‘Harry Potter Hogwarts Express’-style Jacobite steam train cancelled for 12 days amid safety row

West Coast Railways announces halt of Fort William-Mallaig services until at least April 9

The Hogwarts Express-style Jacobite steam train service has been cancelled for at least the first 12 days of its summer season from today due to a safety row, but its operator said it “hoped to be able to operate scheduled future trips”.

West Coast Railways (WCR) had planned to run daily trains on the West Highland Line between Fort William and Mallaig until October, with an additional afternoon services between May and September.

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However, it announced last week that the excursions would be suspended because of an ongoing dispute with safety regulators over the requirement for central locking on the carriages’ doors.

The Jacobite passing Lochailort en route to Mallaig in 2022. (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA)The Jacobite passing Lochailort en route to Mallaig in 2022. (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA)
The Jacobite passing Lochailort en route to Mallaig in 2022. (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA)

WCR lost a court battle with the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) in December over another exemption to the regulations, then it requested a further exemption three weeks ago.

The ORR said it would take four months to access the application and criticised the operator for failing to make “sensible contingency plans” to avoid having to cancel services and inconvenience passengers who had bought tickets.

WCR declined to discuss contingency plans. There has been speculation they could include drafting in another set of carriages from its fleet with central locking fitted, or locks being added to The Jacobite’s carriages.

A WCR spokesperson told The Scotsman: “Trips have been cancelled from March 28 to April 8 inclusive.

“Unfortunately, both our contingency planning options and the number of bookings being refunded are confidential at this time.”

A statement posted on the company’s website on Tuesday stated: “The Jacobite 2024 season is currently unavailable for new bookings.

“As we are unable to offer alternative trips on The Jacobite at this time, our reservations team will process full refunds for customers with bookings on those dates [Mar 28 to April 8] in the next five working days.

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“This suspension of this service is due to a debate with the rail regulator around door locking. We share the regulator’s commitment to safety and our priority now is to work with it to renew permission to enable us to run The Jacobite on the main rail line.

“We hope to be able to operate scheduled future trips on the Jacobite, but will contact all customers ahead of their journey date directly, in the event the trip they have booked will not run. In that case, we also will issue a full refund.”

Lochaber Chamber of Commerce described the suspension of the service as “deeply concerning”.

Chief executive Frazer Coupland said: “This beloved attraction is a vital part of the outdoor capital of the UK's tourism industry, and its cancellation will have a significant economic impact on businesses and communities that rely on it."

Road to the Isles Marketing Group urged ticket holders to switch to the ScotRail service. Chairperson Sine Mackellaig Davis said: “Passengers can still enjoy the world-famous route on the same rail track, enjoy the same breathtaking views and experience travelling over the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct.”

The ORR said it was assessing WCR’s application made on March 8, which could take about four months.

Its spokesperson: “All heritage operators were told several years ago that to operate after March 2023, they either needed to fit central door locking or obtain an exemption from us.

“WCR’s application for an exemption failed and they made a claim for judicial review.

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"A temporary exemption was granted to maintain the status quo, enabling WCR to operate whilst the litigation reached a conclusion.

“Despite this, WCR chose to sell tickets when it was far from certain a new application for an exemption would be granted, either in time for the commencement of services or at all.”



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