Harry Potter and the health and safety breach: 'Hogwarts Express' train service suspended

21 March 2024, 08:39 | Updated: 21 March 2024, 08:47

Hig
Passengers will be offered a full refund. Picture: Alamy

By Flaminia Luck

A steam train made famous by the Harry Potter film series has been suspended pending a safety ruling over its doors.

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The Jacobite train service is awaiting a verdict on whether it can continue operating in its current state.

The railway is often known as the "Hogwarts Express", a nod to the train in the fictional series which takes pupils from London King's Cross station to the magical school in the Scottish Highlands.

West Coast Railways (WCR) has had to suspend the service as it awaits a ruling from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) on whether it can continue to operate with hinged-door carriages.

The suspension of the service could cost up to £50 million in lost value, the operator warned.

Harry Potter train
The operator said the Jacobite service through the Highlands is enjoyed by thousands of customers every year. Picture: Getty

The service takes tourists from Fort William to Mallaig, including over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct.

James Shuttleworth, commercial manager at WCR, has apologised to customers saying they are "disappointed" to have to suspend the service.

"The Jacobite service is enjoyed by thousands of customers every year. It boosts the local economies of Mallaig and Fort William and brings an estimated £20 million into the UK's tourism sector.

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"We again appeal to the ORR to reconsider our request for a temporary exemption.

"If the ORR does not grant us a further exemption, we believe this could lead to up to £50 million in lost value to both local and national communities.

He added WCR remains committed to working with the ORR to find a "long-term solution which safeguards the future of heritage services on the main line".

The fictional train collects students from Platform 9 3/4 at London King's Cross station
The fictional train collects students from Platform 9 3/4 at London King's Cross station. Picture: Getty

The service has operated for more than 30 years under an exemption it allows it to run with hinged-door carriages on the main lines, which is typically not allowed.

WCR has submitted an application to renew the exemption, and made a request for a temporary exemption to operate while the ORR makes its decision. WCR lost a High Court challenge against the ORR over the safety of doors on its carriages in December.

The company had complained that the multimillion-pound cost of having to retrofit central locking could "destroy" its business and it argued its door systems were just as safe.

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However, a judge dismissed the operator's case and concluded the ORR had taken a "justifiable" approach.

An ORR spokesperson said heritage operators, including WCR, were told "several years ago" in order to operate after March 2023, they must either have central door locking, as opposed to hinged-door carriages, or would need an exemption.

They added they were were "disappointed" WCR appears not to have made "sensible contingency plans for the benefit of their customers."

The spokesperson added: "WCR's application for an exemption failed and they made a claim for judicial review.

"A temporary exemption was granted in order to maintain the status quo, enabling WCR to operate whilst the litigation reached a conclusion.

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"Despite this, WCR chose to sell tickets when it was far from certain that a new application for an exemption would be granted, either in time for the commencement of services or at all."

They added they are assessing an exemption application submitted on 8 March.

Passengers with bookings for the Jacobite will be offered a full refund.

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