The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland is celebrating success in a nationwide competition for steam locomotive heritage projects.
The Whitehead-based group was commended for the Heritage Railway Association’s John Coiley Award and was presented with a certificate at the HRA’s annual awards ceremony in Wolverhampton.
The citation read: “The RPSI for the restoration and return to traffic of the once plinthed Q class locomotive No.131 for the first time since withdrawal from service in 1963, involving GROW South Antrim”.
GROW (Generating Rural Opportunities Within) South Antrim was the funding body which supported the two-year restoration project at the RPSI’s Whitehead workshops.
For several years, the former Great Northern Railway (Ireland) 4-4-0 express steam engine languished on a plinth at Dundalk railway station. But eventually Irish Rail presented the engine to the RPSI and once funding was in place, a major restoration project began.
At present No. 131 is capable of being steamed but it cannot haul the RPSI’s trains until various safety and other electronic equipment is fitted. The 1901-built locomotive also needs a new tender to carry its coal and water, and work is under way on that project.
Johnny Glendinning, chairman of HRA Ireland, who was in Wolverhampton to collect the award on behalf of the RPSI, said: “This engine was in a derelict condition when it was delivered to Whitehead with many parts missing and others needing reconstructed.
“But thanks to the ingenuity of Peter Scott, the society’s locomotive officer, and his team of professional staff and volunteers at Whitehead, the locomotive was painstakingly reconstructed.
“Some of the missing parts were manufactured using the society’s jobbing foundry, using original drawings which dated from 1901.”
No. 131 is expected to make a return to the main line later this year and the goal will be to have a run on the Belfast-Dublin route where it hauled express trains in Edwardian days.
The certificate was formally presented by Mr Glendinning to Mr Scott at the RPSI’s annual general in Whitehead on February 13.
At the meeting, chairman Denis Grimshaw gave members an update on the £3.1m project to develop a major tourist attraction at RPSI Whitehead.
He said everything was on schedule and it was hoped to have a “soft opening” of Whitehead Railway Centre this autumn, with a formal opening in 2017.