The sun shone on a bustling steam train carrying wide-eyed passengers, steam enthusiasts and dignitaries this week, just as it did 40 years ago when the North York Moors Railway first opened to the public.
May 1 1973 saw the Duchess of Kent open the heritage railway and on Wednesday, 35 founding members, many of whom still volunteer on the NYMR, rode behind the same engine which made that maiden voyage, engine number 29.
Volunteer Len Clarke was involved in the railway from those early days and said: “It was exhilirating.
“After seeing the end of steam in the 1960s, it stirred up the heart strings.”
Even at the age of 78, Mr Clarke continues to volunteer on the railway, painting the engines and carriages, but said he never imagined the railway would see its 40th birthday.
For the past nine years the NYMR has been under the stewardship of general manager Philip Benham, who has overseen record numbers of passengers, as well as the extension of the service to Whitby in 2007.
He admitted to initially being surprised at the number of founding members who are still involved and said: “It was one of the things that struck me when I first came here, but it indicates such huge commitment and I think it’s fundamental to our success.
“I certainly felt the weight of responsibility, and still do. Any of us trying to run the railway are just stewards, but you look at those people who have given so much, you feel there’s something to live up to.”
With almost 350,000 passengers each year, the NYMR is now the world’s most popular heritage railway.
Wednesday’s journey saw the newly-overhauled ‘Lambton, Hetton and South Joicey Colliery’ tank No 29 double-head the train, 40 years after it pulled the royal train along the same line.
Chris Cubitt, vice-chairman of the North York Moors Historical Railway Trust, drove Engine 29 from Grosmont to Pickering, as he had done with the royal train 40 years earlier.
He said: “It’s just the same as it was 40 years ago, it’s like riding a bicycle - you don’t fall off.”