Inverness Railway Station, designed by Joseph Mitchell, opened in 1855 creating a rail link to Nairn serviced by the Inverness and Nairn Railway. The opening was one of the most significant events in the history of the Highlands as the development of the railway system changed the economy of the region, transforming or creating communities along its routes, and quickly brought increased trade and population to the city. Over the next ten years, the railway amalgamated with other companies to form the Highland Railway. As a result of this, the station is unusual in having two sets of lines diverging sharply within it to provide services to the north as well as south and east.
Due to its isolated geographical location, the Highland Railway had its own workshops based in Inverness – the Lochgorm Locomotive Works – built in 1864. Many steam engines were produced here.
In 1875, new offices were built on the opposite side of Academy Street from the station square, which became the Royal Hotel and is now the Clydesdale Bank.
In 1876, a pitched iron and glass roof was built over the station concourse, but the platforms were left fairly exposed to the weather. The station contained refreshment rooms, ladies waiting rooms and managers’ rooms.
The Highland Railway became the largest single employer in the region. Until World War I, the Highland Railway workforce was almost entirely male. Women were employed in hospitality services and to clean the offices. Men carried out clerical duties in Head Office; only the introduction of the typewriter in the 1900s led to the employment of women there.
The station was the departure point for tens of thousands of servicemen during war time periods. It was also the arrival point for military personnel coming to the region for training or on war business.
It played a major part in World War I when the Fleet was stationed at Scapa Flow, Orkney. The Highland Railway was severely overstretched at this time by special trains running to Thurso and Invergordon to provision the fleet with fuel, materials and men. A daily train, known as the Jellicoe Express after Admiral John Jellicoe, ran from London to Thurso. It was dubbed the Misery Express due to crowded, cold and foul-smelling carriages. Many men ended up standing for the whole journey in carriages which had no corridors, toilets or catering facilities.
World War II saw a temporary halt to the decline in traffic and staff in the Highlands. The system worked to full capacity. Women now worked in signal boxes as well as in some of the same jobs they had done during World War I – clerks, engine cleaners and porters.