Delighted rail enthusiasts were treated to a rare sight on Saturday as a passenger steam train chugged through south west London for the first time in almost five years.
The Cathedral Express, hauled by a Black Five locomotive, passed through Tooting and stopped at Wimbledon to pick up nine of its 300 passengers.
Unsuspecting onlookers and avid enthusiasts alike snapped away on their smartphones as the historic train, operated by the Steam Dreams rail company, made the stop at Wimbledon en-route to Portsmouth Harbour.
Volunteer steward Timothy Davies, from Farnham, said: “It’s an exciting day for steam train fans because we don’t often stop at Wimbledon, a lot of our trips wouldn’t even come down this part of the main line.”
He added: “There will be people on the platform that have come especially to see the train stopping here, but all along the route I expect to see people in fields, at stations and on railway bridges hoping to catch a glimpse.”
It was happenstance that the train stopped in the tennis-famed Merton district: Steam Dreams was the brain child of Marcus Robertson, whose mother wrote about Wimbledon’s most famous residents, The Wombles.
Mr Davies, whose duties include greeting guests and assisting with boarding, said: “Marcus is still one of the leading people in the company and I’m sure there’s a lot of affection for Wimbledon.
“Whether the fact its stopping here as a thank you or whatever – I’m not sure – I think it’s just by chance!”
Although the company picks up passengers at more than 100 stations across the UK every year, the last time a steam train travelled through the two south west London stations was in December 2013.
Sally and Jeff Armitage, from Sutton, have enjoyed several day trips and holidays aboard steam trains, but it was the first time they had been able to board at Wimbledon.
Mrs Armitage said: “It is unique coming here, just a short bus ride from home.”
She added: “The trips are wonderful – such an experience. The staff are very attentive and the food is superb.”
Lucky passengers in the Premier and Pullman carriages were served a champagne breakfast on the outbound journey, and a three-course dinner on the return leg.
The carriages, complete with white table cloths and table lamps, were pulled by the LMS Stanier Black Five 45212 which was built at Armstrong Whitworth in 1935 and returned to the mainline in 2017.
The locomotive is one of just 18 ‘Black Fives’ to survive into preservation.
Joe Brothwell, from Hither Green, was taken by surprise by the special service as he waited for his train on Wimbledon’s platform number 9.
He said: “It was ace to see a steam train this morning and totally unexpected – it’s not like it was listed on any of the boards.
“I felt like I’d been transported to a different era. It was very cool thing to witness and I’m really glad I was early for my train for once!”