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The Jacobite (steam train)

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The Jacobite
The Jacobite arriving at Mallaig railway station
First service1984 (1984)
Current operator(s)West Coast Railways
TerminiFort William
Distance travelled41 mi (66 km)
Average journey time6 hours[1]
Service frequency2 round trip services per day from April through October
Line(s) usedWest Highland Line
Rolling stockMark I carriages
The Jacobite approaching Beasdale station

The Jacobite is a steam locomotive-hauled tourist train service that operates over part of the West Highland 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 route.



The Mallaig Extension of the West Highland Line 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Regular steam services over the West Highland Line were withdrawn in 1967, in line with the British Rail Modernisation Plan which outlined the replacement of all steam locomotives with more efficient and reliable diesel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, ScotRail 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 successful and continued in subsequent years. It was later renamed The Lochaber.

The Jacobite at Fort William station

In 1995 following the privatisation of British Rail, the operating licence for the West Highlander trains was granted to West Coast Railways (WCR), 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).[2]

The daily service departs Fort William at 10:15 and arrives at Mallaig at 12:25. The return from Mallaig departs at 14:10 arriving back into Fort William at 16:00.[3] 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, WCR added a second daily The Jacobite 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 14:30 with an arrival time back in Fort William of 20:30 and runs from June to August, Monday to Friday.[3]

The future of The Jacobite was thrown into doubt in 2015 by the complete suspension of West Coast Railways' train operating company licence. The ban was lifted on 8 May 2015, allowing the service to resume. West Coast Railway were banned again between February and March 2016.

The railway resumed service later, but due to safety concerns it was suspended again in July 2023, with passengers offered full refunds.[4] Another suspension of service occurred in March 2024, with West Coast Railways attempting to seek exemption from the Office of Rail and Road from a requirement to install a central locking system to its carriages.[5] The service suspension caused complaints from the local community due to the economic impact caused by the reduction of tourists visiting the region.[6] Competing excursion train company Locomotive Services Limited ran "The West Highlander" excursion as a trial run in April 2024 over the Jacobite's route from Fort William to Mallaig while the West Coast Railway operation was shutdown.[7][8][9] West Coast Railways announced a return to service in April using modern coaching stock as a stopgap measure shortly afterwards.[10]


The Jacobite crossing Glenfinnan Viaduct

The Jacobite runs a distance of 41 miles (66 km) 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 provided Warner Brothers with the train used as the Hogwarts Express in all of the films and allowed them use of the route of The Jacobite for filming. The locomotive used to pull the Hogwarts Express in the films, the GWR 4900 Class 5972 Olton Hall, is presently located at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter and can be seen during studio tours.[11]

Locomotives and rolling stock


Steam locomotives

The Jacobite, headed by 62005 Lord of the Isles, passes the Corpach Sea Lock

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:



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 WCR 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.


A tune that takes its name from this line, Steam Train to Mallaig,[12] was composed by Mary-Ann MacKinnon[13] in 1993, and is extensively played by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards pipe band, including on their album Highland Cathedral.

See also



  1. ^ "The Jacobite Timetables". westcoastrailways.co.uk. West Coast Railways. Archived from the original on 13 November 2023. Retrieved 22 September 2023.
  2. ^ Ninety days of Jacobite steam planned as West Coast wins right to retain Fort William specials The Railway Magazine issue 1151 March 1997 page 29
  3. ^ a b Timetable Archived 3 September 2019 at the Wayback Machine West Coast Railways
  4. ^ "Hogwarts Express steam train cancelled over safety issues". BBC News. Highlands & Islands. 21 July 2023. Archived from the original on 22 July 2023. Retrieved 22 July 2023.
  5. ^ "Harry Potter steam train service suspended". bbc.com. BBC. 20 March 2024. Archived from the original on 20 March 2024. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  6. ^ Scott, Fiona (8 April 2024). "West Coast Railways' refusal to comply with health and safety requirements angers residents". westcoasttoday.co.uk. West Coast Today. Retrieved 11 April 2024.
  7. ^ "Charter Trains 2024". scot-rail.co.uk. Scot-Rail.co. Retrieved 11 April 2024.
  8. ^ "Here is a selection of some wonderful photographs taken by Jamie Squibbs during The Highlander ScotRail Charters". facebook.com. Locomotive Services Limited. 10 April 2024. Retrieved 11 April 2024.
  9. ^ Glen, Louise (5 April 2024). "New operator to try to bring some magic to Harry Potter rail line between Fort William and Mallaig". pressandjournal.co.uk. Press and Journal. Archived from the original on 9 April 2024. Retrieved 11 April 2024.
  10. ^ Dalton, Alastair (12 April 2024). "Harry Potter-style Jacobite steam train services to start on April 15". scotsman.com. Archived from the original on 15 April 2024. Retrieved 14 April 2024.
  11. ^ "Harry Potter Tour introducing Platform 9 ¾". digitalspy.co.uk. Digital Spy. 26 January 2015. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 9 July 2016.
  12. ^ glenzboyz (18 December 2011). "Royal Scots Dragoon Guards ~Steam Train To Mallaig". Archived from the original on 15 December 2021 – via YouTube.
  13. ^ "Account Suspended" (PDF). www.jacobitesband.com. Archived (PDF) from the original on 19 April 2024. Retrieved 26 September 2017.