Gallery: Historic steam train visits Suffolk

I'M too young - just - to remember steam in East Anglia, but that has done nothing to quench my passion for railways.

Paul Geater

I'M too young - just - to remember steam in East Anglia, but that has done nothing to quench my passion for railways.

I grew up in a village near Saxmundham, and back in the 1970s that was a gateway to the world for me.

Back then the services were operated by boring diesel multiple units that had been introduced in the late 1950s to replace steam.

The only relief from this was the 8:08am from Sax direct to London and 4:50pm return from Liverpool Street.

At that time I started buying railway magazines - and would read with envy about steam main-line trips in other parts of the country.

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At that time steam was strictly confined to a few approved routes - and the prospect of seeing steam express locomotive anywhere in East Anglia seemed remote. The chance of getting a Britannia on the East Suffolk line again was non-existent.

I had to make do with trips to Bressingham where Oliver Cromwell was stuffed and running up and down a quarter-mile track. I would have loved to have seen or ridden behind it on the main line, but this was all I could hope for.

Skip 35 years and things are different - Network Rail is prepared to allow steam on any line providing space for the train can be found and the promoter is prepared to pay a hefty fee!

Oliver Cromwell has been released from his “prison” and been restored to main-line condition - so on Saturday a trainload of rail fans set off from Liverpool Street on the Easterling - a trip from London to Norwich, Lowestoft, and back down the East Suffolk line to London.

On the first leg of the journey the 58-year-old locomotive showed just how an express steam engine could run at 75mph - an experience you can't get on a preserved railway.

The trip from Norwich to Lowestoft is one of the most attractive in England. But it was the two-hour run down the East Suffolk line that brought tears to my eyes . . . literally.

The tears came because I stood by an open window for this part of the journey and the smoke was blowing in - but as it rattled through stations like Beccles and Halesworth a lump came to my throat.

Oliver Cromwell had a couple of problems re-starting at level crossings just outside Halesworth - when it was running the line regularly there were no health and safety regulations about slowing at crossings!

As it ran through Sax I couldn't resist waving to the crowd - everyone still waves at steam trains - and the route round Melton and Woodbridge was a real delight.

As the train approached the end of the East Suffolk line it passed over the Norwich Road bridge, near my current home, completing a truly memorable and very personal journey.

What's in a Name?

Oliver Cromwell is the name of locomotive, number 70013. It would carry that name whether it was pulling an express passenger train or empty coal wagons from power station to pithead in the north of England.

The Easterling was the name of a train from London to Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth in the 1950s. It would run non-stop from Liverpool Street to Beccles where it split in two with half going over the now-closed line to Yarmouth and the rest going to Lowestoft.

21st century Easterling

Although the service doesn't carry the name, there are now more direct services from Lowestoft to London than ever before - provided by National Express East Anglia's Turbostar high-speed diesel units.