ABOARD THE FLYING SCOTSMAN, United Kingdom (AFP) - The Flying Scotsman, a 93-year-old steam locomotive and jewel of Britain's industrial heritage, completed its first official journey on Thursday since a painstaking restoration.
The train streamed through the English countryside on its inaugural journey to the historic city of York billowing white smoke as passengers enjoyed a champagne breakfast in old-fashioned carriages with wooden compartments.
"It's a wonderful locomotive," William McAlpine, the British construction tycoon who used to own the engine told AFP, visibly moved at seeing it restored to its former glory "like a beautiful woman".
"She's in the right place doing the right thing and very much loved by everybody, and the wonderful thing about her, she makes people smile, people love her," he added.
Trainspotters lined the track in some areas and at one point near the town of St Neots in Cambridgeshire the locomotive was forced to come to a sudden stop because of dozens of people on the line.
"I think the steam trains have got this bit of extraordinary character to them," said Paul Jubb, a 58-year-old fan from Birmingham who was among the 300 donors and enthusiasts aboard locomotive 60103.
Jubb said he had "very fond memories" of them from his childhood, adding: "I never imagined one moment that nearly half a century later I'd be lucky enough to get to go on this famous train!"
Another passenger, 70-year-old Tony Hey said: "It's absolutely fantastic. This is a totally different experience. Electric trains are all the same!"
Sitting on plush Burgundy-red velvet seats behind white tablecloths, passengers tucked into their porridge, sipped tea and quaffed champagne.
There were no electrical sockets or electric doors to be seen.
Staff were dressed in green uniforms - the same colours of the former national railway agency in which the locomotive has also been painted.
The 97-tonne engine pulled out of London's King's Cross Station at 7.40am GMT (3.40pm Singapore time) to applause from a crowd of enthusiasts who had come to witness its rebirth after a restoration that lasted a decade.
The Flying Scotsman arrived nearly six hours later in York, a historic city some 280km north of London, where it will stay in the city's National Railway Museum until the beginning of March.
The train will then spend the coming months on tourist trips and featuring in exhibitions.
Restoring the famous engine cost around £4.2 million (S$8.1 million).
Thursday was the locomotive's first official outing since it returned to the rails last January in Bury, north-west England, for a series of tests.
"It's great to see this magnificent symbol of Britain's railway heritage and technology once again running on our tracks," said Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, which runs Britain's rail network.
The National Railway Museum bought the Flying Scotsman in 2004, partly thanks to funds donated by the public. Restoration work started in 2006.
Built in 1923, the locomotive was the first steam engine officially to hit 160kmh and the first to link London to Edinburgh in a single journey.
After being retired in 1963, the Flying Scotsman was bought by industrialist Alan Pegler and crossed the Atlantic to pull tourist trains on the West Coast of the United States.
Pegler's daughter Penelope Vaudoyer remembered the day her father told her about the purchase and said: "I've bought a steam locomotive and we're going to keep it. We'll have a lot of adventures."
Bought in 1973 by McAlpine, the locomotive returned to Britain and passed through the hands of several owners.
Fully renovated in the late 1990s, it pulled the Venice Simplon-Orient Express on tourist trips from Victoria Station in London.
"It's a historic day," said Paul Kirkman, director of the National Railway Museum.
"This celebratory journey marks a new stage in this steam icon's long and colourful history."