Belfast Telegraph

Famous Portrush Flyer back on track as steam train gets its 'tyres' refitted

The train
The train
Volunteers working on the new steel tyres
Volunteers working on the new steel tyres
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

The world-famous and much-loved Portrush Flyer steam train is back on track this summer, complete with a new set of 'tyres'.

This year ferrying passengers from Belfast for a series of Sunday day trips to the north coast seaside resort will be made easier following a historic project just completed by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland.

A team of dedicated RPSI volunteers spent six months replacing the 12 tyres on the train.

This procedure was once standard practice in railway workshops, but with the demise of the steam locomotive it's now rarely carried out.

Until this year it had not been done in Ireland since the 1960s, but in January the process to replace the preserved steam locomotive No.4's tyres began in the society's workshop at Whitehead.

Mark Walsh of the RPSI explained: "A train's wheels wear out just like a car's so they need to be replaced occasionally due to the wear and tear caused by the steel wheels rolling along the steel rails.

"When steam was supreme, the great engineers of the day realised the best solution to save the expense of replacing the wheel itself was to encircle it in a sacrificial metal tyre.

"When badly worn, the tyre could be heated and expanded in a workshop, dropped off the wheel and a new, pre-heated tyre placed onto the wheel rim.

"It would contract onto the wheel as it cooled before being finally secured in place with bolts."

Now working much less frequently than the daily service the engine saw in its heyday, No.4's tyres have taken over 50 years to wear to the minimum tolerance.

Unless replaced they would have made it unsafe for the engine to continue pulling public carriages.

In the first week of January the train's wheels were "dropped" out using specialist equipment.

The old tyres were then heated and expanded off the wheels to be sent for recycling.

Marks said: "Very few places now manufacture tyres for steam locomotives, but we found a company in South Africa that was able to supply us with new ones.

"They arrived as gigantic, unworked rings of steel and each required a week in our preserved wheel lathe to bring them to a suitable railway profile.

"With 12 wheels on the train, this part of the job took 12 weeks."

The new profiled tyres were then laid flat and heated evenly to expand them before the wheels were slipped in using an overhead crane.

The wheels were refitted to the engine in June before a test run to Lisburn earlier this month.

The Portrush Flyer will be running on August 4, 11 and 18. Tickets are available from Belfast Welcome Centre or online from

Belfast Telegraph


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