THERE was simply nothing like it as they clanked and hissed into Southampton Central arriving in a cloud of smoke and coal smuts, heavy with the smell of hot oil and grime.

The huge metal monsters sat alongside the platform, brass gleaming and steaming. As carriage doors slammed shut, a shudder of power as the great engines gathered themselves and eased out of the station and down the track.

Somehow today's train journeys just don't seem to have this magic but in the era of coal, boilers and footplates even the most ordinary of journeys had the whiff of magic about it.

In those days the city was alive with steam. Trains constantly pulled in and out of the stations in and around Southampton, sidings were busy with shunting, goods wagons lined the quaysides in the docks which were the destination for many boat trains, always an exciting sight as they crossed Canute Road heading for the liners.

Probably the best known train to run into Southampton was the Bournemouth Belle express which linked London to the South Coast. Withdrawn during the Second World War, the Bournemouth Belle returned to service in October, 1946, which was quite an event."At an average speed of 51 miles an hour passengers can travel in the greatest of comfort, with an admirable cuisine, equal to that of a first rate rate hotel and a wine list to choose from that few hotels can equal," reported the Daily Echo at the time.

"And the cost, above the ordinary rail fare, is first class three shillings and sixpence (17p) and third class two shillings (10p) to Southampton."

The elegance of the Bournemouth Bells survived until 1964 and just a few years later steam had disappeared, replaced by diesel and electric power.

So many of the once great engines that roared through the countryside, smoke billowing and whistles blowing, were reduced to so much scrap.

Occasionally these days historic steam locomotives are brought out again and be lovingly operated by enthusiastic volunteers to make a nostalgic run across the tracks.