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The operator of the Jacobite steam train, which doubled as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies, has accused Lochaber MP Ian Blackford of acting like the famous boy wizard’s sworn enemy Lord Voldemort in a row over bookings during the coronavirus lockdown.
The train’s operator, West Coast Railways (WCR), now says it wants to relaunch its summer service from Fort William to Mallaig on May 25 providing the lockdown has been lifted by then.
Mr Blackford, MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, last week urged WCR to end the practice of advertising and accepting future date bookings on its service whilst lockdown measures are in place.
The train provider came in for furious criticism after it emerged its
website was originally allowing bookings from May 1, despite Government
messages insisting there was no end in sight to travel restrictions.
Mr Blackford said by accepting bookings for future dates, WCR was putting pressure on accommodation providers to accept tourist travel business and sending out the wrong message.
‘Once lockdown has been halted, whenever that may be, there has to be a gradual process to normality. There will still have to be a tight control on travellers moving around the country,’ said the SNP Westminster leader.
‘What can’t happen is there is a loosening of restrictions and we are then flooded with visitors again, which has the potential to flare the issue once more.
‘Companies such as West Coast Railways should be working towards the greater good of society in these difficult times. Instead, its refusal to end this practice is simply adding to the difficulties.’
But WCR slammed Mr Blackford claiming the MP seemed to be trying to stop ‘ordinary working class folk’ booking £36 tickets on the Jacobite, while ignoring ‘champagne-quaffing toffs’ forking out £11,000 to travel over exactly the same route just days later on the Belmond Royal Scotsman on June 5.
The Jacobite spokesman said: ‘Mr Blackford appears to be acting like Harry Potter’s sworn enemy Lord Voldemort in trying to derail the Jacobite, which doubled as the Hogwarts’ Express in the movies.
‘We are astonished he thinks it okay for toffs but not for ordinary working folk. This sounds like a very snobbish approach. Is it official SNP policy to discriminate this way in favour of the rich?’
And he said WCR had promised anyone booking on the Jacobite can have their money refunded if the current lockdown is extended.
The spokesman added: ‘However the welfare of our staff and passengers – along with that of local residents – is our greatest priority and the Jacobite will only run when it is safe to do so.
‘The current three-week lockdown takes us until May 7 and we will make a further announcement then. But hopefully we will be back on track by May 25.’
Meanwhile passengers who have booked on trains before May 25 are being offered the choice of a full refund or a VIP credit voucher for the full amount plus an extra 10 per cent.
The spokesman added WCR had noted Mr Blackford’s ‘delight’ that travel website booking.com was now blocking all accommodation requests in the UK until May 9.
‘We would point out the West Coast Railways website says we hope to start running the Jacobite again from May 25, a fortnight after the date Mr Blackford is ‘delighted’ with.
‘Therefore we cannot understand why he continues trying to paint us villains of the piece. It really does not make sense.’