The joys of the ‘Ja­co­bite’

Steam Railway (UK) - - Contents - NICK BRO­DRICK

It be­gan on March 30 and could end on De­cem­ber 29, with only a short break in be­tween. The ‘Ja­co­bite’ has grown into a ma­jor, yet eas­ily over­looked, par­tic­i­pant in the main line steam cal­en­dar, as ex­plains.

The ‘Ja­co­bite’ is now such a reg­u­lar fix­ture in the main line steam cal­en­dar that by the end of 2018 it will have cov­ered more miles be­tween Fort Wil­liam and Mal­laig than the cir­cum­fer­ence of the Earth – and all that in just nine months. By any yard­stick, 26,124 miles of unadul­ter­ated steam haulage is pretty im­pres­sive (that’s 1,223 more than a trip around the equa­tor). But when you con­sider that it’s achieved by two or three 4‑6‑0s and a soli­tary 2‑6‑0, and over a par­tic­u­larly hard stretch of rail­way, it makes the fig­ures even more re­mark­able. So pop­u­lar is the re­peat itin­er­ary West Coast Rail­ways train that the shoul­ders of its sea­son have been in­creas­ingly pushed for­ward and back, so it now starts as the first daf­fodils emerge in March and, for the past two years, has ended un­der a blan­ket of De­cem­ber snow. It rep­re­sents me­te­oric growth for the ‘Ja­co­bite’. Es­tab­lished un­der BR’s ScotRail divi­sion in 1984, it has been op­er­ated un­der West Coast since 1995, fol­low­ing pri­vati­sa­tion, through what is pub­li­cised as the ‘Out­door Cap­i­tal of Bri­tain’. To give an in­di­ca­tion of quite how rapidly the pa­tri­ot­i­cally named ser­vice has grown, it shut­tled be­tween Fort Wil­liam and the coast 77 times in 1998 and 124 times in 2008. Since then, the an­nual num­ber has risen to 311, which as­sumes that the Christ­mas ‘Ja­co­bites’ are re­peated, but not in­clud­ing any ‘ex­tras’. Ei­ther way, it’s a four‑fold in­crease in the last two decades. It’s a star­tling fig­ure for steam‑hauled pas­sen­ger trains on Net­work Rail met­als, of which only the North York­shire Moors’ Gros­mont‑Whitby op­er­a­tion comes close in terms of in­ten­sity and fre­quency. West Coast can ex­pect to sell more than 100,000 tick­ets on the train this year, which would be worth ap­prox­i­mately £3.5 mil­lion in ticket rev­enue. Not only is it big busi­ness for WCR, the train – and its hun­dreds of daily pas­sen­gers – has helped change the for­tunes of the diminu­tive vil­lage of Mal­laig, which has gained guest­houses, cafés and gift shops in the last decade or so. Be­fore, the list of ‘things to do’ ex­tended to lit­tle more than the Marine Bar, used pre­dom­i­nantly by lo­cal fishermen.

One of the big­gest driv­ers be­hind this es­ca­la­tion was the in­tro­duc­tion in 2011 of a peak sum­mer sea­son two-train ser­vice, which crosses at Glen­finnan dur­ing 16 weeks be­tween May 14 and Septem­ber 14. It is the only place on the na­tional net­work where this ha­bit­u­ally oc­curs with steam on an ad­ver­tised ba­sis, yet it happens with such regularity that it is al­most taken for granted.


And it’s easy to see why the ‘Ja­co­bite’ has be­come so pop­u­lar. Aware­ness of the route and its fa­mous train has grown since be­ing fea­tured in the 1988 BBC se­ries The Train Now De­part­ing, with an ever-in­creas­ing level of cov­er­age in world­wide news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines, web­sites and tele­vi­sion trav­el­ogues. What was once some­thing to do while you were in Fort Wil­liam, has rapidly be­come a rea­son to go to Fort Wil­liam. A ma­jor fac­tor in the 21st-cen­tury spike in ticket de­mand is un­doubt­edly down to the Harry Pot­ter film fran­chise. Sev­eral se­quences of J.K. Rowl­ing’s imag­i­nary ‘Hogwarts Ex­press’ were filmed on the West High­land Line Ex­ten­sion; pro­mot­ing a new wave of in­ter­est in the rail­way from wiz­ard­ing fans all over the world, ea­ger to trace the same route forged by red-liv­er­ied ‘Hall’ No. 5972 Ol­ton Hall, or, to Pot­ter fans, ‘Hogwarts Cas­tle’. Any dis­ap­point­ment for those who dis­cover that the fic­tional ‘Hogwarts Ex­press’ can­not ac­tu­ally be ex­pe­ri­enced in real life is com­pen­sated for by West Coast’s own pro­moted steam train. The Carn­forth-based char­ter firm is quite happy to tap into this most lu­cra­tive of brands, even though it has no pub­lic­ity li­cence for the Warner Bros fran­chise. In­deed, the train now has its own ded­i­cated mar­ket­ing arm, which taps into the far-reach­ing and in­flu­en­tial world of so­cial me­dia, while on­line booking has made it more at­trac­tive to the world­wide mar­ket. Key to the in­ter­est from movie mak­ers and the me­dia at large is the stun­ning land­scape through which the ‘Ja­co­bite’ runs, strung to­gether by an as­sort­ment of im­pres­sive en­gi­neer­ing fea­tures which, com­bined with the ro­man­tic al­lure of steam, makes it a nat­u­ral can­di­date for the ti­tle of ‘World’s Great­est Rail­way’.


Lo­co­mo­tive owner Ian Ri­ley read­ily ad­mits that he dotes on the line that in­ter­laces lochs and moun­tains (or rather munros) and which is the driv­ing fac­tor be­hind his countless jour­neys be­tween his home in East Lan­cashire and Fort Wil­liam to man his en­gines. “It’s just about the best rail­way jour­ney in the world,” he says. “It’s the views re­ally. They’re sec­ond to none.” Ian, who has sup­plied mo­tive power for the ‘Ja­co­bite’ since Septem­ber 2005, is one of its reg­u­lar driv­ers, hav­ing gained pro­mo­tion from fir­ing du­ties in 2012. He will be at the reg­u­la­tor of one of his ‘Black Fives’ to Mal­laig more than 100 times in 2018, so per­haps it’s no sur­prise that peo­ple ques­tion his san­ity. “Peo­ple ask me: ‘Do you ever get bored with do­ing that ev­ery day?’ My re­ply is al­ways the same: ‘Do I heck?!’” Ian adores it so much that he has traded tra­di­tional ac­com­mo­da­tion in the sup­port coach at Fort Wil­liam de­pot for his own prop­erty over­look­ing Loch Linnhe. He con­sid­ers the town to be a home from home for both him and his lo­co­mo­tives. And yet for all that driv­ing of the ‘Ja­co­bite’ in what some might see as a dream job, the com­bi­na­tion of check­rail curves and sharp gra­di­ents (like the two-mile ‘twisty-turny’ 1-in-48 Beas­dale bank) is heavy go­ing on the en­gines. The wee 5ft 2in driv­ing wheels of the North Eastern Lo­co­mo­tive Preser­va­tion Group’s Pep­per­corn ‘K1’ No. 62005 make it an ideal ma­chine for cop­ing with the ‘Road to the Isles’. The Stanier 4-6-0s on the other hand, with their 6ft driv­ers, feel the full force of the ar­du­ous to­pog­ra­phy. The class was deemed so un­suited to the line by British Rail­ways Scot­tish Re­gion – once teem­ing with LNER ‘Moguls’ – that you would have had just about as much chance of cop­ping a ‘Black Five’ at Mal­laig as see­ing the Loch Ness Mon­ster. “It’s hard work. We get a lot of tyre wear, but it pays off with the daily hire fees,” Ri­ley coun­ters. “We run a busi­ness out of it.” It’s de­mand­ing work for the car­riages too, which are ro­tated through­out the sea­son. Then there is the ques­tion of train weight… six Mk 1 coaches was deemed the limit for the LMS en­gines un­til the view was re­laxed around five years ago, when it be­came ap­par­ent that de­mand for seats was out­strip­ping sup­ply.


“Seven coaches is right on the limit for a ‘Black Five’, but a de­cent driver copes quite ad­mirably. We’ve been tak­ing seven for about five years and never failed to get to Mal­laig. It slows the en­gine down, but if you’ve got good san­ders you’ll be fine.” Ri­ley’s Nos. 44871 and 45407 are cur­rently hold­ing the fort, so to speak, un­til the planned ar­rival of the ‘K1’ in May… OP­TI­MAL NUM­BER ‘5MT’ No. 45407 cur­rently mas­quer­ades as St Rol­lox vet­eran No. 45157 The Glas­gow High­lander, in recog­ni­tion of the unit’s 150th an­niver­sary in 2018. Ap­pro­pri­ately for an en­gine that will spend the ma­jor­ity of the year north ’o the bor­der, the 1937 en­gine also car­ries blue-backed smoke­box plates. Ri­ley may yet also send a third ‘Five’ in his care, Keigh­ley & Worth Val­ley Rail­way-owned No. 45212, to Fort Wil­liam later this year as cover, but only fol­low­ing its en­gage­ments as stand-in for other en­gines in the south of Eng­land. He adds that ap­proaches by other lo­co­mo­tive own­ers to take their en­gines on hol­i­day to the High­lands are likely to be turned down. “To be fair to David Smith [WCR’s ma­jor­ity owner], he al­ways says ‘Ri­ley’s and NELPG don’t let me down’. It’s not a train for clean-and-pol­ish lo­co­mo­tive gangs.” More than 250 of the 311 re­turn trips in 2018 will be in the hands of Ian’s en­gines but, de­spite the in­ten­sity, does he think that there is room to fur­ther ex­pand the ser­vices into Jan­uary, Fe­bru­ary or early Novem­ber? Af­ter all, this year’s First Class seats are al­ready sold out and other dates are al­ready booked up. “It’s at its op­ti­mum. You can’t lengthen the trains any more than they are al­ready and we are al­ready run­ning at ca­pac­ity be­tween the ScotRail ser­vices. Plus we need those three months to main­tain the lo­co­mo­tives, while the busi­nesses in Mal­laig shut down. They need a break too!” Is an evening train to sup­ple­ment the peak trains an op­tion? Again, Ian is cau­tious. “To run a third train, you’d need a third rake of coaches. You couldn’t use the morn­ing set be­cause it takes three or four hours to clean. “Get­ting the lo­co­mo­tives and crews is not a prob­lem but we’d need the ex­clu­sive use of Fort Wil­liam de­pot to do it, which is in the hands of DB Cargo.” DON’T SPEED Mov­ing the Ri­ley lo­co­mo­tives north, quite lit­er­ally, brings a change of pace for the en­gines, which are os­ten­si­bly lim­ited to 60mph on the net­work. On the ‘Ja­co­bite’ 40mph is the limit be­tween Fort Wil­liam and Mile­post 13¼ (the first tun­nel be­fore Glen­finnan), where it drops to 30mph for the re­main­ing 27 miles to the coast. In a world where 75mph is the limit for the vast ma­jor­ity of main line en­gines, Ian says that steam in the West High­lands at the slower end of the scale has its own mer­its: “The 30mph speed limit is good for the public, so they have a chance to view the scenery prop­erly.” More­over, the craggy na­ture of the line dic­tates that the reg­u­la­tor of­ten has to be ‘in the roof’. The two-cylin­der roar that echoes off rock-lined cut­tings and gorse-lined val­leys re­flects the chal­leng­ing na­ture of this fas­ci­nat­ing line. One that cer­tainly de­serves an­other look.


‘K1’ No. 62005, in the ab­sence of ‘K4’ The Great Mar­quess, is the most ide­ally suited en­gine to the West High­lands. The 1949 en­gine passes Kin­loid, near Ari­saig, with the He­bridean is­lands clearly vis­i­ble.


When the sec­ond daily ‘Ja­co­bite’ train was in­tro­duced, it de­parted Fort Wil­liam in the evening rather than the af­ter­noon, af­ford­ing rare pho­to­graphic op­por­tu­ni­ties. No. 44871 crosses Lochy Bridge, with the ru­ins of Old In­ver­lochy Cas­tle and the lower...


One of the first ‘Fes­tive Ja­co­bites’ heads for Glen­finnan in De­cem­ber 2017, seen from the foot­plate of No. 45407.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.