‘Q’ RE­TURNS TO REV­ENUE-EARN­ING MAIN LINE SER­VICE

GNR(I) 4-4-0 helps to mark 50th an­niver­sary of North­ern Ire­land Rail­ways.

Steam Railway (UK) - - Irish -

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.”

CHARLES FRIEL

GNR(I) ‘Q’ 4-4-0 No. 131 at White­head af­ter its of­fi­cial launch on March 24.

JOE CASSELLS

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.

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