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‘What next – handrails up Ben Nevis?’: Fury at ‘Hogwarts Express’ slam door ruling

West Coast Railway says it's "exploring all options" as the operator is faced with a hefty bill to upgrade locking systems on its trains.

Hogwart's Express on the Glenfinnan Viaduct
Glenfinnan viaduct. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson.

The loss of a legal challenge by the operators of the Jacobite steam train has been described as an “absolute tragedy” for Lochaber tourism.

Earlier today, the High Court of Judiciary ruled that carriages on the Jacobite – known popularly as the ‘Hogwart’s Express’ – and Flying Scotsman trains must have central locking systems.

Operator the West Coast Railway Company Ltd (WCRCL) had taken legal action against the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) after it refused to exempt the company from rules banning the use of hinged doors without central locking earlier this year.

The company 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.

But judge, Mrs Justice Thornton, said that almost all other heritage train operators had accepted the requirement to install central locking, passing on the cost to customers – and that WCRCL would need to do the same.

The ORR has said it is willing to allow a transition period for retrofitting.

Hogwarts Express is viewed by thousans of people every day.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct between Fortwilliam and Mallaig as the Jacobite Express steam train makes its first run of the season after Covid. Image: Sandy McCook.

‘This presents a significant financial challenge’

The news has been met with disappointment, not least from the operator.

Spokesman James Shuttleworth said: “We will now reflect and consider options to enable us to continue running safe services enjoyed by so many visitors from the UK and around the world, upon which local businesses along our routes rely.

“We are committed to working with the Office of Rail and Road to find a long-term solution which safeguards the future of heritage services on the main line.”

He continued: “Our operational experience tells us that our safety measures: a steward for every four doors, with secondary locks and monitoring, a train manager and a guard, guarantee the safety of our passengers and colleagues.

“The ORR’s decision to revoke our exemption would require us to install a modern safety system on carriages from a different era.

“The estimated cost of £7m would be an extraordinary investment and would present a significant financial challenge for WCR.”

Cost of fitting modern doors would ‘wipe out profits’

West Coast Railways had previously warned that the cost could wipe out the operator’s profits for close to a decade.

Mr Shuttleworth continued: “Fulfilling our commitments to customers and the businesses that depend on our operations is paramount for us.

“Our Jacobite service alone boosts the local economies of Mallaig and Fort William, bringing an estimated £20million into the UK’s tourism sector.

“If WCR’s exemption to operate on the main line is revoked permanently, this would lead to £50million in lost value to both local and national communities.

“That is why it is essential that we explore all options to protect our operations on the main line, whether through an appeal or other measures.”

Angus MacDonald, Highland Councillor, Liberal Democrat Westminster candidate
Angus MacDonald says health and safety has gone too far. Image: Supplied.

‘This is not the outcome we were hoping for’

Councillor Angus MacDonald, who represents Lochaber, said: “The Jacobite is a crucial contributor to the Fort William and Mallaig economy.

“Visitors from all over the world come to Lochaber to travel on and admire our train.

“This is an absolute tragedy.

“So many people will be hugely disappointed and appalled with this decision.

“What next, handrails for walkers up Ben Nevis and all swimmers required to wear life jackets?”

Kate Forbes MSP said: “This is not the outcome West Coast Railway was hoping for, and the ball is in their court as to their next steps.

“The Jacobite is hugely important for Mallaig as well as Glenfinnan and Fort William.”