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Rail passenger numbers have continued to increase at Glenfinnan, despite the start of the lockdown in the spring of this year and the closure of the West Highland Line for several weeks in August of last year due to a landslip.
Recent official figures comparing passenger numbers on the line between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019, to the same period for 2019 to 2020 record that passenger numbers at stations across Lochaber nearly all suffered small drops.
There were exceptions, however, with Glenfinnan witnessing an 11 percent jump from 12,486 to 13,864; Lochailort which witnessed a 2.6 per cent increase from 1,546 to 1,586; Locheilside, which posted a28.3 per cent rise from 396 to 748; Loch Eil Outward Bound, which saw a 35 per cent rise from 554 to 748 and, lastly, Spean bridge, where numbers went up by 5.1 per cent from 2,148 to 1,7770.
But while larger stations such as Fort William and Mallaig both posted percentage falls, passenger numbers still performed reasonably well.
Fort William saw a drop of 12.9 per cent with passenger numbers dropping from 160,418 to 139,722. At Mallaig numbers fell 1.1 per cent, but this still meant 96,414 passengers as opposed to just 116 more in 2018-19.
Lochaber constituency MSP Kate Forbes commented: ‘Timing-wise the annual figures are recorded similar to the financial year, so understandably the impact of Covid on passenger numbers will have been felt over the last few weeks of that period.
‘Most – but not all – train stations across my constituency experienced a slight fall, and that appears to be the general trend across Scotland.
‘There is no doubt that the viaduct is proving as popular as ever, so it’s great that the paths around the Glenfinnan area have been improved so the growing number of visitors can enjoy themselves.
‘It’s still encouraging to see so many people coming through Fort William, and almost 100,000 passengers for Mallaig is not insignificant either – let’s not forget the West Highland Line was shut for a bit in August last year due to a landslip.
‘I hope that when normality returns, we will see further improvements to the West Highland Line – including the arrival of the much-heralded new cycle carriages.’
Elsewhere in this week’s Lochaber Times we report on plans by West Coast Railways to operate its popular Jacobite steam-hauled service seven days a week when the new season starts at Easter.
The Jacobite proved extremely popular during 2019, carrying 85,645 passengers between April 19 and October 25 and operating twice daily during the peak season between May and September of that year.
Covid-19 meant the start of this year’s Fort William to Mallaig service had to be postponed until July 15.
Between then and November 6, social distancing meant the company had to reduce the number of passengers it carried to just 33,079.
‘Obviously this meant a lot of people were disappointed at not being able to travel on the Jacobite,’ a spokesman for WCR told us this week.
‘So next year we are planning for the first time to run seven days a week for the whole season between Good Friday, April 2 and October 29, and twice a day between April 26 and October 1.’