‘Q’ RETURNS TO REVENUE-EARNING MAIN LINE SERVICE
GNR(I) 4-4-0 helps to mark 50th anniversary of Northern Ireland Railways.
Newly restored ‘Q’ class No. 131 successfully returned to revenue-earning main line service at Easter. Officially launched back into traffic at a ceremony at Whitehead on March 24, following a fiveyear overhaul, the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) 4-4-0 operated around 260 miles between Belfast and Whitehead, with the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland’s ‘Easter Eggspress’ trains on April 2/3. It also made a special journey marking the 50th anniversary of Northern Ireland Railways on April 4. The NIR journey involved a departure from Great Victoria Street station in Belfast, which represented the 1901-built locomotive’s first foray onto Great Northern metals since 1962. It was also thought to be the first time since 1961 that a ‘Q’ had been seen at Great Victoria Street – the old GNR(I) terminus in Belfast. No. 131 turned on the triangle at Central Junction before hauling the special back to Whitehead – and despite the heavy rain, there was no evidence of wheel slip Following the NIR special trip, No. 131 ran back into Belfast York Road to collect RPSI coach No. 462, a ‘Dutch’ generator/brake van which had been having its wheels turned at the NIR works. During the three days of operation, the RPSI said that all No. 131’s bearings had run cool. The only repair booked against the engine was a leaking main steam pipe joint in the smokebox, which was attended to at Whitehead. Its next scheduled main line outing will be the ‘131 Renaissance’ on May 15, a fringe event to the ‘Cork & Kerry’ railtour. It will run from Whitehead via Belfast to Lisburn, traversing the Antrim branch – which has no regular passenger service – before heading back through Belfast to Bangor. It is hoped that by then, No. 131 – which is currently limited to 40mph – will have been approved for 60mph running, but this hinges on a night-time run to Carrickfergus due later in April to commission the Train Protection & Warning System. Later, there are plans for a series of trips between Belfast and Dublin, where No. 131 was based until it was withdrawn in 1963. Senior NIR steam driver Noel Playfair, who was at the regulator on April 4, said: “No. 131 made easy work of the 1-in-60 climb out of Belfast Central, usually the most difficult bit of the run to Whitehead, and the wet rail had no effect on it. “My colleague Gary Moore and I have been impressed by No. 131. It is a really useful engine but, in my view, it will still be slightly behind ‘S’ class No. 171 Slieve Gullion as regards performance.” James Friel, the RPSI locomotive running officer, said: “No. 131 appeared to be a forgiving engine to fire – thin or thick fires seemed to work equally well, with no tendency for a thick fire to hold back steam production. “This has left us looking forward to a longer run, when we’ll be able to see what the boiler and superheater are capable of.”
GNR(I) ‘Q’ 4-4-0 No. 131 at Whitehead after its official launch on March 24.
Heading a charter to Whitehead marking NIR’s 50th anniversary, No. 131 makes its first appearance since restoration at Belfast’s Great Victoria Street station on April 4.