Belfast's Great Northern Railway goods yard sheds razed to make way for new hub
The last vestiges of what was once Northern Ireland's biggest railway hub are being demolished to make way for a brand new one.
The vast warehouses in what was once the Great Northern Railway goods yard at Grosvenor Road are being cleared to create space for the new integrated Belfast Transport Hub.
Translink predicts passenger numbers of up to 14 million by 2030 and hopes to start work on the site in 2018 ahead of a planned opening in the mid-2020s. The hub will feature rail, bus, cycle, taxi and car facilities.
According to rail buff Robert Gardiner, the sheds are the last part of the Great Northern Railway complex.
"Trains full of wagons would have come up from all over Ireland and were offloaded here," he said. "This included things like cattle from Sligo and Guinness from Dublin."
The entire site, right up to the present Europa Hotel, was once the headquarters of the Great Northern Railway, which at the time was the biggest rail operator in Ulster.
"They were the ones who created the Enterprise train service, which was introduced in the 1940s as an express to Dublin," Mr Gardiner explained.
"They came up with the name Enterprise, and it left from Great Victoria Street.
"There would have been tractors taken out from Belfast on the backs of wagons - food, potatoes, everything that could be moved by the railways moved to Grosvenor Road.
"All the Guinness barrels would have been transported from Dublin by rail up to Great Victoria Street and into those sheds. It's hard to imagine that such a huge site was once dedicated to freight movement."
Over the years the railway experienced a big downturn in fortunes.
"Part of the facade - designed by Godwin - was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Europa and the station was repeatedly blown up during the Troubles," Mr Gardiner said.
"It was in a sorry state. Then they took the decision in 1976 to close the railway station and switch everything to Central Station, but that meant trains were no longer running into the city centre. Then in 1995 they reopened it as a much smaller concern compared to the massive terminus it must once have been."
Under the plans for the new hub the cross-border Enterprise service will be diverted to Great Victoria Street from its current terminus at the Central Station.
"The Enterprise is going to return to its former home, which is a very good news story," Mr Gardiner added."But it's noteworthy, I think, that the last part of the original huge complex of the original railways is being demolished as part of its rebirth."
Government and European funding have still to be agreed and planning permission has to be sought for the development.
But it has been identified by the Executive as one of seven flagship projects for funding.
Visiting the site last week, Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen said: "This impressive facility will be a catalyst for the regeneration of this area and will ensure we have the right infrastructure in place to attract more people to use public transport."