A PROMINENT group of London-based businessmen with interests in

Scotland are setting up a pressure group to save the Fort William

sleeper and motorail services.

Their campaign against the the services being axed will underpin the

economic arguments already made in Scotland.

The London-Fort William sleepers are expected to be withdrawn in May

because the railway franchise director has excluded them from minimum

service levels required of train operators under privatisation.

The decision has led to protests from groups ranging from Highlands

and Islands Enterprise and Highland Regional Council to the Convention

of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Tourist Board.

Objectors believe there is ''a good chance'' of the Government

changing its mind about which services should be guaranteed early in the

new year.

The London pressure group -- to include businessmen, politicians, and

broadcasters -- is expected to go public as soon as campaign tactics are


Spokesman Hugh Raven -- who splits his time between London and

Ardtornish on the Morvern peninsula, about 35 miles by road from Fort

William -- said yesterday: ''I expect the level of support from south of

the Border for the campaign against service reductions will not only be

helpful and significant but particularly effective.''

The English protesters are likely to lobby Transport Secretary Brian

Mawhinney and his Scottish counterpart, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, to

at least keep the sleeper services during peak periods -- Christmas,

Easter, and the summer months.

Mr Raven, co-ordinator for a pressure group on farming, food, and the

environment, employs 18 people at a farm and holiday cottages at


He fears jobs will be lost if visitor numbers fell because of travel

difficulties caused by a loss of sleeper services: ''Travel here by any

other means than rail is an absolute nightmare.''

Mr Raven, 33, said the London lobby would highlight serious blows to

the West Highlands economy if the overnight trains were lost.

It also would argue that the line would be much more viable if

failures to promote the unique attractions of rail travel in the

Highlands were tackled.