Rising interest in rail heritage, report suggests

Pictured at the ceremony at RPSI Whitehead are Robert Guinness, RPSI vice-president; Denis Grimshaw, RPSI chairman; Sammy Wilson, MP for East Antrim; Lord Faulkner, President of the Heritage Railway Association, and Lord ONeill, RPSI President.  The locomotive crew are (from left) RPSI volunteers Ryan Downey, Matthew Crockett and  James Friel.  Picture by Alastair Maxwell  INCT 14-725-CON
Pictured at the ceremony at RPSI Whitehead are Robert Guinness, RPSI vice-president; Denis Grimshaw, RPSI chairman; Sammy Wilson, MP for East Antrim; Lord Faulkner, President of the Heritage Railway Association, and Lord ONeill, RPSI President. The locomotive crew are (from left) RPSI volunteers Ryan Downey, Matthew Crockett and James Friel. Picture by Alastair Maxwell INCT 14-725-CON

A soon-to-be published report has suggested an increasing level of interest in our railway heritage, guests at a Whitehead reception have heard.

The figures were outlined by Heritage Railway Association president, Lord Faulkner during a special event at the Railway Preservation Society base on Saturday.

The HRA Report for 2014 will outline a six percent rise in total turnover for the organisation’s members, an eight percent increase in passenger numbers, with total visitor numbers up eight percent to 11.7 million, Lord Faulkner revealed.

The movement had earned £112m, carrying 8.4 million passengers over 568 miles of track from 451 stations, he added.

Saturday’s event also included the unveiling of a plaque which had been awarded to the RPSI in the broadcast material section of the annual HRA Awards.

The award was in recognition of Mike Beckett’s RPSI 50 DVD, which was produced in 2014 to mark the Society’s Golden Jubilee.

The achievements were marked during the event at Whitehead Excursion station, attended by around 80 RPSI volunteers along with special guests.

Describing his presence at the ceremony as a “pleasure and a privilege”, Lord Faulkner said the aim of HRA was to give support to its members, to encourage best practice and to reward it – which was what the event was all about.

Describing RPSI 50 as “brilliant”, he congratulated Mike Beckett on the film. Lord Faulkner also noted that this was not the only HRA award that the RPSI had won recently, recalling that in February the RPSI received a commendation in the prestigious John Coiley Award for the restoration and return to traffic of No. 131.

He added: “There will be much more to celebrate in the future, when you complete the £3.1m Whitehead Railway Centre project.

“These are great times for the cause of railway preservation and heritage here in Northern Ireland and I congratulate everyone involved – volunteers, paid staff and benefactors alike.”

Lord Faulkner then invited RPSI president Lord O’Neill to jointly unveil the plaque to a sustained burst of applause from all present.

Speaking next was Mike Beckett, who told guests that the RPSI 50 film had been an important and timely project, reflecting the Society’s endeavours and telling its story.

Mr Beckett also paid tribute to participants who had passed away since the making of the film, including Sullivan Boomer, whose voice-over “brought the film to life”, and carriage officer Francis Richards.

Meanwhile, the new centre would play a key role in developing the tourist potential of the East Antrim area, according to guest speaker, Sammy Wilson MP.

Those assembled were reminded of the plan for a “soft opening” for the new centre towards the end of 2016, followed by an official opening in Spring 2017.

Guests were then invited all present to proceed to the platform where a sparkling No. 85 Merlin was waiting to operate a short trip along the RPSI’s siding.