A thousand passengers a day booking summer tickets says Jacobite steam train operator

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 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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The operator of the Jacobite steam train this week said the easing of lockdown restrictions had seen passenger ticket sales soar to a thousand a day for summer trips along the West Highland Line between Fort William and Mallaig.

The trip, starting in the shadow of Ben Nevis and crossing the 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct, has been voted the world’s greatest rail journey.

While Lord of the Isles hauled the first train of the new season on Monday morning, the Black 5 locomotive, Lancashire Fusilier pulled the afternoon service.

The Jacobite will run twice a day between Fort William and Mallaig until October.

But there was nearly a bit of a first day disaster on Monday when a fortnight of dry weather had seen vegetation growing alongside the 42-mile route become tinderbox dry.

Worried bosses of the Jacobite  – which doubled as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies – planned to replace 72-year-old locomotive Lord of the Isles with a diesel engine.

And there were fears that a stray spark from the steam loco’s roaring firebox could start a massive wildfire.

But just hours before the train’s scheduled 10.15am departure on Monday, as if by magic the heavens opened.

So Lord of the Isles, a former London and North Eastern locomotive built at Glasgow in 1949, could pull the train after all.

‘The rain was just the ticket,’ said happy Pat Marshall, managing director of operators West Coast Railways. ‘Never in my life have I been so glad to see such a downpour.

‘Monday was our first day back after the Covid lockdown and we knew it would be a big disappointment for passengers if we had to cancel the steam running.

‘Perhaps good old Harry Potter weaved a bit of magic to save the day and keep us on track!’