Posted 15th January 2024 | 6 Comments

Charter operator urges rethink over doors ban

West Coast Railways is urging the Office of Rail and Road to reconsider its ruling that coaches without central locking on their hinged doors can no longer operate on Network Rail infrastructure.

The withdrawal of the exemption which had allowed older rolling stock without central locking to be used was challenged by heritage operator WCR in the High Court late last year, but on 22 December the court dismissed its appeal. Mrs Justice Thornton said a feature of the services like the Jacobite between Fort William and Mallaig was the hinged doors that ‘can be opened by anyone inside the train even when the train is moving’.

She described central locking as ‘common sense’, because it was safer on a system which was ‘dependent on no more than an assumption by the guard that the stewards have locked the doors’. She added that the ORR had observed that there was no evidence of a WCR investigation or ‘lessons learnt’ after a charter train had departed from York with a door open in October 2020.

The ORR told the judge that it did not want heritage operators to go out of business, but that it wanted ‘minimum safety standards’. The exemption was withdrawn from 10 January. 

Following the court’s decision, WCR had asked the ORR to keep the exemption until 29 February, while it worked with the regulator to find a long-term solution, but this was refused. 

WCR commercial manager James Shuttleworth said: ‘We are already considering a range of options and had asked the ORR to allow the current exemption to run its course, to give us time to put forward detailed proposals.

‘Our much-loved services, enjoyed by so many visitors from the UK and around the world, support a large number of businesses along our routes. The Jacobite alone has become an intrinsic part of Scottish tourism, boosting the economies of Mallaig and Fort William. It brings an estimated £20 million into the UK’s tourism sector to which we contribute £50 million overall every year. For everyone relying on these incredible heritage services this decision is a body blow.’

In spite of the ruling, trains without central locking on their coaches will continue to be allowed on heritage railways where the maximum speed is 40kmh (25mph), but the withdrawal of the exemption applies to all heritage operations on the National Rail network, including WCR’s scheduled ‘Jacobite’.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Tim, Stafford

    Lets be honest here this all lies firmly at the foot of the WCR management team and the kiss of death must be "no evidence of a WCR investigation or ‘lessons learnt’" that shows a lack of responsibility on their behalf that sealed this outcome. They have had a rather relaxed approach to safety failings in the past and enforcement action is the only way to get a change.

  • Chris Hamilton, Carluke

    While I have sympathy for the WCR staff caught up in this debacle, I lack any for the management. This rule hasn't been sprung on them. It has been in the making since the turn of the millennium. Combine this with WCRs continual blasé attitude towards the rules, not just with the door issues, but going all the way back to their safety breaches on the GWML, and you have a commercial operator (remember that, they aren't a heritage railway, but a commercial tour operator) that is interested only in its profits.

    Plenty of other mainline operators (such as the SRPS) have been able to make these alterations, or plan to. Maybe one of them should run the Jacobite instead (they could even hire the loco from WCR if required).

  • Richard Maund, Crewe

    How come Mr Shuttleworth didn't see this coming....? Were they hoping to carry on "getting away with it" while other operators elsewhere had to comply?

  • Christopher Jones-Bridger, Buckley Flintshire

    It is worth remembering that the requirement to fit a centrally operated secondary door locking mechanism to rolling stock operating on the national network is contained in the 1999 Statutory Instrument outlining the regulations. A quarter of a century has now passed surely long enough for WCR to have undertaken the necessary investment to ensure it's rolling stock complies. Other charter operators have or are taking appropriate measures to comply.

    That WCR has been allowed to continue operation of legacy Mk1 rolling stock for so long is testament to the patience of the safety regulator, in this case ORR. to continue issuing derogations. That the derogation has now been withdrawn has come about through serious concerns that the control measures introduced by WCR have been inadequate. See the Judge's concern re the 2020 incident at York & also ORR's own inspection of the Jacobite operation which saw it's temporary suspension during 2022.

    It is also worth recalling that in recent years RAIB has investigated two fatal accidents involving passengers leaning from the droplights, albeit of Mk3 build rolling stock (HST & Class 442), leading to recommendations to improve door safety which has surely influenced ORR's position.

    While heritage railways are exempt from the 1999 regulations there have been incidents on heritage lines involving insecure doors & most recently a passenger being injured falling from a coach not adjacent to a platform that have come to RAIB/ORR attention. The investigation recommendations are equally relevant to licence holders operating mainline registered heritage rolling stock.

    The West Highland steam operation, especially now with it's Harry Potter connection, certainly makes a positive economic contribution to the local economy. Having been established by BR as a Scotrail initiative many thought it would be a casualty of privatisation. It is a credit to WCR that they have they have operated & developed the product since. However being privileged to have a mainline operating licence it is also incumbent on them to comply with the conditions of the licence. And it's not just the West Highlands that looses it's the tour promoters and heritage locomotive owners who rely on WCR's to facilitate their tours throughout the UK. I suppose though that despite DB downscaling it's charter business there are now new operators willing to compete for the charter market.

  • Neil Palmer, Waterloo

    OK, so Visit Scotland - cough up a few quid for some central locking updates please.

    HOWEVER - there's already a speed limit for trains other than Class 15x, so how about introducing a different 25mph maximum speed limit for steam powered trains on the line? Any regulations against that?

    [Yes. The maximum line speed rule as it applies to doors does not distinguish between forms of traction. It gets more complicated because Fort William to Mallaig is part of the National Rail network, and so trains must have TPWS and cab radio (both of which can be fitted to steam engines). In short, you only get away with no central locking now if the line is a true heritage railway with a Light Railway Order and the associated LRO line speed (40kmh). By the way, there is a limit for Class 15x on the Mallaig line: it is 50mph/80kmh. Your Visit Scotland suggestion, if it was taken up, would not cover 'legacy' stock (such as Mk1s) working on WCR’s charters elsewhere, which is also what WCR is concerned about.--Ed.]

  • Neil Palmer, Waterloo

    At around 1hr 25min for the 41 miles a regular service train averages only around 30mph. The Jacobite is scheduled for around 2 hours (yes I know there's the extended Glenfinnan stop) so it's not exactly screaming along at much more than 25mph already. Would lengthening the timetable a few more minutes satisfy the Nanny State?* If not, considering the amount of tourist money this service brings into the area surely Visit Scotland should be willing to contribute towards the cost of central door locking?

    [*It doesn’t work like that. The derogation for trains running no faster than 40kmh (25mph) applies only if that is the maximum line speed. So if the trains kept to 25mph, the Jacobite would still need central locking because the fastest permitted line speed between FW and Mallaig (for non-Class 15x trains) is 40mph (64kmh).--Ed.]