Lament for Toby the tram engine

PUBLISHED: 12:19 19 May 2006 | UPDATED: 21:52 28 May 2010

One of my regrets is that I never saw Toby in action. I did see one of his brothers perform in Lowestoft docks but that wasn t quite the same. Panic not, though. This is not the story of a super stud nor even of a sporting super-hero. It s a lament for th

One of my regrets is that I never saw Toby in action. I did see one of his brothers perform in Lowestoft docks but that wasn't quite the same.

Panic not, though. This is not the story of a super stud nor even of a sporting super-hero.

It's a lament for the Wisbech and Upwell tramway which closed 40 years ago this coming Tuesday. Its steam engines looked like hen houses on wheels - and on fire. They pulled passenger coaches, fruit vans and other goods trucks at a stately 12mph, the maximum permitted speed, alongside the main road.

One of the coaches with its veranda end platforms had a moment of glory in a classic film comedy, 'The Titfield Thunderbolt'.

Passenger services ended back in 1927 but the fruit and freight traffic survived. Older readers will remember trains getting stuck on the hump bridge at New Common or being held up by a car parked on the track. A friend of mine, David, recalls that when he and his mates were late for school, they hi-jacked a platelayer's truck (one of those things you propel by pumping a handle up and down) to get them to Wisbech in time.

Toby the Tram Engine was given his name by a vicar of Emneth, the Rev Wilbert Awdry, who wrote the original Thomas the Tank Engine books. Few fans know he also introduced his readers to Mavis, one of the diesel shunters which eventually replaced the steam trams.

Had it survived, it would be a unique tourist attraction. It makes me wonder about the re-opening of the Bramley line between March and Wisbech. The enthusiasts for whom this is a labour of love say they are a not-for-profit group. They'll still have to market it professionally if it's not to make a huge loss. After all, a restored railway from Whitemoor railway yard to Wisbech's Weasenham Lane industrial estate doesn't sound like a prime tourist attraction.

Mind you, should they set out to build a replica Toby plus veranda coaches and sell local apples on board, families would flock from miles around. Yes, I know the railway buffs would say it wasn't genuine but that's no dafter than running (as they intend to) an old Gatwick Express through scenic Coldham.

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