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Cherie Blair's fond memories of great days out on Merseyrail.

Byline: LAURA DAVIS

CHERIE Blair yesterday named a newly-refurbished Merseyrail train Capital of Culture in recognition of Liverpool's 2008 crown.

The Prime Minister's wife, dressed in a smart cream suit and matching heels,braved the muddy conditions and used the occasion to reminisce ab out train journeys from her childhood home in Waterloo to Southport beac h.

She said: ``When I was young, travelling on the train was a time of great excitement because most of the time we were going on a trip to the seaside in Southport or shopping in town.''

Mrs Blair,49, teasedMerseyrail workers at Kirkdale station ab out their fluorescent coats and asked to borr ow the town crier, who had announced her arrival,for future official engagements.

She joked: ``I don't always get a chance to get my hands on some nice young men.''

During a tour of the new-look train,Ms Booth,QC,praised its ``smart colours'' and security system,including closed-circuit TV cameras, saying she had experienced several cases in court where such footage had provided crucial evidence.

The refurbished train,one of 10 now in service, is part of a pounds 32m investment to improve passenger comfort and safety throughout the 59-strong Merseyrail fleet.

Each vehicle is being stripped to its bare shell to make way for a completely new interior, including modern seating, panelling,flooring and electronic information displays.

Cllr Mark Dowd,chairman of passenger transport authority Merseytravel,described how much cleaner the new carriages are for passengers.

Mrs Blair said: ``I wouldn't like to speculate on what might have been on the floors bef ore.''

In the afternoon, she attended a ceremony at Liverpool city centre's Moat House Hotel to mark the centenary of the electrification of Merseyside's railway.

The change from steam took around 10 years with the Liverpool to Southport line completed in 1904 and Liverpool to Ormskirk in 1913.

It was the first in the world to change entirely to electric traction.

Mrs Blair said: ``It is a great tribute to the people who built and electrified the railways here that their legacy is today the foundation of Merseyside's public transport system.

``It will play a big part in delivering the regeneration of Liverpool and the wider Merseyside economy in the 21st century and will form the first impressions of many of our visitors during the Capital of Culture year in 2008.''

The mother-of-four also visited Claire House Children's Hospice in Wirral to learn ab out its appeal to build a pounds 2mcentre for teenagers,and the Lily Centre breast cancer support group in Vauxhall,Liverpool, where she is patron.

She had a ride on a police motorbik e,lent to the hospice for the day by the Merseyside force. Sgt Dave Corcoran,of the force operations department, said:``As part of the planning arrangements, we went to Claire House in advance to go through security arrangements.

``The officers could not help being touched by the children's bravery.

``We wanted to give the children a day they wouldn't forget so our colleagues in the Bromborough traffic department took over some police Land Rovers and motorcycles to give them a ride.

``I think everyone,including Mrs Blair,had a great day.''

CAPTION(S):

Cherie Blair joins in the fun with children during her visit to Claire House Children's Hospice; Sharing a joke with founder members of the Lily Centre,from left,Pat Herron (treasurer),Peggy O'Brien(chairwoman) and Winnie Keating (secretary); Cherie Blair on board the refurbished train with Mark Dowd, chairman of Merseytravel
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 27, 2004
Words:587
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