Steam revival gets the comic touch

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The Independent Online
One of the strangest alliances in railway history occurred yesterday as Chris Donald, creator of the anarchic adult comic Viz, joined forces with the Duke of Northumberland in an attempt to recreate the golden age of steam-train travel.

Mr Donald, who is responsible for bringing the likes of Johnny Fartpants and the Fat Slags to Britain's news-stands, fulfilled a life-long ambition when he unveiled the pounds 5m dream of a three-mile "castle- to-coast" service from Alnwick to Alnmouth. It is hoped that the Aln Valley railway will run trains throughout the summer, and the trust backing the project believes it would generate pounds 1.5m a year for the local economy.

Mr Donald, a railway fanatic who admitted that if he won the lottery he would buy his own steam line, has contributed to the launch by donating an engine worth pounds 15,000. He already owns three former train stations and lives in a converted one in Akeld, Northumberland. He said: "I am a buff, but I have always been particularly interested in preserving the lines around Northumberland. At first I was very cynical, but when the idea was explained to me it seemed fairly sensible.

"As the father of two young children who read Thomas the Tank Engine books I am always being pestered to take them for a ride on a steam train. It's every trainspotter's dream to open up an old branch line and run a steam line."

Asked whether this venture would result in a new Viz hero, he said there was always a chance: "The characters in the comic tend to be people you meet, and I have met a myriad of disgusting trainspotters."

More than 100 corporate heads and business leaders were invited to Alnwick Castle to see the plans for themselves. The duke himself has accepted the role of president, and called the Aln Valley Railway "one of the most exciting projects in Northumberland for 50 years".