THOMAS the Tank Engine is gathering an impressive group of friends around him at Llangollen Station.

The latest to join the legendary locomotive, a hit with children the world over, is his chum Clarabel the carriage.

She made her appearance at a special launch event at the station, introduced by Thomas.

Engineers at Llangollen have spent the past two and a half years turning the former Sunshine coach into Clarabel, a piece of rolling stock which features in the popular Thomas the Tank Engine stories.

Work has seen the bodywork rebuilt to represent the style of Clarabel and the internal refit provides bench seating and anchor points for two wheelchairs to be carried, with easy access through double doors.

Clarabel will provide an all-weather addition to the popular Thomas the Tank Engine demonstration train and will join the wagon Rickerty and guard’s van Toad in providing rides during the Day Out With Thomas week, from August 7-15.

The former Sunshine coach was built by the London North Eastern Railway at the Stratford Works, East London in 1930 as a four-wheeled vehicle.

It was originally converted for use at Llangollen and entered service on the line in 1984 when it provided initial facilities for disabled passengers.

After being superseded by adaptations of more modern carriages on the extended line, the coach was stored for many years before being transformed into Clarabel, believed to be a first on UK heritage railways.

The Mayor of Llangollen, Cllr Mike Pugh, and his wife Barbara presented a commemorative plaque to the railway staff and volunteers. He acknowledged the hard work and dedication involved.

The renovation was led by chief engineer, volunteer Alan Charlesworth from Llanfairfechan, who was accompanied by his partner Joan and joined by Harry Barber, Martin Perry, Paul Ward and Pete Cutler from the railway’s carriage and wagon department.

Railway director Martyn Amys said: “We are delighted to have this historic coach back in use and wish to acknowledge to all the volunteer effort which has gone into the project.

“It has delivered a useful vehicle that will provide additional passenger capacity and comfort as well as catering for visitors in wheelchairs.”

Jim Ritchie, chairman of Llangollen Railway, said: “At a time when volunteering has become politically popular, this project is a good example of what can be achieved by people giving of their own free time and expertise to create something which would otherwise not be achievable.”