FAMILIES returning to the Watercress Line this spring will be ‘chuffed’ to discover a brand new locomotive playground.

The themed play area at Ropley Station will help the railway get back on track now the lockdown restrictions are lifted.

The new attraction has been modelled on Southern Railway Schools Class Locomotive No 30925 Cheltenham.

Youngsters can let off steam exploring the replica train, which features a tunnel, a slide, a fireman’s pole and lots to climb on. In the play area, there’s a basket swing and a climbing wagon for toddlers. Seating is provided on a luggage trolley!

The playground has been funded with a £40,000 grant from South Western Railway’s Customer and Communities Improvement Fund and £15,000 from the Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Covid Recovery Fund.

Visitors will also get hot and cold food and drinks at the new T-Junction cafe, situated next to the playground and the picnic area.

The Watercress Line is planning a full calendar of activities - starting with the return of Day Out With Thomas to run from Saturday May 29 until Sunday June 6.

Youngsters can get on board for a train ride with Thomas the Tank Engine and enjoy a brand new live entertainment show with Sodor Station Sweepers Rusty & Dusty, The Fat Controller, Diesel, Toad and Duck.

The railway’s general manager Simon Baggott said: “It’s wonderful to be opening and we look and we look forward to welcoming visitors back to the Watercress Line after the past few months in lockdown.

“We have plenty to see and do for people of all ages and this season promises to bring even more fun. The new locomotive playground is a fantastic new attraction for children and we are grateful for the support we have received from South Western Railway and the government.

“There’s a full calendar of exciting activities for the year ahead and we’re all looking forward to welcoming back Thomas this May - a day out at the Watercress Line is always a memorable one!”

Phil Dominey, senior regional development manager at South Western Railways, said: “We were delighted to support the Watercress Line with this innovative and nostalgic project.

“The new playground is themed around one of our own locomotives - the Schools Class Locomotive No 30925 Cheltenham. It promises to be great fun for children and may bring back some happy memories for older visitors.

“Our Community Improvement Fund has helped to enhance the Watercress Line’s range of attractions and it will hopefully boost the local economy by bringing in even more visitors post lockdown.”

Visit the Watercress Line’s website to find out when other activities will be held this year.