Dave Flett climbs aboard for a nostalgic trip to York's National Railway Museum with Thomas and friends.

LETTING off steam is a popular past-time for children of all ages during the half-term holidays.

With that in mind, the National Railway Museum is currently the temporary home for a fictional favourite, who shows no signs of running out of puff or reaching the end of his line.

Thomas the Tank Engine was first introduced to the nation's youngsters during post-War Britain by the Rev W Awdry but, 60 years later, his internationally-renowned creation is as popular as ever.

If proof was needed of Thomas' enduring appeal you only need witness the multitude of smiling faces now lighting up the NRM - the grins are as wide as that permanently etched on the world's most famous blue engine.

Unsurprisingly, the star of the Day Out With Thomas exhibition in Leeman Road is the ever-lasting legacy of steam's golden age himself.

Children queue up patiently and excitedly to have their photograph taken alongside Thomas in a manner that might even make David Beckham envious.

Parked on static display in the NRM's engine shed, there is opportunity for everybody - young and old - to check out Thomas at close quarters.

While Thomas is the centrepiece, though, there are plenty of other attractions to keep your family occupied.

Thomas' green friend Percy offers steam rides, pulling former London network carriages, which are complete with signs bearing instructions on how to behave in the event of an air raid or black-out.

The experience, coupled with a browse around the NRM's exhibits which is included in the Thomas admission price, will have mums and dads comparing the charm and character of a bygone era with the modern reality of rail travel - cram em in and get them from A to B as quickly as possible.

With guards, porters, cleaners and, of course, Sir Topham Hatt, the Fat Controller, all milling around and role-playing, the feeling of nostalgia is never far away and their interaction with every child, give or take the odd frightened face, is superb.

Aside from Percy, the Troublesome Trucks are in service for passenger travel, as is the steam-powered miniature railway.

Children of a younger age will also be drawn to face-painting, badge-making and mask-making in the activities centre, where older siblings can learn how to operate a signal box and complete a variety of other interactive tasks.

The dulcet tones of Ringo Starr, meanwhile, resonate around the engine shed where Thomas stories are screened and a wide selection of merchandise provides a stopping point for souvenirs and presents.

Sadly, though, Thomas, Percy and their friends will not be available to transport you home.

Thomas fact file

* The Day Out With Thomas event takes place from 10am to 5pm until February 24 in The Depot at the National Railway Museum, Leeman Road, York. Tickets are available on www.ticketweb.co.uk or 0844 4771000.

The price is £10 adults, £8 for children and concessions, £30 for a family of two adults and children, under twos go free For more information on the NRM visit www.nrm.org.uk

* More than 200 million Thomas books and 50 million DVDs have been sold* The stories have been broadcast in 150 countries and featured the voices of Beatles legend Ringo Starr and Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin* Europe's first Thomas Land will open at Drayton Park in Staffordshire next month