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Midwest Rail Rangers Visit England, Scotland & Wales: Jacobite Steam Train

Midwest Rail Rangers Visit England, Scotland & Wales: Part 8 of 8

Jacobite Steam Train

By Robert Tabern - President, Midwest Rail Rangers &
Kandace Tabern - Educational Officer, Midwest Rail Rangers

Published: February 15, 2019

In May 2018, Midwest Rail Rangers President Robert Tabern and Midwest Rail Rangers Education Officer Kandace Tabern spent two weeks exploring the various train lines of England, Scotland, and Wales... everything from heritage steam locomotive trips... to taking the Eurostar at nearly 200mph for a day trip to Paris, France. Robert and Kandace will be sharing their candid experiences with you over the course of the next eight months in a series of TrainWeb articles that document their journeys. Hopefully this will inspire you to someday ride the rails of the United Kingdom if you haven't got the chance yet.  Below is a map of what railroad routes the Tabern's were able to cover:


The history of the railroad line, on which “The Jacobite” train operates over today, actually dates back to 1901. This is when the West Highland Railway built its Mallaig Extension. The railroad had hopes of opening up the rural parts of the Scottish Atlantic coast around Mallaig. Spurring new developments was also a goal of the British Government, who heavily subsidized the building of the new train line from Fort William to Mallaig. Under the Railways Act 1921, the majority of the railway companies in Great Britain (along with a few in Northern Ireland) were grouped into four main companies, often termed the Big Four. Under this re-organization plan, the train line from Fort William to Mallaig became part of the North Eastern Railway in 1923. Following World War II, the railroads of Great Britain were nationalized, and the railroad line that “The Jacobite” runs on today came under the management of British Railways (in 1948).  About 20 years later, the British Rail Modernization Plan passed, which outlined the replacement of all steam locomotives with more efficient and reliable diesel locomotives. The West Highland Line finally lost its steam train service in 1967. However, in 1984, British Railways re-introduced a steam-hauled service over part of the line in an effort to encourage tourism and boost income. Called the "West Highlander", it proved so successful that it was continued for future years. It was later renamed "The Lochaber".
In 1995, following the re-privatization of British Railways, the operating license for West Highlander trains was granted to the West Coast Railway Company--- while regular passenger service came under the auspices of ScotRail. West Coast Railways began operating steam service under the new name of "The Jacobite" (after the historic Jacobite political movement which has many local connections). The daily service departs Fort William at 10:15am and arrives at Mallaig at 12:25pm. The return from Mallaig departs at 2:10pm, arriving back into Fort William at 4:00pm. In recent years, West Coast Railway Company has added a second daily Jacobite service from Fort William to Mallaig in the busy summer months due to heavy demand. The additional service departs Fort William at 2:40pm, with an arrival time back in Fort William at 8:30pm. The afternoon/early evening train is the one we rode on the afternoon of Thursday, May 24, 2018.








Before we continue on with the article here, we definitely wanted to put out a special ‘thank you’ to James Shuttleworth with the West Coast Railways Company for helping to set up our visit last spring. James provided us with a lot of information about “The Jacobite” for this piece. For example, we were told that the afternoon train (which we rode on) out of Fort William began operations in 2011. It uses Ian Riley's Black 5 44871 and a spare set of coaches that were formerly used for "The Cambrian".
What we found interesting upon arrival at the Fort William station, is that the daily "The Jacobite" steam train departure is actually listed on the departure boards -- and is used by commuters!  Even though the afternoon departure of "The Jacobite" didn't leave until 2:30pm, we arrived around Noon to check-in, get our tickets, and then wonder around Fort William a bit to grab lunch. There was a regular ScotRail train to Mallaig that left at 12:13pm. Just a few minutes after it pulled out, a couple ran frantically up to the ticket counter and explained they missed the 12:13pm and wanted the next train. Well, the next ScotRail train to Mallaig wasn't going to leave until 4:19pm... however they could (and did!) take "The Jacobite" and get there faster than taking the next ScotRail train. There is truly nothing like this in the United States is what we were thinking. The couple did get lucky because you have to have reservations for "The Jacobite", which isn't necessary for regular ScotRail trains... so you do take your chance. Plus, the price has to be much higher for the steam train than the regular ScotRail service. It should also be noted that ScotRail makes the trip from Fort William to Mallaig in about 1 hour and 22 minutes... while the steam train takes 1 hour and 59 minutes.  (For more information about ScotRail, click here to read our trip report about this service written in December 2018).





Departing the Fort William station, we also saw a section of the Caledonian Sleeper sitting in the yards awaiting its evening departure back to London. We rode this a few days before between London and the company's headquarters in Inverness. (For more information about the Caledonian Sleeper, click here to read our trip report about this service written in October 2018).
What is also interesting is that the in-bound morning train and out-bound afternoon steam trains actually meet one another at a location called Glenfinnan. You are allowed to get off the train and walk the platform and even look at the small railroad museum there. On our particular day... there was a boy on the platform playing the bagpipes for money... not sure if this was somehting he did every day for tourists or if this was something officially arranged by the railroad... but it was pretty cool none-the-less. By the way, Glenfinnan is the only place on the entire national network where two steam trains regularly pass one another... this is a big draw even for British railfans... let along us who came from 4,000 miles away to ride the trains of the United Kingdom.






Moving on to the route and the trip itself… it is a total of 41 miles one-way between Fort William and Mallaig. Travelers seemed to be doing a variety of different itineraries using the train. Some folks were doing the entire afternoon round-trip (82 miles) like we were. Others were riding one-way from Fort William to Mallaig, but then returning to Fort William via ScotRail (either they were trying to save money… or perhaps the return trip on “The Jacobite” was sold out we heard). Other travelers were using “The Jacobite” as real transportation – spending the night in Mallaig and perhaps moving up to some of the other Scottish islands via a ferry the next morning. Regardless of your itinerary, the entire journey passes through an area of great scenic beauty… including alongside Loch Eil, Glenfinnan Viaduct, and Arisaig.



It should be noted that some of the passengers also seemed to be riding just because “The Jacobite” was made famous in the Harry Potter movie series. The West Coast Railways Company provided Warner Brothers with the train used as the “Hogwarts Express” in all of the movies and allowed them use of the Jacobite's route 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. Seats in the actual compartment/car that was used in the Harry Potter movies can be purchased by passengers; unfortunately, it happened to be on the morning “Jacobite” train on the day we were riding (this is the case most days we are told) – so we only saw it in passing.  There was however, a special Harry Potter section in the on-board gift shop and concession car.





When booking “The Jacobite”, you will have to decide whether you want to book a seat in First Class or Standard Class. First Class has tables that are set as either two or four… and it has much better décor. Just an FYI --- you may have a very, very hard time getting one of the two-person tables in First Class… depending on the time of the year you are booking. We were watching the website several times a week – and between the time tickets went on sale and when we checked back – all two-person First Class tables were sold out. We’re talking in a manner of just 48 to 72 hours after they went on sale. This was partially due to us booking this trip on a British Holiday weekend when a lot of people were going to be off work. The only option left in First Class was one of the four-person tables.  Since we wanted a semi-private experience and not having to sit next to strangers the whole ride… we opted to buy all four seats at the table… except, of course, it was just the two of us and the two other seats went un-occupied. The railroad will let you do this and was even willing to charge us the “child price” for the two un-occupied seats to make it more affordable. This is not advertised anywhere – so you have to ask them to do this. Another reason you want to try and get the two-person tables in First Class if you can is the fact you will be on the correct side of the train to get the best views of the very scenic Glenfinnan Viaduct in BOTH directions if you are doing the round-trip. This isn’t a factor in Standard Class because passengers are asked to switch sides of the train for the return trip – so you get the views one way. Luckily, we have a lovely mother and daughter sitting across the aisle and took pitty on us and let us sit in their seats on the return trip so we could get some photos from the viaduct. First Class is DEFINITELY the way to go though. You get tea/coffee and snacks each way included in your fare and it’s just a lot more pleasant of an atmosphere. Pricing can be a factor for some… so this is how it shapes up (as of our trip in Spring 2018 and using the conversion rate from that period):  A round-trip ticket for two people in Standard Class was $97. A round-trip ticket for two people with a two-person table in First Class was $158. A round-trip ticket for two people with a private table for four (two un-occupied child seats) was $239.








This article marks the end of our 8-month-long series on trains of England, Scotland, and Wales!  We hope you enjoyed our articles!  So far, we have no more international train trips planned... but we would consider a similar trip someday soon.



Jacobite Steam Train Official Website


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