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Can't wait to see my old mate Oliver once again

PUBLISHED: 15:36 10 March 2010 | UPDATED: 08:44 02 July 2010

Mighty machine: Ray Powell poses with the Oliver Cromwell during his days as a train driver.

Mighty machine: Ray Powell poses with the Oliver Cromwell during his days as a train driver.

Derek James

A Norwich man hopes to be reunited with a dear old friend when she huffs and puffs her way back into the county on Thursday.

A Norwich man hopes to be reunited with a dear old friend when she huffs and puffs her way back into the county on Thursday.

I say she because that is how locomotives are referred to, but her name is Oliver Cromwell - and she is true legend. An icon.

When this mighty steam monster was carrying passengers between Norwich and London and back again, one of her drivers was Ray Powell, now in his 80s, who told me: “She was a beauty. One of the best and it would be lovely to see her again.”

Ray's daughter is Shelagh Gurney, chairman of Norfolk County Council, and she plans to take her father to Sheringham on Thursday when Oliver will be the star attraction at a red letter day in the history of not just the Poppy Line but of railway preservation.

The magnificent Britannia steam loco will bring the first passenger train over the new Sheringham level crossing as the town's preservation line reconnects to the national rail network for the first time in 46 years.

And the railway link, which will boost tourist and trade, is being opened by the “Hitman” himself, Pete Waterman, who has steam in his veins.

The man behind some of the biggest pop hits of the last three decades is a life-long train and railway fan and is looking forward to visiting the picturesque Poppy Line.

North Norfolk Railway spokesman Colin Borg said: “Pete is a great hero of the whole railway preservation movement.”

But the real star of the show will be Oliver Cromwell who will bring the first passenger train over the crossing.

Many years ago, before the old girl retired, she was working hard speeding between Norwich and London and one of the men at the controls was Ray Powell.

He spent 47 years working on the railway across Norfolk, starting on the MGNR at Melton Constable, moving to Wells and then coming to Thorpe as a fireman and driver.

“Our trains, the Britannia's, all had a character of their own. Some good, others not as good. They could be awkward. We all got to know them well and Oliver Cromwell was a beauty. She was one of the best,” said Ray.

He and his colleagues worked hard, being at the controls of those steam monsters as they sped between Norwich and London in around two hours, was not for the faint-hearted.

“We would burn tons and tons of coal on the journey. My shirt would stick to my back and my wife had a job pulling it off me when I got home. But I wouldn't have wanted to do anything else. There was something very special about these trains,” said Ray.

Now he is looking forward to meeting up with Oliver again at Sheringham.

“It's good what they are doing there and I am pleased to think the old girl is still working,” he added.

BR Pacific No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell, is Britain's great steam survivor. On August 11 she hauled British Rail's very last steam train, bring down the curtain on an era that stretched back to 1804.

It made its debut on the Cathedrals Express on a magnificent trip from Liverpool Street to Norwich in September 2008 and it continues to attract fans of all ages.

Pete Waterman was one third of the Stock, Aitken and Waterman team who were responsible for a string of worldwide hits which as I Should be so Lucky and Especially for You by Kylie Minogue.

His own career spans five decades from club DJ to manager to TV talent show panellist on Pop Idol and Popstars the Rivals, culminating in his 2004 OBE.

Oliver Cromwell is due to bring the first passenger train over the level crossing for more than 45 years at 2.15pm on Thursday March 11. This will be followed by a three-day celebration gala. For all the details of this and other events on the Poppy Line call 01263 820800 or click on www.nnrailway.co.uk

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