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Saturday 18 July 2009

Harry Potter and the Charter of Olton Hall

No, it’s not a book, and I’m not about to attempt to extend the now completed J K Rowling series. It’s one of many spin-offs related, however loosely, to the release of the latest Potter movie. And it even interests rail aficionados like me, because, yes, it’s to do with trains.

Olton Hall is actually a steam locomotive, one of hundreds built by the Great Western Railway to perform middling passenger duties, and help out with moving the freight which at the time was the way that the railways made much of their money. But when it’s Harry Potter film time, it becomes Hogwart’s Castle, and its usual bright green livery is changed for red when it hauls the “Hogwart’s Express”.

There are other details that irritate the purist: Olton Hall, being from the Great Western, never worked out of Kings’ Cross station (whatever the platform number), and of course the ones called “Castles” are rather larger and more important locos, but this means nothing to the Potter fans who have stumped up almost ninety quid a throw to ride behind it from London’s Paddington station to Oxford today (and only the one way – they have to make do with a diesel for the journey back).

Why does the railway get involved? Well, today’s trip is a kind of grown up Thomas – it’s a way of getting people to travel by rail. There are lots of similar charters running all over the network, mainly at weekends, that exploit this market niche and (hopefully) show that larger part of the population that don’t normally go near trains that the railway can give you a fun day out.

Go on, try one – you might end up getting the bug, mind.

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