Locked-away collection of Northern Ireland railway artefacts 'could be lost forever'
A unique collection of Northern Ireland railway artefacts is in danger of being lost forever, according to an expert.
Mark Lusby, the heritage adviser for the North West of Ireland Railway Society, fears that unless the Foyle Valley Railway Museum is managed by an organisation which has this role as it primary concern, the exhibits locked inside will be in more danger than those uncovered by the Belfast Telegraph lying neglected at the Ulster Transport Museum.
The Derry collection includes two steam engines - one of which is languishing outside, exposed to the elements - a diesel engine, carriages and significant artefacts relating to the city's rich railway heritage.
The railway museum was shut down by Derry City Council just days before the new Derry City and Strabane District Council became the local authority, and invites for tenders to take over the building were advertised.
Mr Lusby said the council ought keep preservation at the core of its decision when deciding who should win the tender.
He added: "One of the key assets for an historic city is its heritage artefacts, and the railway played such a significant role in the history of this city - including in shirt-manufacturing history.
"Inside the museum lies the steam engine named after the patron saint of the city, the Colmcille. However, it is in the same sorry state that it was in 20 years ago.
"A diesel engine and some carriages, along with a number of artefacts loaned to Derry City Council, are just stagnating there.
"The worrying thing is, what will happen to them if a private or community group comes along whose interest in these precious items is only as a backdrop?
"If we look at what we now know about the situation at Cultra, which is a publicly-owned body, I have serious concerns about the ability, or even the will, of any community group or private company to invest in Foyle Valley to the extent needed to preserve our railway heritage."
A spokeswoman for the council said that following an advertisement at the beginning of the year, it had received a number of expressions of interest to run the museum.
She added: "Council in February gave approval for officers to proceed with discussions with the applicants to determine if any of the schemes are suitable.
"The future use of the Railway Museum and the future of the railway artefacts remain of major importance to the council and will form a key part of any decisions determining the future use of the site."
The Foyle Valley Railway Museum was a free, unguided facility until its closure. At the heart of the exhibition was a recreated railway station telling the story of the various companies that once operated out of the city. Londonderry is today served by just one railway system, but at one time it was served by four, which stretched throughout Northern Ireland and also into Co Donegal.