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Howard’s train is back on track

A 110-ton railway locomotive that has promoted the name of Spalding all over the UK network for the last 15 years is back in service after a thorough overhaul, and its long-term future is now safeguarded.

Class 31 diesel No. 31106, which was originally named Spalding Town at the station by the late South Holland District Council chairman Colin Fisher back in 2002, was the subject of a special relaunch ceremony in the North East onApril 21.

The diesel locomotive is owned by businessman and former Free Press journalist Howard Johnston, who was born in Cowbit, and now lives in Hunstanton.His wife Marie performed the renaming ceremony.

No. 31106 is now semi-retired from main line service, and is hauling passenger trains on the Weardale Railway, a picturesque 16-mile line running from Bishop Auckland to Stanhope in County Durham.

In coming years, the engine is likely to visit other tourist lines around the country,

although an eventual return to the main line has not been ruled out.

Howard’s wife Marie Johnston performed the unveiling ceremony.(1911605)
Howard’s wife Marie Johnston performed the unveiling ceremony.(1911605)

No. 31106 has become somewhat of a celebrity since its reprieve from the scrapyard in 1997 by Howard, who was a journalist with the Free Press and Guardian between 1970 and 1974. He is now the chairman of a publishing and events company.

Howard says: “I travelled by rail scores of times from Spalding Town station (as it was then called) and Boston in my early life, and it was a very black day when this line closed in October 1970. Much later, I was delighted to have the privilege of naming an

engine after the station.

“The original plates it carried were in a non-standard typeface, so I have replaced them with new ones in the correct style.”

His locomotive was built in 1959 and spent much of its early life hauling passenger and freight trains in the area before it was laid aside by British Rail in mid-1990s. After its private purchase, it was hired out to Network Rail for another decade to haul maintenance trains, but has seen little use for about five years until now.

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