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Historical Overview

This page gives a brief history of the Callander and Oban Railway, with the emphasis on its signalling.

Route of the Callander and Oban Railway

Construction of the Line

The opening of the Dunblane, Doune and Callander Railway (DD&CR) in 1858 put the village of Callander on the railway map. The DD&CR's Callander station formed the terminus of a line that made a junction with the Scottish Central Railway at Dunblane, ten miles to the east.

The Callander and Oban Railway (C&OR) company was formed in 1864 to promote the construction of a railway to Oban. The Scottish Central Railway put up one third (£200,000) of the capital and undertook to work the new line once the length of operational railway connected to the DD&CR exceeded twenty miles. The Callander & Oban Railway Act was passed by Parliament on 8 July 1865. A few weeks later, the DD&CR was absorbed by the Scottish Central Railway, which in turn was absorbed by the Caledonian Railway. The Scottish Central's obligation to operate the as yet unbuilt C&OR therefore passed to the Caledonian. On 1 September 1865, John Anderson, formerly employed by the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, was appointed secretary of the C&OR. He was the driving force behind the new railway, and he remained with it for forty-two years.

Difficulty raising the necessary capital demanded that the C&OR be built in stages as finances allowed. Construction of the first section, 17½ miles in length, began in October 1866. This part of the line ran from Callander to a temporary terminus at the head of Glen Ogle named "Killin", although it was actually located high on a mountainside, three miles distant from Killin village. This section opened in June 1870. A connection with the DD&CR, known as "Callander & Oban Junction", was formed to the east of the DD&CR's terminus station, which remained as a goods yard. The Caledonian Railway agreed to work the new line, despite its length being less than twenty miles. The contractors Stevens & Sons provided the elementary signalling for the new single line. At each crossing loop, the home signal arms for both directions were mounted on a single post, placed midway along the loop. If the home signal was at 'danger', an arriving train was required to stop short of the facing points. Starting signals were not provided. The crossing loop points were weighted to direct an incoming train into the left-hand loop; the blades were simply trailed through by departing trains. The wires operating the distant signals detected that the facing points were properly set. Train Staff and Ticket was the method of working employed on the single line sections. Time interval working was in force for following trains since there were no block instruments nor any other means of communication between block posts.

Even before the first section to Killin had opened, financial troubles had led to a decision being made to extend the line only as far as Tyndrum, 34 miles from Callander and 36½ miles short of Oban. The Callander & Oban Railway (Abandonment) Act was passed on 12 May 1870. The Caledonian Railway offered to work the completed line to Tyndrum. Construction work on the Killin to Tyndrum section commenced in October 1871, and when opened in August 1873, it added another 17 miles to the route.

Early in 1874, the board of the Callander & Oban Railway realised that the railway stood no chance of ever making a profit unless it was extended through to Oban as originally envisaged. A further Act of Parliament was needed to extend the line; the Callander & Oban Railway (Tyndrum & Oban) Act was passed on 16 July 1874. The line was first extended by twelve miles to Dalmally, opening on 1 April 1877 for goods and a month later for passengers. This extension required the relocation of Tyndrum station; the former terminus became the goods yard. The method of working on the new section was Train Staff and Ticket, but with block instruments.

The final section, from Dalmally to Oban, was 24½ miles in length. Construction began in May 1878, and it opened in July 1880. Train Staff and Ticket working applied between Dalmally and Oban, but shortly after opening, this was superseded by the Tyer's electric tablet system, the first ever application of that system in normal everyday service. The Caledonian Railway applied for permission to work the whole line between Callander and Oban by the tablet system; approval was granted in June 1881.


Parts of the line passed through mountainous territory that was prone to blockage by rock falls. Derailments could, and did, occur. Following one such incident in 1881, Anderson suggested the installation of a rock-fall warning system linked to signals, termed "automatic stone signals". The first of these were brought into use in the Pass of Brander (between Loch Awe and Taynuilt) in 1882. During the same year, a new crossing loop was opened at Glenlochy (between Tyndrum and Dalmally), and Callander station was enlarged, with two new signal boxes.

The people of Killin wanted their own railway, to link the village with the C&OR. There had been no need to obtain an Act to build the line, since there were no objectors. Construction began in the summer of 1883. A five mile long single line connected stations at Loch Tay and Killin to the C&OR at "Killin Junction", where an interchange station was built. The Caledonian Railway agreed to work the independently owned Killin Railway. Upon the line's opening in April 1886, the C&OR's "Killin" station was renamed "Glenoglehead"; it closed to passengers three years later. The Killin Railway was worked by One Engine in Steam, and block instruments were provided at each of its stations.

The Regulation of Railways Act 1889 gave the Board of Trade the power to order the railway companies to install interlocking. In 1890, new lever frames were provided at Strathyre, Lochearnhead, Glenoglehead, Luib and Crianlarich, and their signals were interlocked. The home signals were moved out beyond the facing loop points, which became mechanically worked and locked from the lever frames in the normal fashion. "Advanced home" (i.e. starting) signals were installed at the ends of the loops. The original semaphore signals at the exits from the sidings were replaced by ground discs.

A second set of automatic stone signals was installed in 1892. These were at Craig-na-Cailleach (between Callander and Strathyre), where the railway ran along the west side of Loch Lubnaig.

1893 saw additional crossing loops opened at St. Bride's (between Callander and Strathyre) and Awe Crossing (between Loch Awe and Taynuilt).

The West Highland Railway, opened in August 1894 and operated by the North British Railway, passed over the C&OR on a viaduct a little to the west of the C&OR's Crianlarich station. Construction of the West Highland Railway had brought traffic to the C&OR in the form of stone from Ben Cruachan Quarry. Between Crianlarich and Tyndrum, the two routes ran on opposite sides of Strathfillan. Both villages had separate stations on each of the two railways. In 1897, a connecting line was formed between the two railways at Crianlarich; the junction arrangements on the C&OR were elaborate, involving two new signal boxes.

The Callander & Oban Railway (Ballachulish Extension) Act was passed on 7 August 1896, authorising the C&OR to take a branch line north from Connel Ferry to Ballachulish. Construction of the Ballachulish branch, 27½ miles in length, began in September 1898, and it opened in August 1903. Connel Ferry station was enlarged and provided with two new signal boxes. Six signal boxes were located at stations along the branch, which was fully signalled and worked by electric tablet from the outset. The Act had allowed for the construction of a spur at Connel Ferry, which would have permitted direct running between Oban and the new branch line, but this was never completed. One week before the Ballachulish branch opened, a new crossing loop came into use at Glencruitten, between Connel Ferry and Oban.

Manson's tablet exchangers were introduced between Callander and Oban in 1903, following a suggestion by John Anderson.

The enlargement of Oban station in 1904 entailed the construction of two additional platforms to the west of, and outside, the station building. The original signal box at the station was replaced.

In 1905, the Caledonian Railway extended the Lochearnhead, St. Fillans and Comrie Railway to join with the C&OR near a relocated Balquhidder station, renamed from "Lochearnhead" in the previous year to avoid confusion with Lochearnhead station on the new railway. The enlarged station layout was worked from two new signal boxes.

Ongoing Changes

In 1914, Connel Ferry Viaduct (on the Ballachulish branch) was adapted to allow road traffic to cross from one side of Loch Etive to the other.

Switching out facilities were provided in 1921 at St. Bride's Crossing and in 1922 at Glenlochy Crossing, Glencruitten and Awe Crossing. New Tyer's No. 6 tablet instruments at the adjacent signal boxes were used during long section working; the long section tablets were square in shape. Switching between short section and long section tablet working was controlled by the Tyer's slide system.

The C&OR was incorporated into the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) at the 1923 Grouping.

In 1927, both Creagan and Duror lost their crossing loops and signal boxes, to reduce the cost of working the Ballachulish branch. All the distant signals on the branch were fixed at 'caution' around the same time.

The signalling arrangements protecting the roadway on Connel Ferry Viaduct were significantly altered in 1930.

In 1935, the West signal box at Killin Junction was closed, and the whole station layout was brought under the control of the East box. An auxiliary tablet instrument was provided on the Down platform. Concurrently, the block instruments on the Killin Railway were dispensed with, and the branch became worked by train staff alone.

The lines came under the control of British Railways (Scottish Region) at nationalisation in 1948.

The use of Manson's tablet exchangers on the C&OR was suspended in 1949.


The signal box and crossing loop at St. Bride's Crossing closed relatively early, in 1951.

The second half of the 1960s was a period of major decline, with the closure of two portions of the route and much rationalisation along the remaining section. In 1965, the line east of Crianlarich, including the Killin branch, succumbed to the massive programme of railway closures initiated by the Conservative government's corrupt Minister of Transport, Ernest Marples. Closure came earlier than the advertised closure date of 1 November, owing to a landslide that occurred in Glen Ogle on 27 September. Thereafter, trains to and from the Oban line were diverted via the West Highland Line and the 1897 spur at Crianlarich. A short stub to Crianlarich Lower was retained as the sidings there were used for loading timber. Complete closure of the Ballachulish branch came the following year; 1966 also saw the loss of the crossing loops at Glencruitten, Glenlochy, Loch Awe and Awe Crossing. Elimination of both signal boxes at Connel Ferry and the two boxes at Crianlarich followed early in 1967. 1969 brought closure to the signal boxes at Oban Goods Junction and Tyndrum Lower, leaving Dalmally and Taynuilt as the only crossing loops between Crianlarich and Oban.

By the mid-1970s, the last of the lower quadrant semaphore arms had disappeared, as had all the flap type shunting signals. Key token instruments replaced the last remaining tablet instruments in 1974.

Oban signal box was abolished in 1982, and all its signals were removed. "No signalman" key token working was introduced between Taynuilt and Oban.


The first signs that Radio Electronic Token Block (RETB) signalling was coming to the Oban line appeared in 1985, when the semaphore distant signals were supplanted by reflectorised distant boards, together with AWS permanent magnets. Early in 1986, the mechanical signalling at Dalmally and Taynuilt was replaced by RETB-style arrangements comprising train-operated (hydro-pneumatic) points and notice boards. This left the stone signals in the Pass of Brander as the only remaining semaphore signals on the line. Electric Token Block working remained in force meantime.

RETB was commissioned in March and April of 1988, depriving the Oban line of its last two signal boxes (the RETB control centre is located at Banavie station on the Fort William-Mallaig line). Some operational flexibility was gained by the provision of RETB token exchange points at Tyndrum Lower and Connel Ferry.

TPWS equipment was commissioned late in 2003 at each RETB token exchange point, apart from Tyndrum Lower.