Harry Potter fans’ Jacobite Fort William-Mallaig steam train known as Hogwarts Express at centre of court battle over safety
The Jacobite steam train that attracts thousands of Harry Potter fans and other tourists to the West Highlands is at the centre of a battle over the safety of historic carriages.
Its operators have challenged an order by the safety regulator to install central door locking to prevent passengers falling out of trains and are awaiting the result of a judicial review of the case, which is expected in January.
West Coast Railways (WCR), which runs other heritage trains across Britain, said the £7 million cost of the work would make the company unviable by wiping out its profits for nearly ten years.
The firm told The Scotsman it wanted to continue running the service between Fort William and Mallaig, the location of the Hogwarts Express sequences in the Harry Potter films, and it would “not throw away lightly” its 28 years’ operation. But the operator said there was a “very serious threat to whether we can continue”.
WCR has argued central locking is unnecessary, and uses door bolts and stewards to monitor them instead. However, the Jacobite’s services were temporarily halted this summer after the Office of Rail and Road regulator (ORR) found safety failings over this, and said it would continue spot checks.
Regulations requiring central locking for other than heritage lines have been in place since 2005. WCR and other operators have since been granted a series of exemptions, but the ORR said these would now be stopped.
It has granted WCR a further extension to February 29 to be able to continue to operate trains pending the result of the judicial review.
An ORR spokesperson said: “The majority of charter heritage operators have either complied with the regulation by installing central door locking or have a plan in place to do so.”
WCR commercial manager James Shuttleworth said despite the extension: “This remains a precarious position to be in, as our long experience and the value we bring to local and national communities hangs in the balance of the court’s decision.”
A industry source told The Scotsman that WCR had "a long history of confrontation with ORR over a range of safety incidents”.
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