Construction on a £3.1m rail heritage project in Whitehead is nearing the halfway point - and despite very wet weather, is running on schedule.
Work on the Whitehead Railway Centre is due to be completed by late spring/early summer and the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland is aiming to open its new “living museum” by autumn of this year.
The scheme, which will increase the RPSI’s footprint at Whitehead by around 40%, is a game-changer for the organisation, which believes the facility will be a big tourist attraction.
The year 2016 is an important one for the RPSI, which will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of setting up its base at Whitehead, where it has developed extensive locomotive and carriage workshops.
Construction work is being carried out by Portadown-based MSM Contracts, which has had up to 30 workers on site at any given time, including its own staff and sub-contractors.
Robert Mackey, managing director, MSM Contracts, said: “With construction works proceeding well on all fronts, we look forward to completing this exciting living museum project for RPSI in line with its golden jubilee celebrations.”
The project has involved disposal of a large amount of spoil, piling for foundations and the erection of more than 60 tonnes of structural steelwork.
While all this has been going on, MSM has also been busy building a period-style signal cabin on the platform at the society’s centre, from where trackwork and signals will be controlled.
Still to come is the installation of a 60 ft. locomotive turntable. The turntable, which was secured in the 1980s from NIR’s former central services depot in Belfast, is being refurbished by the RPSI and will be installed during the spring.
Funding for the project, which is seen as complimentary to the Gobbins cliff path attraction, 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 Northern Ireland), with additional support from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and Ulster Garden Villages.
Denis Grimshaw, chairman of the RPSI, said: “We are delighted to see work proceeding rapidly on the Whitehead Railway Centre, and look forward to this next exciting chapter in the society’s development.”
During December, the RPSI carried several thousand passengers on its ever-popular Santa special steam trains. These ran from Belfast Central to Whitehead and also - for one day only - from Portadown to Lisburn and back.