The work of the Whitehead-based Railway Preservation Society of Ireland has received the royal seal of approval.
The Queen discussed steam trains with two RPSI volunteers during the recent garden party at Hillsborough.
Mark and Ruth Walsh, who returned to Northern Ireland from their honeymoon the day before the event, were pleasantly surprised when approached by the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Belfast and asked if they would like to meet the special guest.
Ruth explained: “It was quite a surprise! We were grouped together and the Queen took time to talk to every one of us. It was remarkable how intrigued she was with everyone’s stories. I explained to her that we operate steam trains for the public but on the main railway lines of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, just like steam trains were more than 50 years ago.
“She was very interested and commented that she thought children would love the noise and sight of a steam train.”
The Queen moved on to speak to Mark and was keen to know if he drove the locomotives.
Mark said “I explained to her what the volunteers do at our County Antrim base at Whitehead to restore the trains for everyone to enjoy and I was really pleased that she said ‘steam trains are so much nicer than modern diesel trains’.”
The Railway Preservation Society has workshops and a base at Castleview Road in the seaside town and operates steam train excursions.
Tickets for the ‘Portrush Flyer’ on July 27, August 10 and 31 and September 14, cost £22 for adults and £15 for children and offer a full day excursion by steam train from Belfast to Portrush and back. The train is hauled by locomotive ‘Merlin’ and is complete with a dining carriage serving hot and cold drinks, snacks and a full bar. Tickets are available from Belfast Welcome Centre (tel: +44 28 9024 6609) or online from www.steamtrainsireland.com