The operators of a world-famous West Highland steam train have been given permission to continue to run for three months ahead of a court ruling.

West Coast Railways (WCR) say a requirement to modernise door locks on heritage trains threatens the future of the Jacobite, which runs from Fort William to Mallaig and featured in the Harry Potter films.

Since 2003, steam trains have been allowed to run passenger services on the main line with an alternative locking system through two ten-year exemptions granted by rail regulators.

However, earlier this year, West Coast Railways (WCR) was told by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) that the exemption was to be revoked.

The ORR say the majority of heritage trains have installed the locking system or are planning to do so.

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A Judicial Review is considering the operator's case and a decision is expected in the New Year but WCR has now been granted a 3-month extension to continue to run the service until the end of February.

The Herald:

According to WCR the Jacobite service brings around £25 million annually to the UK economy, with its twice-daily service taking 750 tourists daily to Mallaig and Fort William in peak season.

The WCR says it has "robust" safety procedures in place with secondary door locking, using manually-operated sliding bolts and stewards to open the doors.

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It says the installation of CDL on its heritage carriages would cost £7m, making the sector unviable and wiping out profits for close to a decade. A total of 120 of its vehicles do not have CDL.

James Shuttleworth, commercial manager for WCR said:  "There are a number of charter train operators, the majority of which use only later-build Mk2 or Mk3 vehicles, all of which had had CDL fitted by their former owners, long before being sold to the charter sector, so they are compliant.

"Of the remaining four, who operate the older Mk1 coaches, like ours, one company has fitted their 10 with an air-operated system, another has 12 to fit but have yet to develop and prove a system, as they can't use air.

"The Scottish Railway Preservation Society have yet to apply for their 12, leaving us with around 120. 

"The number of operators, doesn't reflect the number of vehicles involved."

The steam train service was launched in 1984 under Scotrail and was then taken over by British Rail, known as the West Highland and then The Lochaber.

A spokesman for the ORR said: "ORR has granted WCRC a new three-month exemption from 1 December 2023 to 29 February 2024 to enable it to operate whilst its judicial review is determined”.