Steam dream for rail fans

Who said steam trains are only for anoraks and little boys who love Thomas the Tank Engine! We went for a day chugging around East Anglia and found himself in the middle of a real steam dream!

By Paul Geater

SHE might be more than 60 years old now, but there's no doubt that Canadian Pacific can still turn a few heads!

The Merchant Navy express pacific locomotive – number 35005 for the real enthusiasts – is the flagship of a new company that's making a real name for itself on the rails.

Canadian Pacific (or CanPac to her mates) is usually found at the head of the Cathedrals Express, a train that is giving ordinary people the chance to travel behind mainline steam.

The Cathedrals Express runs from London to Cathedral cities throughout southern England – and 36 trips are planned this year.

I joined the train for its first trip of the year, and its first trip from London Liverpool Street to Norwich.

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The train was full, with 450 passengers on board paying anything from £39.50 for a standard class ticket to £129 for first class passengers with meals included.

The train is firmly aimed at people who want a good day out – but who are not necessarily confirmed rail enthusiasts who will sometimes spend up to 16 hours a day on a train!

The Cathedral Express leaves London at a leisurely 11am, travelled to Norwich via Cambridge and Ely, and returned through Ipswich and Colchester.

The train is the brainchild of rail enthusiast Marcus Robertson, who owns one of the largest marketing companies in Britain.

He decided to link his love of steam with his family's wish to go on days out to historic cities and the Cathedral Express was born. He formed Steam Dreams to operate it.

Initially aimed at American tourists, he soon discovered there was a ready market in the UK – and it has expanded to now run 36 trains to eight destinations between April and October. It also runs some Christmas specials.

The carriages are owned and serviced by the Mid Hants Railway with CanPac or fellow locomotive Bodmin providing the steam power.

Steam trains still have the power to turn heads – as the train stormed through the East Anglian countryside people stopped to stare, horses bolted, and even a family of deer peered at us as we passed through Thetford Forest.

For two decades after British Rail got rid of steam in 1968, private steam charters were restricted to a few carefully-selected lines.

East Anglia was a steam desert – but over the last seven years things have changed, most memorably during the EUR150 celebrations in 1996 when steam returned to the line between Ipswich and Bury St. Edmunds.

This year the Cathedrals Express will be passing through Ipswich five times and other companies are also expected to run steam through the region.

For details of the Cathedrals Express and its trips this year, contact Steam Dreams on 01483-209888 or visit the website at