Harry Potter-style Jacobite steam train services to start on April 15

Operator West Coast Railways announces it will use carriages which comply with safety order it had been fighting

The Jacobite steam train is to launch the delayed start of its summer season on Monday after its operator revealed it would be using carriages which complied with a safety directive.

The move was announced on Friday after West Coast Railways (WCR) suspended the Fort William-Mallaig services for two weeks while seeking an exemption from the directive, which requires coaches to have central door locking.

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WCR lost a court battle with the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) safety regulator over the issue in December, but in March applied for another exemption to be permitted to run trains with stewards guarding doors instead.

The Jacobite crossing the Glenfinnan viaduct. (Photo by Getty Images)The Jacobite crossing the Glenfinnan viaduct. (Photo by Getty Images)
The Jacobite crossing the Glenfinnan viaduct. (Photo by Getty Images)

The operator’s announcement comes two months after The Scotsman revealed it was considering using a different set of its carriages for the Jacobite, which has central door locking, or with the safety feature added to the existing coaches.

WCR told The Scotsman on Friday the compliant carriages had been part of its fleet for 20 years and had planned to have them “ready for use” at the start of the season, but its engineers had “encountered some challenges and were only able to get them ready for service from mid-April”.

However, when WCR announced the service suspension on March 20 it stated: “As the ORR has not yet granted an exemption, WCR has suspended The Jacobite service until further notice.”

WCR also said passengers would have to re-book on a first-come, first-served basis because the train would have fewer carriages than normal, with fewer first-class seats and no “Harry Potter” coach. It said the second daily service due to start in May would be suspended “for the moment”.

WCR commercial manager James Shuttleworth said: “We are thrilled to have the Jacobite back up and running, and look forward to welcoming customers on board. The team has done an exceptional job in getting a fleet of carriages ready to kick-start our 2024 season.

“We continue to engage both the ORR and the [UK] Department for Transport with a request for the temporary exemption, so that we can operate our heritage carriages on the main line. Our customers have told us for many years that travelling in these carriages is a highlight of the Jacobite experience.

"The exemption will also enable us to run an extra first-class carriage and our famous Harry Potter carriage. For now, we are delighted that we can start to take visitors across the Scottish Highlands to visit Fort William, Mallaig and Glenfinnan.

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"We understand those communities have been impacted by the suspension of the Jacobite and I hope this offers reassurance to local business owners.”

WCR said that in its more than 40 years of operation, there had been no deaths or serious injuries relating to a door opening while a train was moving. However, there have been a series of such incidents on other trains before central door locking became mandatory on the rail network.  

WCR said it had carried out detailed risk assessments “that demonstrate that its secondary door locking system, with proper maintenance and monitoring, is sufficiently safe for its passengers and workers”. It said: “On each passenger service, there is at least one steward per carriage, a train manager and a guard who are responsible for monitoring the hinged doors and safety procedures.”



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