Inquiries are under way after a train derailed following a landslide on the West Highland Line – forcing the railway to close for “several days.”
ScotRail said five passengers were on board when the train struck mud and stone and came off the track between Lochailort and Glenfinnan, by Loch Eilt, yesterday morning.
No one was injured, but it is understood that one of those on board was a pregnant woman who suffers from asthma who had a panic attack amid the chaos. The passengers were collected by a specially adapted Landrover which can go on rail tracks.
As well as being an essential, the route is world-famous as the Harry Potter line, used by the Hogwarts Express train in the blockbuster films.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “The rail line between Fort William and Mallaig will remain closed for several days as engineers work to repair damage caused by a landslip near Glenfinnan.
“Tonnes of stone and mud has been deposited on the track after the mountainside above the railway gave way overnight on Sunday into Monday.
“Work to clear the landslip from the line will only begin once engineers have completed checks, including aerial inspections, to ensure the slope above the railway is stable.”
The spokesman said Network Rail spends about £20 million a year on earthworks and drainage and regularly inspects known landslip hot spots.
He added that the national rail operator is also exploring the possibility of using acoustic monitoring systems as a way of getting an early warning of movement in some locations.
Trains between Mallaig and Glasgow Queen Street were disrupted all of yesterday after the 6.03am service from Mallaig was trapped by the landslide at about 6.50am.
A replacement bus service, operated by Shiel Buses, was put in place between Fort William and Mallaig, replacing train services for the rest of the day. Replacement buses will continue this week to keep passengers moving between Fort William and Mallaig.
The incident follows a challenging spell for railway crews, who have been kept busy clearing away snow across the region. The recent wintry conditions were followed by an overnight thaw and rain.
Checks are still being done to establish the exact circumstances leading up to the derailment.
David Dickson, ScotRail Alliance infrastructure director, said: “Our engineers are on-site assessing the damage and working to put plans in place to repair to the line.
“We will reopen the railway as soon as possible but significant work is required to clear the line and stabilise the slope above.
“We are grateful to customers for their patience during the disruption.”
After the incident yesterday one woman, Geraldine Marshall, posted on Twitter: “How long are they going to take? My daughter was on the train and took a panic attack and is standing on the track, terrified of going back on the train. She is also asthmatic and pregnant.”
A ScotRail spokesman said: “We understand how shaken up those on the train will have been by this incident. Our staff worked tirelessly to ensure that all five passengers were helped off the train as quickly and as safely as possible.”