IT is widely regarded as one of the world’s most dramatic and scenic train journeys going through some of Scotland ‘s most treasured spots, from lavish lochs to magnificent mountains.
The 164-mile long scenic West Highland Line takes in Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, the UK’s largest loch in Loch Lomond, the deepest in Loch Morar and the highest mainline station in Corrour.
It is known to billions as the railway that took Harry Potter from Platform 9 and ¾ all the way to Hogwarts.
But concerns have been raised as it has emerged the line is to close for ten days with businesses concerned about the effect on trade at the tail end of the tourist season.
Network Rail officials have confirmed to some that the closure will happen to carry out “critical work” in the 40-mile stretch between Spean Bridge and Crianlarich between October 5 and October 14 .
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Steam train journeys on the Jacobite between Fort William and Mallaig continue to October 25, which is considered to be the end of the season.
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According to a letter, seen by the Herald, from Network Rail it is part of a multi-million pound investment to replace the track and decking over the viaduct known as Horseshoe Curve between Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum.
The famous curve came about because railway builders did not have the money for a viaduct across the mouth of the valley. The line now enters, circles and leaves the glen at the foot of Beinn Dorain , Beinn a’ Chaiseil and Beinn Odhar.
Engineers will also be renewing eight culverts to make the line “more resilient” during severe weather.
Some of the concern is that it has still not been officially announced, which means businesses reliant on visitor income cannot prepare for the effects of the closure.
There is also concern that parts of the line, including Rannoch and Corrour are too isolated to be able to even bring in a bus replacement service.
The first signs of potential disruption came in the middle of last month, when ScotRail put up a sign at Rannoch station explaining all trains would be cancelled between October 5 and 13 and stating that “no alternative road transport is available during this time.”
ScotRail later took down the sign saying at the time that no final decision has been made.
But confirmation has come from Network Rail in a letter to one concerned businesswoman.
It says: “The timing of the closure is planned around avoiding the peak tourist season and the potential for adverse weather.
“Our normal process is to notify those living circa 200m of the worksites 10 to 14 days in advance of any work taking place.
“However, where possible, we will try to notify sooner for large projects. I am sorry that you have not been informed sooner on this occasion.
“I am sorry if our work will cause you any disturbance or inconvenience but hope this information goes some way to showing why this line has to be closed to accommodate the critical improvement work on our infrastructure.”
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Nick Sedgwick, 35, and his fiancee Joanne Mackin, 36, brought their wedding forward by two weeks to the end of September after hearing rumours of the potential closure.
They had planned the wedding for October 12 at Corrour whose train station is one of the most remote in the United Kingdom on the northern edge of Rannoch Moor and is not accessible by any public roads.
Any line closure would have made any arrangements impossible.
Mr Sedgwick’s mother, Frances said: “The rumour was that the contractors had been booked and the plans are likely to go ahead.
“This is an appalling decision which does not appear to take into account the businesses along the line which depend on tourists brought by the railway.
“October is still busy tourist season and the closure dates include the start of the Scottish school holidays when many people use the train.
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“Some places, such as Corrour, can only be reached by train, there is no road. If they had waited just a month, many of the businesses would have been closed for November and the impact would not have been so bad.”
Mr Sedgwick and Ms Mackin at Corrour
Hege Hernes, secretary of the West Highland Community Rail Partnership, said there was upset at the lack of communication still over the closure.
Ms Hernes, who manages the Glenfinnan Station Museum said: “We are glad they are doing the work, but appalled that they have not let the businesses know at an earlier date.
“People need to know now. They should have known months and months ago.
“It [the work] ought to happen after October 25, which is when the season ends up here, although they may have their reasons for this.
“We need more communication and notification and discussion with the partnership that we make it as painfree as possible.”