Hardly magic for rail workers as Jacobite train releases sewage onto line

The Jacobite steam train draws tens of thousands of visitors each year to Glenfinnan to see it cross the famous viaduct. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, The Write Image. NO F26 jacobite steam train 01
The Jacobite steam train, which draws tens of thousands of visitors each year to Glenfinnan to see it cross the famous viaduct. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, The Write Image. NO F26 jacobite steam train 01

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Unfortunately for rail workers, the Jacobite steam train, made famous as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films, is not holding onto its chamber of secrets due to rules which still permit the locomotive to release raw sewage onto the tracks as it passes through Lochaber.

Scottish union bosses this week blasted the exemption which still allows the practice to continue for another two years as the Jacobite travels along the West Highland Line.

ScotRail, which operates the normal regular daily scheduled services along the West Highland Line, no longer continues this practice after the last nine remaining carriages which sprayed sewage onto rail tracks were removed from service at the end of March.

Fort William station. NO F47 Fort rail station
Scot Rail trains, such as this one pictured in Fort William railway station, no longer dump sewage onto the line.

However, operators of what are classed as ‘heritage’ carriages, such as those hauled by the Jacobite, have a dispensation that allows the practice to continue until 2023.

The issue was raised at a recent meeting of Kilmallie Community Council, when deputy chairman John Hutchison, who chaired the session, said the lack of effluent tanks on the Jacobite, had come up at a meeting of the new Loch Linnhe Alliance which is attended by a number of local community councils.

‘I understand the Jacobite steam train operator has an  intent to install effluent tanks but no one seems to know when they are going to be doing it or whether there is an environmental deadline by when they should be doing it,’ said Mr Hutchison.

Responding, Caol and Mallaig councillor, Denis Rixson, said Jacobite operator, West Coast Railways (WCR), had a dispensation concerning the fitting of the tanks.

Denis Rixson is a Lib Dems councillor who currently represents Caol and Mallaig on The Highland Council. NO F48 Denis Rixson
Councillor Denis Rixson

‘In actual fact there are platforms in Arisaig and Glenfinnan, where passengers who wish to board a train may have to cross to the platform. If a train is at platform and stationary and the toilet is flushed effluent will go onto the tracks and people will have to walk across that. At Morar the train actually crosses the road and it is possible for things to go wrong there.

‘Having said that, they do try and close the toilet doors on approaching Mallaig and in Fort William as well, and restrict access to the toilet at those stages. They didn’t stop at all at Glenfinnan and Arisaig in the summer.’

He continued: ‘I think it is extremely unsatisfactory. But we can’t force them to because it’s something which they have undertaken to do but still have a timeframe within which to do that. My view would be the sooner the better.’

Mick Hogg, spokesperson for the RMT rail union in Scotland, called it ‘disgusting’ that such practices were still continuing in the 21st century.

‘Charter trains like these use old rolling stock that might be 50 or 60 years old, but I still don’t think it’s acceptable in this day and age that all trains don’t have tanks fitted by now,’ Mr Hogg told the Lochaber Times this week.

A spokesman for WCR, which normally runs the Jacobite service between Fort William and Mallaig from Easter until October, explained: ‘We appreciate that there is a problem with the vintage carriages that we use on the Jacobite – but you must remember they were built in a different era.

‘That’s why the Government has given a special dispensation until 2023 for heritage railway like ours to bring trains up to modern-day standards without detracting from their historic appearance

‘Nevertheless, maintenance teams at our Carnforth depot have been working extremely hard to fit retention tanks to all the carriage lavatories.

‘That work is still continuing and we are confident it will be finished well in advance of the Government’s deadline.

‘In fact we had hoped that all our carriages would have been fitted with retention tanks before this season starts.

‘Because of Covid, that may not now be possible. But rest assured we will do our best and if necessary the work will continue during summer.’