TRAIN enthusiast Phil Lockhart was presented with a souvenir golden ticket as the five millionth passenger to travel on the Watercress Line since it became a heritage railway 45 years ago.

It was a double celebration for Phil, from Cranleigh, as the ride was a birthday treat enjoyed with wife Christine, daughter Emily and son-in-law Mark.

He said: “I would like to say thank you to everybody at the Watercress Line for their enthusiasm and dedication to keeping a little bit of our railway heritage alive so we can enjoy it.”

Watercress Line operations manager Alison Houghton said: “Congratulations to Phil Lockhart for being our five millionth visitor.

“We were delighted to welcome him and his family and it was a pleasure to present him with this memento as part of his birthday celebrations.”

In 2015, Phil received a special retirement gift from Cranleigh School, where he had worked since 1976, for him to join the train driver in his cab on the Watercress Line.

By coincidence the loco that pulled the train was Cheltenham, a sister engine to Cranleigh, a Schools Class engine.

And the driver with whom Phil shared the footplate was Neil Marshall, a friend and fellow drummer.

The Watercress Line, then known as the Mid-Hants Railway, opened in 1865.

The line served the needs of the local community and enabled the establishment of commercial watercress growing in the Alresford area.

This highly perishable product required rapid transport to get it to market.

During both World Wars the line carried military traffic between Aldershot and Southampton.

But over the years, with changes to transport and travel, the local passenger service was increasingly unviable.

Closure notices were published in December 1967 and the line finally shut in February 1973.

After years of hard work by volunteers it re-opened to visitors as a heritage railway on April 30, 1977 and steam trains ran again from Alresford to Ropley.

Services were extended to Medstead & Four Marks in May 1983 and to Alton in May 1985.

The Watercress Line aims to preserve part of the country’s railway heritage for future generations.

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