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The Jacobite Steam Train

7 April 2015

Travelling through the beautiful Scottish Highlands, the Jacobite Steam Train runs 41 miles between Fort William and Mallaig. Two steam trains operate on this route, this means that it's the only regular route where two steam trains pass each other on the national network. The Jacobite Steam Train should be first on your list when planning Scottish highland railway holidays, the spectacular views and hardworking steam locomotives are a wonderful way to appreciate Scotland.

History of the West Highland railway
West Highland Railway

The Mallaig extension of the West Highland Railway opened in 1901. It opened up parts of remote rural Scotland and the Scottish Atlantic Coast. In 1967, regular steam services along the line were withdrawn as part of a modernisation attempt, they were replaced with more reliable and efficient diesel locomotives. However in 1984, in an effort to promote tourism steam locomotives were re-introduced along part of the line, it proved so successful that the service was continued.

In 1995, after the privatization of British Rail, the responsibility for running the line passed to West Highlander Trains. The service was re-named 'The Jacobite', after the many local connections to the Jacobite political movement in the Highlands. The Jacobite service runs twice a day between June and August.

The West Highland Line still has jointed tracks, not welded tracks, so the old fashioned clackity-clack of the wheels is still heard on the line. Due to the steep gradients of the West Highland Line powerful steam locomotives are required. The coaches are made up of first and standard class coaches, they are all ex-British Railways mark 1s from the 1960s. The beautiful scenery the line passes through is best appreciated from the open first class carriages.

Route of the Jacobite Steam train

The West Highland Line covers steep gradients and tight curves, these provide a great demonstration of the power of the steam locomotives. The eighty-four mile round trip has been described as one of the best railway journeys in the world. Beginning near the tallest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis, and the route passes the deepest freshwater loch in Britain, Loch Morar, and the shortest river in Britain, The River Morar. The journey begins at Britain's most westerly mainland station, Arisaig, and ends near the deepest saltwater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis.

A notable stop along the route is the village of Glenfinnan. This is where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard in 1745. 

The Hogwarts Express
Hogwarts Express

At King's Cross Station, on platform 9 ¾, the adventures of arguably the world's most famous wizard began aboard the Hogwarts Express. The steam train depicted followed the route of the Jacobite Steam Train. The most memorable part of the journey from the Harry Potter films is probably the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Built in 1901 by Robert McAlpine, it was one of the first rail viaducts to be built of concrete. It is also commemorated on the Scottish £10 note, as an example of fine Scottish engineering.

The traditional compartments the children are seen travelling in during the filming of Harry Potter are not available to book. However, they are sometimes used for latecomers if the rest of the train is fully booked.

Rail holidays in Scotland allow you to experience the beauty of the highlands, coupled with the romance of travelling by steam locomotive. Great Rail Journeys offer a number of train holidays to Scotland which include The Jacobite Steam Train