Jacobite journeys across Scotland’s Glenfinnan Viaduct are in jeopardy next year.
The ‘Hogwarts Express’ train – one of the most iconic rail experiences in the UK – is facing trouble down the line.
The traditional train that takes Harry Potter and co to school is known as the Jacobite Steam Train. And, in the muggle world, operators West Coast Railways (WCR) have to abide by some strict safety regulations.
WCR’s old Jacobite locomotive falls foul of the Office of Rail and Road (ORR)’s door-locking rules. The British rail system regulator says central locking systems should be fitted to carriage doors – an upgrade that the company complains would be too costly.
It could mean that Jacobite journeys across the stunning Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland are unavailable from March next year.
Timeline of the Jacobite’s legal troubles
It’s been an ongoing saga. The ORR previously provided two 10-year exemptions to the rules about how carriage doors were locked, which expired in March 2023.
After an inspection in July, the regulator found that problems with the secondary door locks were putting passengers “at risk of serious personal injury.” It also said that stewards were not stopping people from leaning on doors or hanging out of open windows while the train was moving.
But the ORR granted the Jacobite a temporary exemption in August. That reprieve expired on 30 November, and the operator has been given another extension until early next year.
The result of a judicial review of the locking system requirement is expected in January, the BBC reports. And the WCR is allowed to keep chugging away until a judgment is handed down or 29 February 2024 – whichever comes first.
The railway company’s commercial manager James Shuttleworth welcomed the further exemption certificate. “However,” he said, “this remains a precarious position to be in, as our long experience and the value we bring to local and national communities hangs in the balance of the court’s decision.”
“We continue to push for the continuance of the UK’s railway heritage for future generations on the main line railway,” he told the national broadcaster.
WCR previously said that new door locking systems would cost it more than €8 million, wiping out ten years of profits.
Can you still buy tickets for the Hogwarts Express train?
With breathtaking views over Loch Shiel, the 21-arched Glenfinnan Viaduct in Inverness-shire is undoubtedly the most iconic portion of the West Highland Line.
But the Jacobite’s 84-mile (135km) round trip from Fort William to Mallaig takes in plenty of other impressive sites too – from Britain’s highest mountain (Ben Nevis) to its deepest freshwater lake (Loch Morar).
Around 750 people per day travel to the end of the line in peak season. While many others prefer to be in trainspotter mode, travelling to the area to watch it steam past.
Despite its uncertain future, tickets are on sale for the train’s 2024 season, which is due to start on 24 March.
A standard adult day return is priced at £65 (€76), with a more expensive compartment option costing £398 (€464).