‘Hogwarts Express’ Harry Potter Jacobite steam train could be saved with new carriages to comply with safety law

West Coast Railways considering drafting in coaches with central door locking for Fort William-Mallaig route

The operator of the Hogwarts Express-style Jacobite steam train in the Highlands is considering switching its carriages to avert a threat to the service after losing a court battle over safety, The Scotsman has learned.

However, another heritage rail firm has blasted West Coast Railways (WCR) for “deliberate and calculated non-compliance” with an official directive that coaches must have central door locking, which The Jacobite’s operator unsuccessfully challenged.

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WCR had warned that if it lost the case there would be a “very serious threat” to the summer excursions between Fort William and Mallaig, which are due to re-start in fewer than seven weeks’ time on March 28, having run for 40 years. It said the £7 million cost of upgrading its entire fleet would make the company unviable.

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)

But WCR has now told The Scotsman the service could continue using a different set of its carriages which has central door locking, or with the safety feature added to the existing coaches.

A spokesperson said: ‘WCR is considering a range of options, including evaluating the feasibility, costs and timescales for fitting central door locking, running passenger services with carriages already fitted with it, as well as systems for operating without it. These considerations are ongoing, and no concrete plan has been agreed yet.

"We will work hard to minimise disruption to customers and are confident we will be able to deliver the incredible experience of safe steam travel without compromising the magic of running heritage locomotives on the mainline this year.”

Another heritage operator, which has installed central door locking, expressed anger at WCR for not doing the same.

The Jacobite passing Lochailort en route to Mallaig at the start of its 2022 season. (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA)The Jacobite passing Lochailort en route to Mallaig at the start of its 2022 season. (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA)
The Jacobite passing Lochailort en route to Mallaig at the start of its 2022 season. (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA)

Locomotive Services Limited Group chairman Jeremy Hosking said: "By its deliberate and calculated non-compliance, WCR has created an unlevel playing field whereby a dissenting firm enjoys a consequential competitive advantage over more responsible operators."

Last year, the Office of Rail and Road regulator twice halted Jacobite services after spot checks found safety failings, believed to be doors not being guarded by stewards, which was a condition of a temporary exemption from the central locking regulation.

WCR did not provide a response to a claim that it might seek a further exemption, including by running services at low speeds of around 25mph, although that might delay other trains on the single-track route.

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The company’s spokesperson said the firm was “continuing to work collaboratively with the regulator to find a solution to our current dispute”.

An ORR spokesperson said: “We can confirm that a meeting was held with WCR. If an application for a Regulation 5 exemption [over hinged doors] is made, it will be assessed in accordance with our published policy.”

Doug Carmichael, chairman of Friends of The West Highland Lines, said: “We sincerely hope that WCR will be able to not only fit the required new door equipment to some of their coaches, but also be able to lease coaches which have a suitable locking system compatible with the steam engines which pull The Jacobite – the most popular steam-hauled service in the UK.

“With reportedly hundreds of advanced bookings already filling its trains for the upcoming season, the company will have to act quickly to keep the famous train running on the equally-renowned West Highland Line.”



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