ScotRail steam train operator has permit suspended

STEAM train plans by new ScotRail firm Abellio were thrown into disarray today after the intended operator was banned from the tracks.
The Jacobite steam train  near Lochailort. Picture: TSPLThe Jacobite steam train  near Lochailort. Picture: TSPL
The Jacobite steam train near Lochailort. Picture: TSPL

West Coast Railways (WCR) was barred from operating anywhere in Britain by track owner Network Rail until it makes a series of improvements.

The move came after WCR caused the most serious case this year of a train running through a red light.

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It also puts in doubt the launch of WCR’s flagship Jacobite steam service between Fort William and Mallaig next month, which has been running for 20 years.

Abellio, which took over ScotRail on Wednesday, plans to run steam trains on five lines this year, including on the Borders Railway when in opens in September.

Services would also operate between Stirling and Inverness, Inverness-Dunrobin Castle, Glasgow-Fort William and Glasgow-Carlisle from mid-summer.

A ScotRail spokeswoman said tonight: “We are aware that WCR’s track access licence has been suspended on safety grounds.

“WCR was ScotRail’s preferred supplier for its programme of steam services this summer.

“Safety is ScotRail’s highest priority so we are currently exploring the circumstances of the suspension and options for the delivery of our programme of steam services this summer, and will update customers as soon as possible.”

A WCR train passed a signal at danger at Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire on 7 March, stopping across a junction on the Great Western main line between London and south Wales.

Rail industry sources said the incident had put hundreds of lives at risk since a potential collision with a First Great Western High Speed Train had been missed by barely a minute.

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The Department for Transport’s rail accident investigation branch, said the train had failed to stop and its crew did not immediately contact signallers.

A Network Rail spokesman said: “We have issued a suspension notice to West Coast Railway Company as a result of ongoing safety concerns.”

A Network Rail letter to the operator stated: “Network Rail has had concerns about WCR’s performance of its safety obligations for some time, and recent events lead Network Rail to believe that the operations of WCR are a threat to the safe operation of the railway.”

WCR has been given until 15 May to make the changes - four days after the Jacobite is due to start its summer season.

It is believed the action is unprecedented and the first network-wide ban since railway privatisation 20 years ago.

A spokesman for WCR said: “We are working hard to reverse the current suspension imposed by Network Rail by fully satisfying their concerns.

“Passengers booked to travel with WCR and on their associated trips should not be concerned.

“If necessary, WCR will charter the service of another licensed operator using the same traditional carriages, and trips will be unaffected.

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“But WCR hope this won’t be necessary and trust any issues will be resolved to the satisfaction of Network Rail.”