Labour of love puts historic Northern Ireland locomotive back on track
After five years of painstaking restoration, a historic steam engine which last operated in the early 1960s is back in business.
The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) has unveiled the former Great Northern Railway (Ireland) express engine No. 131, which dates from 1901 and was built for the Belfast-Dublin line, at Whitehead Railway Museum.
The £400,000 project received funding support from Generating Rural Opportunities within South Antrim (GROW).
The 55-ton No. 131 was withdrawn Dublin in 1963 and in 2003 the engine arrived at Whitehead in a dismantled state.
Many new parts had to be made from scratch to replace missing components and the project involved the professional staff of Heritage Engineering Ireland, the RPSI's engineering subsidiary, as well as the society's own volunteers.
The overhaul involved the rebuilding of a coal and water tender to run behind No. 131, while the engine also had to be equipped with modern electronic safety equipment to comply with current railway regulations.
RPSI chairman, Canon John McKegney, said the launch saw the conclusion of the biggest restoration project ever undertaken at Whitehead.
He said: "This was an engine which we thought we would never see back in operation.
"But the skills and ingenuity of the engineering team and volunteers at Whitehead have guaranteed that this historic engine will once again take to the tracks."
Lord Faulkner of Worcester, president of the Heritage Railway Association (HRA), hailed the restoration as "a stunning achievement".
He said: "I congratulate RPSI on this major success story which is being applauded by enthusiasts from across Britain and Ireland.
"An incalculable number of hours has been put into this restoration and all concerned should be immensely proud of the result."
Emma Stubbs, manager of GROW, said they were delighted to see the project coming to a successful conclusion and to see the locomotive back in action.
She added: "Alongside the funding, significant volunteer time was invested in the restoration, and we are delighted that the locomotive is back to working order and look forward to seeing it steaming down the track."
Talks are ongoing with Northern Ireland Railways and the Department for Infrastructure and RPSI is confident that No. 131 will be back on the main line by mid-May.