"The West Highland Railway 120 Years" by John McGregor is published to coincide with the 120th anniversary of the opening of the West Highland Railway between Glasgow to Fort William. The large format suits the subject matter well and the result is a book you can delve into for a series of fascinating insights into the story of the railway.
The author is an acknowledged expert on this line, and in 2013 we had the pleasure of reviewing his books West Highland Line and West Highland Extension in Amberley's "Great Railway Journeys Through Time" series. The current book differs from the author's earlier volumes in more evenly balancing the superb images on view with explanatory text, as well as drawing and diagrams. This book is a beautifully illustrated read, as opposed to an annotated collection of excellent images.
The book is divided into thirty-three chapters, each looking at a particular facet of the development or working of the railway. It starts with a one page chronology, but slightly unexpectedly does not have an introductory chapter setting what follows in context. As a result we jump straight from the chronology into a collection of images of locomotives associated with the West Highland Railway; then a series of short chapters about false starts on developing a railway in the western highlands; before moving onto the building of the line itself. Then there are chapters covering the Mallaig Extension, the Banavie Branch and the Invergarry and Fort Augustus Railway.
Further into the book, chapters look at particular geographical parts of the line; before a more thematic approach takes over with chapters looking at sleepers; goods and freight; crossings; maintenance and weather; viaducts, double heading; leisure, and more. In some ways this feels less like a book than a magazine in which a series of articles have been collected. That's not a criticism: the unexpected nature of some of what lies between the covers adds greatly to its attraction. The end result is a book which certainly does justice to the engineering wonder whose anniversary it celebrates.