Holiday festival of steam crashes

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The Independent Online

Britain's lack of appreciation for its industrial heritage is being blamed for the crash of a celebration of the nation's railways which would have been one of the largest outdoor events in Europe this year.

Britain's lack of appreciation for its industrial heritage is being blamed for the crash of a celebration of the nation's railways which would have been one of the largest outdoor events in Europe this year.

The Millennium Cavalcade of Steam was to have brought 40 of the world's finest locomotives, such as Stephenson's Rocket, Flying Scotsman and Mallard, to the North-east.

The £3m, August Bank Holiday cavalcade, to mark the 175th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway - Britain's first passenger line - took three years to plan and needed to attract 160,000 people to break even. In the event only 20,000 tickets were sold before an investor withdrew an offer of £150,000. The Rail 2000 company set up to stage the event has since crashed with losses of £700,000 and is currently being liquidated.

Amid severe recriminations, some financial backers are now privately accusing Rail 2000 and its chairman David Champion of overpricing tickets. Mr Champion has accused two local councils of failing to offer adequate financial support and undermining the event by planning alternative celebrations.

On the basis of the last cavalcade, 25 years ago, Rail 2000's visitor projections were conservative. Around 350,000 attended that event and as many as 240,000 had been anticipated this time.

Robin Jones, editor of Railway Heritage magazine, said: "Steam engines were more of a attraction in 1975. Now there is a whole generation of people whose only associations with steam are Thomas the Tank Engine. I believe the ticket prices deterred all but the hardcore enthusiasts."

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