West Coast Railways (WCR), Britain’s largest steam operator, has been forced to halt all trips by rail regulators, casting doubt over whether it can run the Jacobite between Fort William and Mallaig this summer.
The service operates between May and October, and carries 85,000 passengers annually. The line was used by the fictional train taking Harry Potter to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has issued a “prohibition notice” preventing WCR from running trains. It comes nearly a year after the firm received a “suspension notice” from the ORR, which temporarily halted its operations. That was triggered by a WCR steam locomotive running through a red light to cross the Great Western main line in Wiltshire less than one minute after an express train had passed.
The ORR said a “catastrophic” incident nearly occurred.
WCR and the driver involved face criminal charges.
The firm was allowed to resume operations in time for the start of the Jacobite service last May.
However, the ORR’s latest move follows seven further incidents, including a train hitting the buffers at Weymouth in Dorset. It has ordered far-reaching improvements.
HM Chief Inspector of Railways Ian Prosser said WCR’s failings “create a significant risk to operations on the mainline network”.
Nigel Harris, managing editor of RAIL magazine, said: “It could not be more of a mess.
“The ORR prohibition notice could not be more damning.”
WCR spokesman David Pitts said: “Certain improvements and a strengthening of the company management structure to create a more robust reporting and communication channel form part of the requirements placed on WCR by the ORR. WCR fully acknowledge the need for improvement.
“WCR do not envisage any disruption to the world- famous Jacobite service, starting on 9 May, giving WCR 11 weeks to address all issues.”