The cancellation of the winter service of the hugely popular Harry Potter train for maintenance has been slammed.
Rail bosses are blaming the hot weather that saw a huge spike in demand for so-called “staycations” – but it now looks like it will deliver a major blow to winter tourism.
The Jacobite Steam Train service which runs from Fort William to Mallaig for fans of the Boy Wizard already had close to 1,000 reservations.
But due to wear and tear to the wheels during the unseasonable long and hot dry spell the train now needs more maintenance than normal.
West Coast Railways, which runs the train, confirmed they would not be able to conclude the servicing in time for the start of the winter.
The hugely successful trial period last December carried more than 3,600 people and now visitor numbers will be reduced at a time of year the hospitality industry can least afford.
Local Councillor Allan Henderson believes the impact will be wider than just Mallaig, with many if not most using the line staying in the wider Fort William and Lochaber area.
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He said: “My initial reaction was that it is such a pity that it has happened after the first trial period last year that was a great success.
“But it is not just about Mallaig which relies on the pocket spend because most people just visit for the day because it is quite expensive.”
He added: “It could be that guest houses and hotels in Fort William will also be hurt by this – it has a knock-on effect for the whole area.”
The chairman of Friends of the West Highland Lines, Doug Carmichael, said: “The thrill for many of seeing and hearing a steam locomotive tackling the snow-covered gradients of Britain’s best-loved scenic train journey will be sorely missed this year.”
Mr Henderson said: “I understand the reason for it. People don’t think about trains having tyres that sometimes need to be changed – it is a safety factor.”
He defended the service saying “Harry Potter certainly weaved its spell and I would go so far as to say that the train was saviour of the West Highland Line.”
A West Coast Railways spokesman said: “The hot weather forced the decision. We usually turn tyres twice in a season. This year, it will be four, possibly five times, due to the heat and compression. A tyre turn requires every coach to return to Carnforth [in Lancashire], then be shipped back for operation.
“It’s likely the last change will be very close to the end of the season, not allowing us enough time to return for the winter programme. We apologise to passengers who have booked .They will receive a refund in full.”