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Lord of the Isles, a historic steam locomotive named after the Middle Ages ruler of Scotland’s west coast, is ‘coming home’ to haul the Jacobite Express train when it starts running again later this month following the easing of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
But stringent on-board social distancing and other safety measures mean only around a third of the usual 700 daily passengers will be carried between Fort William and Mallaig starting on Wednesday July 15.
The decision had already been made that the train will not stop at Glenfinnan and there has now been confirmation that it will not halt at Arisaig either when services restart.
A spokesman for operators West Coast Railways said: ‘Hopefully if everything works OK we will slowly be able to increase the number of passengers on our twice-daily service over the summer.
‘But the safety of passengers, train crew and local people remains paramount. So with a reduced number of seats in each carriage, the total will remain far below full capacity for the foreseeable future.’
Lord of the Isles is one of two heritage stream engines which will travel up to Fort William on July 13 hauling the train’s vintage carriages from their base at Carnforth in Lancashire.
Built in Glasgow in 1949, the ‘Peppercorn K1’ locomotive regularly worked the West Highland Line before being withdrawn from service by British Rail in 1967. But it was saved from the scrapheap and restored to its former glory.
The other steam engine pulling the Jacobite this month will be former LMS Black Five ‘Sherwood Forester’, which was built at Newcastle in 1936 to haul passenger and freight trains. That will be replaced by sister locomotive ‘Lancashire Fusilier’ in August.
All passengers will have to wear face masks on board the Jacobite this summer and in order to maintain on-board social distancing, the buffet car will remain closed. Instead there will be a trolley serving refreshments.
The spokesman added: ‘We have been working with Transport Scotland’s Rail Directorate to introduce a raft of safety measures both on board and at the stations.
‘We are confident they will minimise any risk without impinging on people’s enjoyment of what is regarded as one of the most spectacular railway journeys in the world.
‘We are reducing the number of tickets being made available with many seats being taken out of use.
‘Only members of the same family or social pod will be allowed to sit together, and screens will be erected between rows of seats.
‘Extra signs and stewards are planned at both Fort William and Mallaig stations to direct passengers and ensure queuing is both safe and manageable and we have cancelled the normal 20-minute stop at Glenfinnan station.
‘ I am now told that the train will not stop to pick up or put down passengers at Arisaig, so people will only get on and off at Fort William and Mallaig.
‘A comprehensive booklet of all the safety measures is currently being drawn up and we plan to translate this into French, Spanish and German before issuing a copy to every passenger.
‘We know that many people have been keen to see the Jacobite running again and, of course, the tourists it attracts will bring a welcome boost to the local economy after the lockdown.
‘But we are also very aware of our responsibilities, so we plan to open up the service slowly and carefully.’