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Emotional day for Kyle train driver who reaches end of the line after almost 50 years on the tracks


By Alasdair Fraser

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Donnie Maclean, the Kyle train driver retiring after almost 50 years' service
Donnie Maclean, the Kyle train driver retiring after almost 50 years' service

IT was the end of the line for Donnie Maclean, a last journey along 57 miles of railway sleepers he knows like the back of his hand.

Every bend, every vista was as familiar as his own reflection after almost half a century on the railways, much of it as driver on the Kyle of Lochalsh-Inverness line.

But there was a different scene in store for the Kyle man as he drove homeward one last time.

At nearly every station heading westward familiar faces lined the platforms to say thanks and farewell, present gifts and wish the 64-year-old the best for retirement.

It was a measure of the great affection in which he is held as a man renowned for going the extra mile to help visitors and locals alike on one of the world’s most scenic railways.

The great send-off on Saturday June 13 left a lump in the throat, with Mr Maclean admitting: “It was a very emotional day.

“An awful lot of people came out for my final run all the way from Inverness. They were everywhere, but especially on reaching Plockton and Duirinish.

“It was just a lot of folk I know from down the years. I got lovely gifts, but what made it really special was the people.

“I knew nothing about it and I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

Mr Maclean joined the railway straight from school in 1972, aged 16, following in the footsteps of his father Fachie, who clocked up 45 years’ service.

Donnie Maclean, the Kyle train driver retiring after almost 50 years' service.L-R Callum MacKenzie (conductor), Stuart Martin (fellow driver), Donnie Maclean (driver), Nigel Devlin (manager).
Donnie Maclean, the Kyle train driver retiring after almost 50 years' service.L-R Callum MacKenzie (conductor), Stuart Martin (fellow driver), Donnie Maclean (driver), Nigel Devlin (manager).

They were different times. The ferry to Stornoway still ran from Kyle, with the young apprentice gaining work as a checker, ticking off goods delivered by rail to be shipped to the Western Isles.

“I don’t think you ever tire of it. The scenery constantly changes through the year from winter to summer, with all the fantastic colours."

By 1973, the ferry route had moved to Ullapool, but a vacancy arose in the signal box at Kyle, where he worked for 18 months.

Completing his apprenticeship in Glasgow, he became a relief driver, acting as second man on the Kyle line until 1989 when he qualified as a full driver.

It was always a privilege, never a chore. If it was work at all, it was a labour of love.

As the years rolled by, the huge freight cars and postal carriageways disappeared to be replaced by coach touring parties and a steady trickle of more passengers from near and far.

“Once you join the railway, you never really want to leave.”

But the beauty of the driver’s seat view never dimmed.

Mr Maclean said: “I don’t think you ever tire of it. The scenery constantly changes through the year from winter to summer, with all the fantastic colours.

“I remember another driver, not me, getting stuck in snow drifts at Achnasheen and having to walk the track to raise the alarm.

“I also remember a summer when there were so many blue whiting being caught out in the Minch that we had trainload after trainload heading off south.

“All the mail used to travel by train as well, for posties to pick up at every station. It was a real lifeline.”

Retirement will bring welcome time with the family, including wife Sandra, daughter Eilidh and son Andrew and grandkids, with a possible season ticket purchase in store for Ross County.

Donnie Maclean's retirement day
Donnie Maclean's retirement day

Mr Maclean, also a retained fireman for 37 years, added: “With shift-work it didn’t warrant a season ticket, but I would like to go back more often.

“It will be a change for me to be driven and I’ll see if they’re doing it right!

“Once you join the railway, you never really want to leave.”

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