Steaming ahead in 2009

IF 2008 was a momentous year for East Anglia steam enthusiasts, 2009 looks like possibly being even better.

IF 2008 was a momentous year for East Anglia steam enthusiasts, 2009 looks like possibly being even better.

However the number of steam trains running through Ipswich could be hit by work that is being carried out on the main line through Essex over the next 12 months.

The last steam trip of the year to East Anglia was Saturday's Cathedral's Express from London Kings Cross to Norwich which went via Cambridge and Thetford.

That was hauled by iconic steam locomotive Sir Nigel Gresley, sister locomotive to world record-holder Mallard, and drew admiring looks as shot through East Anglia.

On that day Norwich was something of a Mecca for rail enthusiasts because another group turned out to watch the arrival of an historic Western diesel at the head of another special tour.

The last steam specials to use the main line through Ipswich were the two trips by newly-restored Oliver Cromwell from Liverpool Street to Norwich in September.

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They prompted a huge amount of interest from people who remembered Oliver Cromwell and its sister locomotives when they ruled the Great Eastern main line in the 1950s.

It was the restoration of Oliver Cromwell and its return to the main line after 40 years which prompted a huge amount of interest - but another famous engine with an East Anglian link is due to return to the main line in early 2009.

Royal Scot is owned by the Bressingham Steam Museum based near Diss and has been restored to working order at Southall in London by the team which used to run Flying Scotsman.

It is due to haul its first train on the national network since the early 1960s in the spring - another trip from London to Norwich via Cambridge.

Oliver Cromwell is due to return to the main line through Ipswich with a St George's Day special on April 23 - and there may be other trips later in the year.

Graham Bunker, chief executive of Steam Dreams - the company which runs the Cathedral Express excursions - said that steam trips to East Anglia had been very popular.

"We find that Norwich is a very popular destination for our excursions - and Oliver Cromwell is an engine which has a real resonance in the region. The trains always sell very well - the last Cathedral's Express was our most successful of the year."

Engineering work means it will be difficult to run steam specials over the main line during 2009. "But we are hoping to arrange more mid-week services," said Mr Bunker.

One highlight will also be the first appearance in East Anglia of Tornado, the brand-new steam locomotive built by enthusiasts in Darlington which was completed in August and has had its first main-line testing trips over the last few weeks.

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