Jacobite train firm refutes virus allegations

Florence MacLean, Steam Train Manager blows her whistle through a mask. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F33 Jacobite masks 01
Florence MacLean, Steam Train Manager blows her whistle through a mask. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F33 Jacobite masks 01

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The operator of the Jacobite steam train running from Fort William to Mallaig has defended its anti-coronavirus precautions after allegations some of its staff were self-isolating after displaying symptoms of the virus and that social distancing and the use of facemasks are not being adhered to.

West Coast Railways (WCR) issued the statement after the company was contacted by a national newspaper claiming a member of the Jacobite staff had spoken to the paper about the concerns over the lack of coronavirus measures.

Allegations also included claims that toilets and tables aboard the popular service, made famous as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies, were not being cleaned enough.

WCR restarted operation of the 84-mile Jacobite steam service on July 15 but with only a third of the usual complement of 700 passengers on board.

Hitting back at the accusations, WCR has now confirmed it has also lodged a complaint of its own with ScotRail over what it claims has been the behaviour of some of its station staff following reports of an alleged confrontation.

A spokesman for West Coast Railways said: ‘We can categorically deny these allegations. We do not know who made them but they are totally false.

‘However, formal complaints have been made to ScotRail’s head office in Glasgow about the behaviour of some of their station staff.

‘We are not aware of any members of the Jacobite staff self-isolating and certainly nobody has reported testing positive for Covid-19.

‘It is true one member of our catering team has been off sick for a couple of weeks with a sore throat. But she has twice been tested for Covid-19 and both times the results proved negative.

‘Since the Jacobite began running again last month, our staff have been diligent in wearing masks and ensuring that all passengers wear theirs – both while on board the train and while queuing to board at Fort William and Mallaig stations.

‘Staff are also at pains to ensure that passengers stay a safe distance apart at all times. Wherever possible we are issuing electronic tickets to passengers’ mobile phones rather than printing paper tickets.

‘Normally a passenger would only have to show their phone screen to a member of our staff before boarding the train.

‘But you must remember that many of the Jacobite passengers are elderly and some can be forgiven if they are not always au fait with ‘modern technology’.

‘Consequently, it is true that there have been times when staff have had to handle their phone and help them display their tickets.

‘However, our staff then immediately sanitise their hands and passengers are encouraged to use the sanitiser which is widely available both on and off the train.

‘It is not true that we do not take contact detail for track and trace when issuing tickets. Indeed all passengers are given our safety booklet and reminded of social distancing.

‘Passengers are also allocated specific seats, which are carefully spaced out to ensure social distancing, and only family pods are allowed to sit together.

‘If our staff spot passengers trying to use another seat, different to the one they were designated, then they will be politely asked to move. Staff temperatures are also checked every day before their shift starts.

‘Please be assured that West Coast Railways considers safety to be paramount and we are going to great lengths to ensure staff, passengers and member of the local community stay as safe as possible.

‘But it is important that people don’t mistake our staff for those of ScotRail, who are always present on platforms at both stations.

‘Sadly, there have also been some reports of various members of their staff using abusive language both to passengers and our staff.

‘These incidents have now been formally reported to ScotRail head office in Glasgow.’

A ScotRail spokesperson told the Lochaber Times: ‘We’re aware of an alleged confrontation at Fort William station where our staff support West Coast Railways, which is being investigated in conjunction with West Coast Railways.’