People of a certain age grew up dreaming of riding the Hogwarts Express. Departing from Platform 9 3/4 from King’s Cross railway station in London, it transports carriage-loads of excited students to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It sounded pretty awesome in the books, and Christopher Columbus brought it to life beautifully in 2001’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or, if you really insist, Sorcerer’s Stone).
This bright red steam train is one of the most iconic elements of the Harry Potter universe, but now we’re learning that the particular train seen in the movies has a depressing backstory that rivals Harry’s miserable pre-wizarding childhood. The model of train we see in the film is a GWR 4900, and the specific train is known as no. 5972 Olton Hall.
The vehicle was a working train from its construction up until 1963, when it was withdrawn from service and eventually consigned to the scrapyard. And there it lay, slowly rusting in the miserable South Wales rain for nearly twenty years. It was forgotten, unloved and just another pile of junk that would one day be melted down for whatever could be recovered from its carcass.
Fortunately, it was saved for preservation in the nick of time and was restored and put back to work running steam tours of the north of England where it was noticed by Warner Bros. when they were searching for a suitable locomotive to use for the Harry Potter movies. Aside from some minor vandalism in 2004, it’s been treated like train royalty ever since and is now one of the main attractions at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter (which, if you’re a fan visiting London, is a must-see).
It’s easy to imagine the parallels between this lonely train languishing in a junkyard and Harry Potter under the stairs miserably dreaming of a better life. And, to have a happy ending for once, both of them sort of got it.