A Quite Impossible Proposal: How not to build a railway



In the 1890s, the people of north-west Scotland grew tired of Government Commissions sent to consider a railway to Ullapool. Despite rock-solid arguments in favour of such a railway, neither government nor the big railway companies lifted a finger to build one. Against the recommendations of its own advisers, the Scottish Office dismissed the project as ‘a quite impossible proposal’.

In 1918, history repeated itself with another Commission and another failure to build the railway. ‘Drivel’ is how one local man described the official government inquiry reports. Few disagreed.

This book tells the whole sorry tale of the attempt to improve transportation in the north-west Highlands and the resulting government inquiries, set against the region’s economic and social problems and civil unrest in the crofting communities. Stories, facts and figures have been unearthed from the archives of government departments and railway companies, from local people’s letters and petitions, from contemporary newspapers and from the plans prepared for the hoped-for railways. Other unbuilt railways to the north-west coast are also described.

But this story is not just about planned railways that were never built. It is about the frustrations of the people of the Highlands in the face of government incompetence, railway-company obstructionism, local rivalries and the struggle against the historical injustice of land-ownership.

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