A train, fit for a Queen, will be used this Sunday, 24th July, for a public excursion from Belfast to Dublin and back.
The train has been restored by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, based in Whitehead and was used on 28th June to transport the Queen and Prince Philip to the re-opening of Bellarena station.
The locomotive hauling the train will be sky-blue coloured steam locomotive No 85 “Merlin”, built in 1932 especially for operating the then-new “Enterprise” service.
RPSI Operations Officer Mervyn Darragh explains: “When the Great Northern Railway of Ireland wanted to re-launch it’s Belfast-Dublin railway service in the 1930s, it wanted to enthuse the public. So they built very powerful locomotives, capable of hauling long trains at great speed on the hilly Belfast-Dublin railway line. They named them evocatively after birds of prey and painted them a very eye-catching sky blue colour.”
National Museums Northern Ireland preserved one of the locomotives built for the Belfast-Dublin railway. Number 85, named “Merlin” was built in Manchester in 1932 and spent it’s working life on the “Enterprise” service. The locomotive has been lovingly restored by volunteers and staff of the Railway Preservation Society at their base at Whitehead in Co Antrim.
Mr Darragh commented: “We have been using the locomotive for some months now and we have been very impressed with it’s power and steam-making capabilities. It was a great honour to provide a train for the Royal visit and we are delighted to now be able to share that train with everyone on public steam trains this summer.”
Advance ticket purchase is essential. Return fares cost £30 for adults and £14 for children, with tickets on sale by phone and in-person from the Belfast Welcome Centre, 9 Donegall Square North in Belfast, telephone 028 9024 6609. Tickets are also available online from the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland website steamtrainsireland.com - something that would be inconceivable to a cross-border passenger in 1932.
The RPSI is a not-for-profit charity, so all income from these trains goes back into the continual job of restoring steam locomotives and carriages for future trains.