IN a flurry of steam and whistles the Flying Scotsman hit the tracks in Didcot ahead of a special bank holiday weekend for the town.

The Oxford Mail was given a sneak preview yesterday as Didcot Railway Centre made its final preparations for what it expects to be its biggest weekend in years.

The centre's front of house manager, Tom Nichols, said he hoped the visit of the world-famous locomotive would help younger people to get passionate about the trains and the railways.

He said: "Who knows? Someone could come this weekend for the first time and end up volunteering in a few years time.

"If we are to continue we need younger people getting involved now.

"If anything can inspire then, it's the Flying Scotsman.

"It gives you a feeling of awe, you can really get a sense of its power as it goes past you. It's special."

In 1934 the locomotive, which was built 11 years earlier in Doncaster, became the first steam engine to reach a speed of 100mph.

Ann Middleton, who has volunteered at the centre for 32 years, said she hadn't known an event like it since the 150th anniversary of the Great Western Railway in 1985.

She said: "It's such a well known locomotive that we're hoping it will help us attract a new audience.

"I've had people in the shop – both young and old – asking about it all week and buying souvenirs.

"It's brilliant for the town, it will bring in so many visitors from all over the country who will all use the shops and the pubs."

The engine is in Didcot for the first time since it underwent a multi-million pound restoration overseen by the National Railway Museum in York.

The locomotive made the journey down from York on Thursday and arrived at the centre in secret at 11.30pm that night.

Clive Goult has been given the task of driving the steam train this weekend, one of a half-a-dozen specially trained drivers.

The soot-covered Yorkshireman said: "Most of the time it's a real privilege to drive this thing.

"Occasionally it's real hard work.

"It's hot and dirty in the cabin but that's all part of the job.

"It is a team effort. If one part doesn't work, it won't go so we've got to work together.

"It's a big operation.

"We used eight and a half tonnes of coal going from Carlisle to York and back and we'll be using a lot again this weekend.

"She was built in 1923 when we built things that last forever.

"A lot has changed or been replaced but she's still essentially the same and you'd be surprised at what is still original.

"People have always come out to watch steam trains and we are no different today.

"Yes it cost a lot of money to do up but I feel that's been repaid when you see the reactions of people."

Helping Clive will be Grahame Dryden, a Didcot man who has driven trains at the centre since 2000.

His job is to guide the Flying Scotsman around the tracks that he knows so well.

He said: "I think people will stand back in awe when they see this engine and will go away with some very happy memories of coming so close to something that is known world wide."

The engine will be at Didcot Railway Centre today, tomorrow and Bank Holiday Monday, along with another visitor, ex Port Talbot Railway No.813.

Tomorrow and Monday 60009 Union of South Africa will also be in attendance.

Tickets must be booked in advance and are available via