No. 131’s main line return marks NIR half-century


By Hugh Dougherty
and Gary Boyd-Hope

NORTHERN Ireland Railways (NIR) celebrated 50 years of providing train services with a special steam excursion from Belfast Great Victoria Street to Whitehead Excursion Station on April 1.

The charter was hauled by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland’s recently restored GNR(I) ‘Q’ 4-4-0 No. 131.

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The event marked the main line passenger debut of the locomotive which, in its heyday, was no stranger to Great Victoria Street station at the head of trains to Dublin, Derry and Clones.

GNR(I) black-liveried No. 131 comes to a halt at Whitehead on April 1 after hauling the Northern Ireland Railways 50th anniversary special from Great Victoria Street. CHRIS PLAYFAIR

The sell-out special carried members of the public, invited guests, and serving and retired NIR staff to mark the golden jubilee of a railway company that has now surpassed the 49 years of British Railways/British Rail existence, despite several initial decades of underinvestment, closure threats, and terrorist attacks during the ‘Troubles’.

Unfortunately, the empty coaching stock was late getting to Great Victoria Street, owing to operating difficulties with NIR diesel loco No. 112. This subsequently delayed No. 131’s arrival from Central Junction by almost 45 minutes, and resulted in the special getting underway about an hour late.

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