The real life Hogwarts Express is out of action after Network Rail took the unprecedented step of banning its operator from the entire rail network due to safety concerns.
The suspension means West Coast Railways (WCR) - which owns a fleet of steam locomotives including Olton Hall, the train used as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films - cannot operate any of its services on any routes.
WCR's suspension notice took effect from 3 April. The company has until 15 May 2015 to make significant improvements to its safety protocols in order for the ban to be withdrawn.
Operators have been banned from certain routes before but this is the first time a total network ban has been served since privatisation.
A spokesman for Network Rail said: ‘This decision has not been taken lightly. We have set out a number of actions to address the safety concerns raised and will continue to work with WCR to ensure their services can run safely in the future.’
The move comes after a 100mph collision was narrowly avoided in early March, when a First Great Western High Speed Train and a steam excursion operated by WCR missed each other by roughly a minute. The Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD) incident was ranked as the most serious this year.
In the suspension notice, Network Rail writes: Network Rail has had concerns about WCR’s performance of its safety obligations for some time and recent events lead Network Rail to believe that the operations of WCR are a threat to the safe operation of the railway’.
It highlighted the SPAD in March and added that ‘WCR had demonstrated that its controls, communication and commitment following the recent SPAD were inadequate’.
‘Network Rail also has serious concerns about the fact that WCR unilaterally suspended the response to Network Rail’s review of WCR’s Safety Management System undertaken in January 2015. The review raised some serious and significant issues and there was no communication with Network Rail to explain that the response was being suspended,’ the notice states.
However Network Rail did state the situation can be remedied and outlined seven steps required from WCR including introducing ‘an effective, risk-based driver monitoring regime that includes proactively using analysis of On Train Data Recorder downloads for a representative and sufficient sample of diagrams’.
The full list can be read here.
By 15 May, the first five of the tasks must be completed with ‘material demonstrable progress’ towards the completion of the last two for the suspension notice to be withdrawn.
West Coast Railways was unavailable for comment.