May 24 2013 Latest news:
By STEVE DOWNES
Saturday, September 1, 2012
The age of steam was supposed to have puffed itself out decades ago.
But on Friday and at the weekend, people made tracks to Sheringham to see something magnificent - a steam train that was made in 2008.
Tornado - or, if you prefer, the less catchy 60163 - was the centre of attention at North Norfolk Railway’s autumn gala at its Sheringham headquarters.
Visitors headed to the Poppy Line from all over Britain to see Tornado, along with a host of other engines that jostled with each other for attention.
Its appearance at Sheringham would not have been possible a few years ago.
But on March 11 2010, after years of campaigning and fundraising, a crossing over Station Road in Sheringham was opened - linking Poppy Line with the Bittern Line to Norwich, and connecting the steam heritage track with the national rail network again.
It enabled North Norfolk Railway to attract big crowd-pullers like Tornado - much to the delight of the weekend visitors and volunteers.
One of the men who organised the gala was Mark Middleton, from Norwich, who spends his working days driving Greater Anglia trains from Norwich to London Liverpool Street.
He clearly cannot get enough of railways, though, and is often volunteering at North Norfolk Railway during his time off.
He said: “To have a whole new steam engine built in this day and age is amazing. And to have it here is great. It draws people from all over the country.
“Tornado doesn’t get to the area too often, so we’re delighted to have it here.”
Mr Middleton, who stood on the platform watching a steady procession of enthusiasts with their long-lens cameras, said it was difficult to explain why people were still so attracted to steam engines.
He said: “I think it still goes back to the romance of the steam era - smoke and steam and smells. For older people, it brings back childhood memories.
“But it’s also wonderful to see that the younger generations are also being bitten by the bug.”
He added: “I drive trains to London for work. But coming here is totally different to the day job. With steam locomotives, you have to feel them - they are alive and breathing.
“You have to make them go. I think it’s nice to keep old traditions alive.”
Various regular locomotives pulled carriages along the Poppy Line to Holt and back during the three days.
But the longest queues built up each time Tornado got ready to do the same trip - announcing its departure each time with a shrill whistle and an ear-splitting exhalation of steam.
The extraordinary project to build Tornado - which cost more than £3m in total - began in 1990, when a group of people came together to share the ambition of constructing a brand new Peppercorn A1 Pacific, the last of which was scrapped in 1966.
The eye-catching locomotives - of which there used to be dozens - fell victim to the arrival of diesel trains and disappeared one by one.
The group of enthusiasts formed The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust and, after 18 years of fundraising, designing and building at Darlington Works, in 2008 the locomotive moved under its own power for the first time.
It was made possible thanks to 2,500 regular covenantors, who regularly give sums of money to keep Tornado in good nick.
The engine is now something of a celebrity, travelling across Britain to haul specials, appear at steam galas and give joy to thousands of passengers and visitors who want to see it in action.
The steam gala - a popular annual event - also included a mini beer festival, featuring ales from Wolf Brewery at Attleborough, plus a bookstall and hot and cold refreshments.