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The recent controversial overnight halt atop Glenfinnan Viaduct by a millionaire’s classic diesel-electric hauled train was a ‘one-off’ with no firm plans for further visits, Network Rail has informed MSP Kate Forbes.
Christened the West Highlander, the train, hauled by two Class 37 diesel-electric engine locomotives – which first entered service in 1960 – is operated by Crewe-based Locomotive Services Ltd.
It is owned by multi-millionaire investment tycoon and one of Britain’s biggest classic steam and diesel train owners Jeremy Hosking.
The company’s managing director, Tony Bush, told the Lochaber Times last week that the company was looking at running the Class 37-hauled trains on the West Highland Line in the summer.
Mr Hosking was aboard the West Highlander and Mr Bush told the Lochaber Times the reason for the trip was to train drivers and test new equipment.
The overnight stop on the viaduct was due to a number of customers apparently expressing an interest in travelling from London on a sleeper service, staying on the train and perhaps spending one night on the train on the viaduct.
On being contacted by a number of residents of Glenfinnan at the time of the visit, Ms Forbes said coming when it did, during the coronavirus lockdown, sent out the completely wrong signal and undermined efforts north and south of the border to ‘stay home and stay safe’.
However, since then, Network Rail has been in touch with Ms Forbes to provide further information about the visit of the West Highlander.
The organisation told her that the visit was to allow the operators LSL to ‘understand the functionality of that train’ for future excursions and to test the capacity of the water tank for toilets and cooking.
The spokesperson for Network Rail also told Ms Forbes she understood the police had been alerted to the fact that the train had been at Glenfinnan and were in attendance at Fort William station when the train arrived.
She added:’ Everything checked out and there were no certified breaches of Covid regulations and the police left the train and no further action was taken. There are no firm plans currently for any future services and the stabling of the train on the viaduct was a ‘one off’.
Giving her reaction this week, Ms Forbes told the Lochaber Times: ‘Whilst I completely understand why another train operator is exploring whether it can provide another service on the magical ‘Harry Potter Line’, it does strike me as odd that a train has to go all of the way from the south of England to the West Highlands during a pandemic to ‘test the capacity of its water tank’.
‘Whilst not a train expert, I would have presumed such a test could have taken place much closer to home.
‘Given the number of complaints I received about the noise of the two diesel engines echoing around Glenfinnan, I think residents will be relieved to hear from Network Rail that this was a ‘one-off’.
‘I recognise the existing steam train service brings a significant number of visitors to Fort William and Mallaig, which is great for local businesses, and I would encourage any potential operators considering this route to work with local communities.’
The special train belonging to Jeremy Hosking pulls into Fort William station during a visit to the West Highland Line this month that proved controversial. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, The Write Image.
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