Steam marks Northern Ireland Railways golden jubilee year

By Hugh Dougherty

Northern Ireland Railways chose to celebrate its 50th anniversary in style with steam.

The award-winning Railway Preservation Society of Ireland’s recently-restored Great Northern Railway of Ireland 4-4-0 Q class No. 131 pulled a special train, packed with members of the public and former and long-service NIR employees, from Belfast Great Victoria Street station to the society’s museum and workshops at Whitehead, on Wednesday, April 4, to mark the company’s golden jubilee.

Freezing rain saw enthusiasts wrap up warm at Belfast Great Victoria Street station to appreciate No. 131, complete with commemorative headboard, before it left for Whitehead. In the steam era, No. 131 would have stood at this spot many times in the past before leaving for Derry, Clones or Dublin. HUGH DOUGHERTY

Travelling on the train was NI Railways managing director Richard Knox. Proudly holding a copy of a jubilee souvenir brochure, which includes pictures of the steam locomotives operated by the then-new company in 1968, Richard told Heritage Railway: “We are very proud of our steam heritage and, although we are an all-diesel operator today, we simply had to run steam to mark our 50th anniversary.

“Steam really catches the imagination of the public especially that of children, who are our rail passengers of tomorrow, and by running steam, today, we are raising awareness of all railways themselves. That’s thanks to the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland with whom we have a very close and mutually-beneficial working relationship.

“I am very conscious of the railway heritage that we possess and, at this important date in the history of our railways, it has been wonderful to be able to create a living link with the past having a Great Northern Railway of Ireland locomotive at the head of this special train.”

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