‘Harry Potter’ steam train departure from Lochaber shrouded in secrecy

NO F29 JACOBITE PREPARATIONS 01 Photograph: iain Ferguson, alba.photos
The Jacobite steam train, seen here earlier this year at the Fort William depot, will head back south next month under a cloak of secrecy due to concerns about coronavirus. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F29 JACOBITE PREPARATIONS 01

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Bosses of the ‘Harry Potter’ steam train have been sworn to secrecy over timings and the route it will take when it heads back to their Lancashire headquarters next month because of Covid-19.

Rail regulators were apparently furious when crowds of trainspotters and railway enthusiasts packed stations at Helensburgh, Westerton and Dalmuir to watch the train travelling up to Fort William last month.

Not only were there fears that excited spectators could accidentally fall on to the tracks, but videos posted on YouTube showed few people wore masks or kept social distancing.

One person posted on Facebook: ‘I cannot believe the stupidity of these people all for the sake of a Harry Potter train.’

Another fumed: ‘We are meant to be social distancing and none of this is happening whatsoever for a train. This is shameful, disgusting and very disappointing.’

Now officials from the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) have asked operators West Coast Railways (WCR) not to reveal when the real-life Jacobite train will be returning to its Carnforth base.

In statement, an ORR spokesman said: ‘It is always a concern to see crowds gathered on platforms and stations, which may have to be closed if they become excessively crowded.

‘Operators must work together to try and avoid scenes such as those in Scotland and one way of controlling overcrowding is to avoid publishing running times.’

The Jacobite route between Fort William and Mallaig over the spectacular Glenfinnan Viaduct is regularly voted one of the world’s greatest railway journeys.

And it became even more famous when the steam train starred as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies.

The train normally only operates during the summer months but the start was delayed this year because of Covid-19.

However, such was the demand for tickets, especially after it featured on Channel 4’s Scotland’s Scenic Railways, that the twice-daily service has been extended until November 13.

WCR told us: ‘The Jacobite steam train is always very popular with railway enthusiasts and families.

‘Crowds of people do tend to turn out to watch as it travels to and from Scotland and normally we would be delighted.

‘But we are very conscious of fears about safety and our responsibilities to the community, especially with social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘So, in view of the scenes last month, we will not be revealing which day or what time the train is returning to Carnforth.  Nor will we be publishing the route it will take.’