and why both bridges were built, while Peter Lewis' Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay investigates the truth behind the collapse of the first Tay railway bridge.

Specialist transport publishers such as OPC and Ian Allan publish titles such as Southwest Scotland and the Border Counties, Last Years of the Waverley Route by David Cross, and Scottish Region 1948-1967, which are generally written for railway enthusiasts.

Trains and Rolling Stock

Scotland's Railways is an updated collection of photographs by W.J.V. Anderson, featuring many photographs of the railways in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s. At the beginning of this period there were still many steam trains running on Scotland's network.

Steam enthusiasts flocked to Scotland in the 1950s and 60s as the move to diesel and electric was slower, and many famous steam engines, such as the Gresley A4 class (of Mallard fame), continued to run in Scotland. Michael S. Welch's Steam in the Scottish Landscape contains many photographs of the last days of steam in Scotland. Andrew Vines' book Diesels in the Highlands features photographs of the early British Rail diesel engines on Highland routes.

Ayrshire based publishers Stenlake have an extensive range of pictorial books about railways and steam trains in Scotland - the list is so long we have created a separate page for them.

The Railways In Fiction

Two books stand out when thinking about Scottish railways in fiction - John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps, with its famous scene on the Forth Railway Bridge, and Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. Although the book has very little to do with trains, the film featured a scene at Corrour railway station on the West Highland Line.

The book with the longest title on BooksfromScotland.com is Andrew Drummond's An Abridged History Of The Construction Of The Railway Line Between Garve, Ullapool And Lochinver And Other Pertinent Matters; Being The Professional Journal And Regular Chronicle Of Alexander Auchmuty Seth Kininmonth - the title makes it fairly clear what it's about.

  • Murder On The Flying Scotsman

    Cover scan of Murder On The Flying Scotsman
    Carola Dunn
    Paperback

    Diligent Daisy Dalrymple sets out for Scotland on an assignment for Town and Country magazine - and she finds herself sharing a rail compartment with squabbling would-be heirs, a stowaway, and a corpse.

  • The Thirty-Nine Steps

    Cover scan of The Thirty-Nine Steps
    John Buchan
    Paperback

    Richard Hannay's ennui comes to an abrupt end when a murder is committed in his flat. Only a few days before the dead man had revealed to him an assassination plot which would have terrible consequences for international peace.

  • Trainspotting

    Cover of Trainspotting
    Irvine Welsh
    Paperback

    'Trainspotting' is hilarious, and profane, riddled with drugs, drunks and bad behaviour and rich with flawed characters. The interwoven stories of a group of friends and junkies, it is a trip through the highs and lows of their lives.

Other Scottish Railway Books

  • Cover scan of Footsteps Of The Celts By Rail
    Footsteps Of The Celts By Rail
    William Bleasdale - Hardback - Book Guild
    A true rail enthusiast, William Bleasdale has written a travelogue of his three journeys through Ireland and Scotland by rail. It features steam trains, intercity services, busy main lines and tiny sections of track restored and maintained by enthusiasts.
  • Cover scan of The Forth Bridge
    The Forth Bridge
    Colin Baxter; Jim Crumley - Paperback - Colin Baxter
    The instantly recognisable shape of the Forth Rail Bridge has become an imprint on the landscape on the Firth of Forth. This pictorial history describes how it has become a monument to the visionary daring and hard work that led to its creation.
  • Cover scan of London's Scottish Railways, LMS & LNER
    London's Scottish Railways, LMS & LNER
    A. J. Mullay - Paperback - Tempus
    This is the story of the railways in Scotland in the 25-year period before nationalisation. Controlled from London, the LMS and LNER were to have a profound effect on transport north of the border.