A new £3m rail museum and interpretative centre will help Whitehead benefit from the Gobbins Path visitor attraction.
That was the prediction as the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland unveiled the last phase of development at its Castleview Road base.
MSM Contracts, a Portadown-based building and civil engineering company, has been appointed to carry out the £2m building scheme.
Funding has been provided by Heritage Lottery Fund and Tourism Northern Ireland (part financed by the European Regional Development Fund under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for NI) with additional support from Mid and East Antrim Council and Ulster Garden Villages.
Speaking at the letting ceremony, RPSI chairman Denis Grimshaw said: “This project will transform our base into a visitor-friendly living museum with a period-style signal cabin, a 60ft locomotive turntable and extensions to our locomotive workshops and carriage sheds.
“This facility will include interpretative displays that will tell the story of the development of the railways and set Whitehead and the RPSI in this context. Visitors will also be able to watch from a viewing gallery as work is carried out on our locomotives in our engineering workshops.
“It promises to create a unique attraction and coupled with the recently re-opened Gobbins Cliff Path, will give tourists and locals a new reason to visit Whitehead and Islandmagee.”
Work on the latest development is due to be completed by summer 2016 - a fitting way to mark the Golden Jubilee of the society’s arrival in Whitehead.
Paul Mullan, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund NI, added: “The beginning of works here at Whitehead is another milestone in a journey to create a unique visitor experience which will complement and add to the wealth of heritage attractions already on offer throughout Mid and East Antrim.”
Rosemarie McHugh, Tourism NI, Capital Funds Manager, said; “Tourism NI is delighted to support this innovative project which offers a fantastic new visitor dimension to Whitehead and will complement the many tourist attractions along the Causeway Coastal Route.
“The restoration works and creation of a living museum will not only provide an educational and interactive experience for all to enjoy, but this new quality facility will also encourage more people to visit Whitehead, spend more and stay longer.”
The contractor has already worked with the RPSI building the two-track carriage shed at Whitehead back in 1992/3.
Robert Mackey, managing director of MSM Contracts, said: “Our company is positive that on completion of construction works, the Whitehead Railway Centre will be a first class living engineering museum and educational facility that will complement other recent tourist attractions in the local area.”