Harry Potter steam train back on track – but booked passengers at risk of losing seats

By John Mercury April 12, 2024

A steam train service made famous by Harry Potter will be back up and running next week after it was suspended pending a safety ruling.

The Jacobite train service through the Highlands was brought to a halt last month while it awaits a ruling from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) on whether it can continue to operate with hinged-door carriages.

Operator West Coast Railways (WCR) had warned the suspension could cost up to £50m in lost value.

The Jacobite train featured in the 2002 film Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets and is sometimes known as the Hogwarts Express in a nod to JK Rowling’s franchise.

The service has operated for more than 30 years under an exemption that allows it to run with hinged-door carriages on the main lines, which is typically not allowed.

Pic: PA
Pic: PA

WCR has applied to renew the exemption, and made a request for temporary permission to operate while the ORR makes its decision.

In an update on Friday, WCR confirmed it is continuing to engage with the ORR and Department for Transport as it seeks the temporary exemption to be able to run its full heritage carriages.

However, a fleet of carriages which complies with the safety rules has now been prepared to allow the service to resume on Monday – although it will run at a “reduced capacity”, which could affect passengers who previously booked.

A statement read: “We are delighted to announce that our world-famous Jacobite service is back up and running, starting on Monday 15 April.

“The team has done an exceptional job in getting a fleet of carriages ready to kick-start our 2024 season…

“As our trains will be slightly shorter, with a reduced capacity, this means that unfortunately we might not be able to accommodate all passengers who initially booked.”

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Customers affected will be contacted “over the coming days” with available options, including the opportunity to re-book their trip.

WCR previously lost a High Court challenge against the ORR over the safety of doors on its carriages in December.

The company had complained that the multimillion-pound cost of having to retrofit central locking could “destroy” its business and argued its door systems were just as safe.

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However, a judge dismissed the operator’s case and concluded the ORR had taken a “justifiable” approach.

The service takes tourists from Fort William to Mallaig, including over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct.

WCR added: “We look forward to welcoming passengers on board.”


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