Worried bosses of the Jacobite – which doubled as the Hogwarts Express in the Potter movies – planned to replace 72-year-old locomotive “Lord of the Isles” with a diesel engine over safety concerns.
Sunny weather had left the moorland on the 42-mile route between Fort William and Mallaig dry as a tinder box, and there were fears that a stray spark from the steam loco’s roaring firebox could start a massive conflagration.
But just hours before the train’s scheduled 10.15am departure on Monday, as if by magic, the heavens opened.
So 'Lord of the Isles’, a former London and North Eastern locomotive built at Glasgow in 1949, could pull the train after all.
“The rain was just the ticket,” said happy Pat Marshall, managing director of operators West Coast Railways. “Never in my life have I been so glad to see such a downpour.
“Monday was our first day back after the Covid lockdown and we knew it would be a big disappointment for passengers if we had to cancel the steam running.
“Perhaps good old Harry Potter weaved a bit of magic to save the day and keep us on track.”
The trip between Fort William and Mallaig, starting in the shadow of Ben Nevis and crossing the 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct, has been voted the world’s greatest rail journey.
While “Lord of the Isles” hauled Monday morning’s train, Black 5 locomotive “Lancashire Fusilier” pulled the afternoon service.
The Jacobite will run twice a day until October over the Glenfinnan Viaduct between Fort William and Mallaig.
Bookings have soared since the Scottish Government announced lockdown restrictions would be eased this week with 1,000 tickets a day now being snapped up for the summer.
Tickets for the Jacobite start at £49 for adults and £28 for children. Because of Covid restrictions, the normal buffet car is being replaced by a refreshment trolley service but cream teas and champagne can be ordered in advance.