Sunday, April 5, 2015

Jacobite steam train license suspended


UPDATE: The Jacobite Steam Train SUSPENSION HAS BEEN LIFTED. See here:

The Hogwarts Express currently suffers from an immobulus!

In an unprecedented move, the U.K. organization which oversees Great Britain's rail lines has suspended the license of a railway company. The organization, called Network Rail, oversees nearly all of the railway infrastructure on the island and concurrently shares responsibility for train safety on the tracks. In the first license suspension since the British railway system was privatized in 1993, Network Rail has temporarily banned West Coast Railways from operating on Britain's rail lines, effective April 3.

Jacobite Steam Train, operated by West Coast Railways
The Jacobite steam train ready to depart from Fort William.
West Coast Railways operates a number of steam train lines in Great Britain, including popular tourist lines in the Yorkshire Dales. Its main claim to fame, however, is the Jacobite steam train running through the western highlands of Scotland. This beloved train journey — often voted by Britons to be among the most scenic in the world — runs past highland mountains and deep valleys, sweeping by gorgeous lochs and over canals and bridges.

Most recently, the journey has been invigorated by its inclusion in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Express. "Potterheads" have flocked to the steam train line since its stunning visuals running over the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Jacobite steam train passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct
The Hogwarts Express crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
According to its suspension letter, "Network Rail has had concerns about [West Coast Railways] performance of its Safety Obligations for some time and recent events lead Network Rail to believe that the operations of WCR are a threat to the safe operation of the railway." Apparently, Network Rail had initiated a review in January of West Coast Railway's safety policies, but the company unilaterally suspended its remediation of any problems identified.

Then, on March 7, one of West Coast Railway's steam trains on its London to Bristol line ran a red light, endangering hundreds of passengers. A high speed train traveling at 100 mph had passed through that junction just a minute earlier. According to the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, there is evidence showing that the West Coast Railways train's driver and fireman took measures to negate the automatic braking system.

A collision of the two trains would have been catastrophic.

The total rail network ban will last until May 15. In the meantime, West Coast Railways must meet five conditions, including providing a plan to implement the January review of its procedures; introducing a system to ensure train drivers receive safety information; and implementing an "effective, risk-based driver monitoring regime." Furthermore, the company must show clear progress toward reaching two further conditions, concerning communication protocols and safety accountability for company management. For a full copy of the suspension letter, see here.

It is possible that West Coast Railways could lose its rail license entirely. Beyond a revocation of its license, company officials potentially could face criminal charges.

The Jacobite steam train is scheduled to begin its service on May 11, four days before the end of West Coast Railway's suspension. Presumably, if the company can meet Network Rail's conditions, its suspension will be lifted earlier. But considering the company's recalcitrant attitude, lifting the ban is not yet a given.

West Coast Railways has issued a statement to customers that its rail trips will be unaffected and operated by another (unsuspended) license operator until its ban is lifted. Whether customers retain confidence in the only rail company to have earned a complete ban on operations, remains to be seen.

UPDATE: As of April 22, West Coast Railways is undergoing a criminal investigation for the March 7 incident. Furthermore, National Rail has begun a process to review West Coast Railways' safety certificate — which, if lost, would mean it could not operate trains even if it regains its operating license on the tracks.


For more about the Jacobite steam train, see here:



For more about the Glenfinnan Viaduct, see here:

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