The Mallaig extension (Fort William to Mallaig) to the West Highland Line in Scotland opened in 1901 upon completion of the magnificent 21-arched Glenfinnan Viaduct. The line was first opened to expand access to this rural part of Scotland and the busy fishing port of Mallaig. Originally a steam train line, the steam locomotives were replaced in 1967 by more modern-day diesel locomotives as part of the British Rail Modernization Plan. Operating the line financially required extensive government subsidies, thus steam engines were reintroduced in 1984 primarily to attract tourist and thereby increase revenues on the line. The plan worked as tourist discovered the romance of steam travel through this scenic part of Scotland with its photogenic viaduct, but no one could have dreamed of what was about to happen.
In 1991, with the release of the film "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" the world was introduced the magical steam train, the Hogwarts Express and its iconic bridge. In the years since, tourism on the line has exploded. Prior to its appearance as the "Hogwarts Express" a single steam train ran the line for a 13 week season from June to September. Today the season has expanded to six months and passenger loads have forced the addition a few years ago to two runs a day - a morning and afternoon train.
Florence Maclean has worked on the railway since graduation from school in 1982, first with ScotRail and since 1995 with West Coast Railway when they took over operation of the scenic Fort William to Mallaig steam excursion and renamed it the "Jacobite."
Florence has worked her way up through the service to her current position as a "guard" similar (but with greater responsibilities) to what many would know as a conductor. She has now made the Fort William to Mallaig run thousands of times but says she never tires of the trip noting, "each day is different."
Whether it's the nostalgia of a bygone era of steam train travel, or the magic of Harry Potter that draws you on board, a trip on the Fort William to Mallaig extension of the West Highland Line is the perfect day trip for seniors, couples, or families. So as not to be disappointed, pre-booking well in advance is highly recommended.
With the train's appearance in each of the Harry Potter films, the Hogwarts Express is not just an attraction of the West Highland Line in Scotland, an amusement park version of the train has recently been added to Universal Orlando Resort.