LIKE the Hogwarts Express, the 20.36 from London sneaked unannounced into the station – two minutes late – last night.
Just as the famous train from the Harry Potter series appears on no electronic station notice boards, but still magically arrives, so it was with the Grand Central service into Sunderland.
Arrivals of trains from Airport, South Hylton, MetroCentre and other local stations were displayed, but when the huge engine bearing 10 carriages rolled into the subterranean station – the first direct arrival from the capital in over 20 years – neither station announcer nor electronic board saw fit to notice.
Only father-and-daughter Stuart and Joanne Hinchcliffe, as well as fellow train enthusiast Alex Ferguson, decided it was worth turning out to see history made.
Railway engineer Mr Hinchcliffe, 60, of Hill View, Sunderland, said: “We wanted to see this train for ourselves.
“It is a special moment but I am surprised there are not more people here.
“After waiting so long, to get a direct train service to London is a special occasion.”
Joanne, 11, shares her father’s enthusiasm for railways, and she certainly did not appear disappointed when the engine approached.
Mr Ferguson, 22, a rail freight worker from Grangetown, Sunderland, added: “I wanted to be here to see the train arrive. We have waited long enough for a direct line to London. It will be a huge boost for the city.”
Around two dozen passengers disembarked at Sunderland – the end of the line – including one who had intended to get out at his home town, Hartlepool.
Chemical processing engineer Dave Curry was celebrating his 50th birthday with a day trip to London. He said, somewhat sheepishly: “The journey must have been smooth because I fell asleep and missed my stop. I’m going to have to ring my wife and try to persuade her to drive to Sunderland to pick me up. But it was a first class journey.”
Another passenger, rail worker Paul Gash, of Seventh Avenue, Heaton, Newcastle, said: “There have been so many teething problems that the tickets weren’t on sale at the station. I am sure once the service is fully operational it will be very well used.
“I wanted to travel on the very first one and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.”
Yesterday morning there was more of a fanfare as the train left Sunderland. A smattering of rail enthusiasts joined passengers on the 6.46am service calling at Hartlepool, Eaglescliffe, Northallerton and York, before heading direct to King's Cross.
The new service finally departed more than 18 months after York-based Grand Central Trains was awarded the franchise.
It overcame a High Court challenge and problems with the late delivery of rolling stock before finally being given the green flag by the Office of Rail Regulation.