Harry Potter 'Hogwarts Express' suspension 'may cost up to £50 million in lost value'

The service runs through the Scottish Highlands. Credit: PA

The suspension of a train service made famous by Harry Potter could cost up to £50 million in lost value, its operator has warned.

The Jacobite train service has been suspended with immediate effect as it awaits a verdict on whether it can continue to operate in its current state.

West Coast Railways (WCR), which is the UK's largest main line heritage rail operator, is waiting for a decision on whether it can continue running with hinged door carriages - something which is not typically allowed.

The service, which runs through the Scottish Highlands, was made famous by the Harry Potter franchise and is often known as the Hogwarts Express - the train which takes the wizard to school in the JK Rowling novels.

The service has run for more than more than 30 years under an exemption, which means it can continue operating with hinged-door carriages on the main lines.

WCR submitted an application to renew the exemption, and made a request for a temporary exemption to operate while the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) makes its decision.

In December, the company lost a High Court challenge against the ORR over the safety of doors on its carriages.

WCR had complained that the multimillion-pound cost of having to retrofit central locking could "destroy" its business and it argued its door systems were just as safe.

But a judge dismissed the operator's case and concluded the ORR had taken a "justifiable" approach.

The WCR now say suspending the service could cost the UK tourist sector and local and national communities millions.

The rail service takes tourists from Fort William to Mallaig, including over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct seen in Harry Potter films like in the Chamber of Secrets.

Speaking about the suspension, James Shuttleworth, commercial manager at WCR, said: "We are disappointed to have to suspend this service and we are sorry for the inconvenience caused to our customers who have booked trips.

The Glenfinnan viaduct in the Scottish Highlands is popular with tourists. Credit: PA

"We again appeal to the ORR to reconsider our request for a temporary exemption.

"The Jacobite service is enjoyed by thousands of customers every year. It boosts the local economies of Mallaig and Fort William and brings an estimated £20 million into the UK's tourism sector."

He added: "If the ORR does not grant us a further exemption, we believe this could lead to up to £50 million in lost value to both local and national communities.

"We remain committed to working with the ORR to find a long-term solution which safeguards the future of heritage services on the main line."

In response, the ORR told ITV News: "All heritage operators were told several years ago that in order to operate after 31 March 2023 they either needed to fit central door locking or obtain an exemption from us.

"West Coast Railway's application for an exemption failed and they made a claim for judicial review. A temporary exemption was granted in order to maintain the status quo, enabling WCR to operate whilst the litigation reached a conclusion.

"Despite this, WCR chose to sell tickets when it was far from certain that a new application for an exemption would be granted, either in time for the commencement of services or at all. It submitted an exemption application on 8 March, which we are now assessing."

The organisation added it was sad contingency plans had not been made which would help benefit their customers.

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