The Jacobite (steam train)
The Jacobite is a steam locomotive-hauled tourist train service that operates over part of the West Highland Railway Line in Scotland. It has been operating under various names and with different operators every summer since 1984. It has played an important role in sustaining a scenic but otherwise remote and unprofitable route.
The Mallaig Extension of the West Highland Railway opened in 1901 and was operated by the North British Railway. It was intended to help open up this rural and remote part of the Scottish Atlantic coast, and the building of the line was heavily subsidised by the British Government. It became part of the London and North Eastern Railway at the Grouping in 1923, and British Railways at Nationalisation in 1948.
Regular steam services over the West Highland Line were withdrawn in 1967, in line with the British Rail Modernisation Plan which outlined the replacement of all steam locomotives with more efficient and reliable diesel locomotives.
In 1984, British Rail re-introduced a steam-hauled service over part of the line, in an effort to encourage tourism and boost income on the heavily subsidised line. Called the "West Highlander", it proved so successful that it was continued for subsequent years. It was later renamed "The Lochaber".
In 1995 following the privatisation of British Rail, the operating licence for the West Highlander trains was granted to the West Coast Railway Company, and they began operating the service that summer under the new name of "The Jacobite" (after the historic Jacobite political movement which has many local connections).
The daily service departs Fort William at 10.15am and arrives at Mallaig at 12.25pm. The Return from Mallaig departs at 2.10pm arriving back into Fort William at 4pm. The service crosses the additional afternoon train at Glenfinnan on Mondays to Fridays and this is the only regular crossing of two steam services passing each other on the national network.
In 2011, for the first time, train operator West Coast Railway Company added a second daily Jacobite service from Fort William to Mallaig due to demand, using Ian Riley's Black 5 44871 and a spare set of coaches that were formerly used for "The Cambrian". The additional service departs Fort William at 2.30pm with an arrival time back in Fort William of 8.24pm and runs from June to August, Monday to Friday.
The future of the Jacobite service was thrown into doubt in 2015 by the complete suspension of West Coast Railways' train operating company licence, meaning that they are currently banned from operating any trains on Network Rail tracks, including the Jacobite. The ban is scheduled to expire on 15 May, meaning that the first four Jacobite journeys of the year would have to be cancelled unless a new operator can step in. If West Coast Railways fail to meet a series of seven strict guidelines by 15 May then the ban will be extended indefinitely, until the guidelines are met; an extension of the ban beyond 15 May would place much more doubt into the future of the Jacobite and West Coast Railways as a whole.
The Jacobite runs a distance of 41 miles between Fort William and Mallaig, passing through an area of great scenic beauty including alongside Loch Eil, Glenfinnan Viaduct and Arisaig. Trains cross with regular service trains at Glenfinnan station.
The route is also the same shown in the Harry Potter films. The company running the Jacobite service provided Warner Brothers with the train used as the Hogwarts Express in all of the movies and allowed them use of the Jacobite's route for filming.
Locomotives and rolling stock
Various steam locomotives have been used to haul the service over the years, mostly of types that would have been used on the route in pre-1967 steam days, including:
- LNER Gresley Class K4 2-6-0 No. 61994 The Great Marquess; designed specially for the route in the 1930s.
- LNER Peppercorn Class K1 2-6-0 No. 62005 Lord of the Isles; a 1940s development of the K4 design.
- LMS Stanier Class 5 4-6-0; known as the "Black Fives".
For 2014, the locomotives for the main service are either Ian Riley's LMS Black 5 44871 or 45407 The Lancashire Fusilier, plus LNER K1 62005 Lord of the Isles or Bert Hitchen's LMS Black 5 45231 The Sherwood Forester. From 2 June one of these locomotives will be in charge of the additional afternoon service until 29 August.
The carriages have all been of the British Railways Mark 1 type, initially owned by British Rail and painted blue and grey, but now owned by WCRC and painted in an approximation of British Rail Maroon with vacuum brakes. For the afternoon service an air braked set of British Railways Mark 2 carriages are also based in Fort William.
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