News & Reviews News Wire Scotland’s ‘Harry Potter’ train to restart operations

Scotland’s ‘Harry Potter’ train to restart operations

By Keith Fender | April 12, 2024

Operator West Coast Railway to use newer railcars meeting safety regulations

Email Newsletter

Get the newest photos, videos, stories, and more from brands. Sign-up for email today!

Steam-powered passenger train in UK on curved trestle
The Jacobite crosses the famed Glenfinnan Viaduct with Class 5MT 4-6-0 locomotive 44871 (built by the London Midland & Scottish Railway at its Crewe shops in 1945) in September 2023. The train, which had suspended service because of a lack of certification for the older-style cars shown here, will  resume operation using new railcars that meet safety reguations. Keith Fender

The “Jacobite” or “Harry Potter” steam train, running from Fort William in the Scottish Highlands, will resume operations as of Monday, April 15, operator West Coast Railway announced today.

Initially, the train will operate just once a day, instead of the two daily trips planned previously.

The train has been subject of a long-running debate between the private company and the British rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road, over the safety systems fitted to WCR’s older ex-British Rail passenger cars. WCR’s failure to equip the cars with centralized door-locking systems led the ORR to withdraw permission to use those cars, pending addition of such locking. This followed WCR’s loss in a court case against the regulator [see “Operator of Scotland’s ‘Harry Potter’ train loses in court …,” Trains News Wire, Dec. 24, 2023].

In March, WCR announced it would suspend the service just days before the seasonal operation was set to begin [see “Scotland’s ‘Harry Potter’ train suspends operations,” News Wire, March 27, 2024]. Simultaneously, the company began a PR campaign pressing for a rule exemption in the Scottish towns served by the train. Many of these, like Mallaig, the service’s northern terminus, have hundreds of tourist-related jobs and small businesses reliant on those who ride the train or visit just to see it, especially at the famed Glenfinnan viaduct. WCR also lobbied members of the British parliament and the minister responsible for the railway industry, asking for the regulator’s decision to be overruled.

But the company has now announced it will use more modern air-conditioned cars already fitted with the central door-locking system, rather than the older cars used in the Harry Potter films, as well as on the Jacobite train until 2023. While WCR says it plans to reintroduce the older cars, crucially, this depends upon the regulator giving the company a new exemption. ORR has already refused to do so, and without political intervention changing the legislation, it is likely to continue to refuse.

WCR’s apparent change of tack followed another charter-train operator starting a tourist service on the same route in early April, timed for Easter vacations. This service, using a heritage diesel locomotive and cars that comply with the safety rules, was substantially cheaper than the steam-hauled Jacobite and clearly represented a serious threat to WCR’s operation.

WCR says any passengers with bookings for this year should contact the company to rebook on a first-come, first-served basis, as the train being used as of April 15 has less capacity than the previous equipment.

British train with steam locomotive at station.
The Jacobite train, with 4-6-0 locomotive Black Five, No. 45212, in Mallag, Scotland, on Sept. 27, 2023. Mallaig, the end of the line for the Jacobite, has a large number of tourism-related businesses that would suffer without the train. Keith Fender

4 thoughts on “Scotland’s ‘Harry Potter’ train to restart operations

  1. The train ride from Glasgow to Fort William and on to Mallaig is absolutely beautiful. If you’re in Scotland try to take it. From Mallaig there’s a ferry to the Isle of Skye where you can (call ahead, especially in August, bus service is spotty in the summer) take a cab to Kyle of Lochalsh and then take the train to Inverness.

  2. You’re right. Who give a fig about safety. All those other heritage car operators in Britain that managed to comply with the safety regs are simply toady’s to the government, right?

    1. Have to disagree with you John, this company has been given more then enough leeway to comply with the same safety requirements that other operators in the sector have already complied with. Only when their market share is threatened by one of those competitors did they feel the need to capitulate.

You must login to submit a comment