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Thrilling flurry of smoke, steam and noise.


WELL, it must have been a great day out as Mrs Elson said so. And she's not one to mince her words if expectations are unsatisfied.

After being so heavily involved with the Daily Post and National Museum Liverpool's summer steam excursions from Liverpool to Carlisle and North Wales, I fretted about the trip as my previous Liverpool & Manchester Railway 175th anniversary was marred by a breakdown.

Luckily, being of part Welsh Methodist stock, I'm always braced for disappointment.

Undeterred, my wife, youngest son and self sallied forth to Lime Street for Llandudno last Sunday on the North Wales Coast Express. The train was nearly full, although being one coach short due to a defective vehicle caused some non-musical chairs.

We stormed up the bank to Edge Hill in a flurry of smoke, steam and noise. Once past Chester, our 71-year-old streamlined locomotive No 60009 Union of South Africa, the London - Edinburgh steam speed record-holder, streaked along the North Wales coast in the hands of driver Morrison and fireman Murfin, from Crewe.

Behind the scenes, running these excursions teeters on turning into a nightmare, due to the privatised rail system's colossal bureaucracy. For example, the kitchen car could not take on water, as its filler pipe was on the trackside of the coach, not the platform side. Network Rail would not allow a hose to be run underneath the coach and calls to five contacts seeking permission were unanswered.

Passengers had no hot drinks until Llandudno Junction (but did get free orange juice).

As summer fell on last Sunday, rather than travel on to Holyhead, we alighted at Llandudno Junction for the scheduled shuttle train to Llandudno (pounds 2.10 return each).

Llandudno has not succumbed to the seediness that envelops practically every other resort.

In the glorious weather, we mooched by the shops and had a superb lunch at a new bistro, Kava, on Upper Mostyn Street. Later we strolled along the prom, inspected the lifeboat and pier, with its end pavilion now housing slot machines, where I heard classical concerts as a child. You can buy a dried star fish for pounds 2, imported from the Caribbean, while over the pier rail there were real jellyfish, like those I dodged here 40 years ago.

My son described a previous Llandudno pier visit when a seagull swooped down on his tuna bap, mistimed the attack and sent his lunch splattering on the decking.

Like lightning striking again, suddenly another gull, with far deadlier accuracy, dived out of the sky and snatched my special Thornton's chocolate fudge lolly I was wafting in my left hand. This time the greedy gull wheeled away and wolfed it down - stick and all.

All too soon it was back to Llandudno Junction just before our steam train swept in from Anglesey. While the engine refuelled, the excellent family-run station cafe stayed open to replenish excursionists, a gesture hugely appreciated. Then, all aboard, the signal changed to green and we were set to go . . . except nothing happened.

Dreaded words issued from train manager Robyn Macnamara over the loudspeakers: "I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there's a breakdown." A loud, collective groan from 400 passengers swept along the train. Another lightning strike? There was nothing wrong with the engine, Driver Bob Hart later told me. The new air pump brake, essential for today's rolling stock, retro-fitted to the 1937-built locomotive, had burst, probably hit by an object.

With a 90-minute delay awaiting a rescue diesel from Warrington and a very tired young son, we took scheduled trains back to Liverpool.

Thankfully, Railway Touring Company's harassed train crew persuaded Arriva Wales and Merseyrail to give free travel to any refugees from our train. It proves rail companies can pull together for the greater good of customers.

THE Liverpool Daily Post, National Museums Liverpool and Railway Touring Co's last two steam train excursions, with pounds 5 discount per reader, run from Liverpool to Carlisle on August 23 (quote CME) and North Wales on August 25 (quote NWC), tel: 01553 661500.

There were real jellyfish like I dodged here 40 years ago
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 18, 2008
Previous Article:BA Festival of Science in Liverpool.

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