FOOTBALL legend Jack Charlton took a train ride yesterday to help a group of volunteers celebrate an addition to a popular visitor attraction in his North East home town.
The World Cup winner and his wife Pat hopped aboard the diesel train which ferries 18,000 passengers a year on a mile-long railway track between the Woodhorn Museum at Ashington and the QE11 country park and lake.
Ashington-born Jack was invited to launch a new carriage for the train, which will allow wheelchair users and disabled people to get on board.
The ceremony was a red letter day for 12 volunteers of the Woodhorn Narrow Gauge Railway Society, who run the train service and have been raising funds for the new accessible carriage for years.
Jack was the VIP guest because he organised the first event for the fundraising campaign, An Evening With Jack Charlton, 20 years ago.
The train now has three carriages and the new disabled carriage, and is pulled by two locos, one a former pit engine used at Vane Tempest Colliery. It operates every Saturday and Sunday.
Jack said: “I think the train is a smashing attraction, because it lets visitors to Woodhorn get around and see something of the country park. We have had a ride on it and it’s a very nice experience.”
Society secretary, Stan Lawler, said: “When the railway started 20 years ago the wish was to have an accessible carriage for disabled people. We have had to raise about £25,000 in total.
“The carriages are old mine cars and can’t be adapted so people in wheelchairs have not been able to get on the train until now. The new carriage can take five wheelchairs and we will be using it on Saturdays and for special bookings.”
Society chairman, Les Chilton, said: “Without the financial support of various agencies and individuals, the carriage would still be just a dream. I have to thank our volunteers.”
The new carriage bears the names Ellie and Kate. Ellie Long, a local two-year-old who died from meningitis in 2010, was a regular passenger on the train.
Kate Appleby is the granddaughter of the late Stan Greener, who was chairman of the Society and a leading light in a disabled carriage campaign.