NOSTALGIC JOURNEY MARKS END OF THE LINE FOR HISTORIC LINK
|The steam train stops at Lisburn to pick up some of the last passengers to travel along the Lisburn to Antrim line on Sunday. US27-755SP||The steam train, run by the Railway Preservation Society, stops at Lisburn station. US27-756SP|
A VINTAGE steam train made a nostalgic journey between Antrim and Lisburn on Sunday to mark the end of regular services on the line.
The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland ran the train, which would have been a familiar sight to people in the area up to the 1950s.
The Apex Jazz band were on hand to play as passengers got the train for the last time.
The line was opened on November 13, 1871 and ran from Antrim to Knockmore where it joined the main Dublin to Belfast line operated by the Dublin and Antrim Junction Railway.
It was later taken over by the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) and then the Ulster Transport Authority. the line was closed to passenger traffic in 1960 and was re-opened 14 years later, on January 25, 1974 by Northern Ireland Railways.
The line stretches for 18.5 miles and goes over 44 bridges, one of which is a unique steel viaduct near Crumlin.
It is said to be the only place where a boat, train, car and even a plane can, at least technically, cross paths. The Railway Preservation Society was set up in 1964 to save and preserve examples of steam railway locomotives and carriages and is now Ireland's only operator of mainline steam trains.
The carriages and the restored steam locomotive used for the Antrim Branch Farewell have all been preserved in working order by volunteers in their spare time at the RPSI's engineering workshops at Whitehead.
The locomotive used on Sunday will also be used for hauling the famous 'Portrush Flyer' from Belfast Central to Portrush and back in August.
Johnny Glendenning, RPSI vice chairman, said he was glad to see a steam train using the Antrim line again.
"It's sad to see any railway line mothballed but w were glad to have been able to offer the public a chance to sample the delights of steam train travel on the Antrim branch for one last time," he said.
A spokesperson for Translink said they hoped the track would be maintained and would one day be reopened. It will still be used in emergencies.
600 enjoy last run
The trips were organised by the volunteers of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland and promoted by the Antrim Towns Development Company.
The train travelled from Antrim to Lisburn on two return journeys.
At the platform at Crumlin station around 100 passengers boarded and many were from Glenavy and Ballinderry, eager to catch sight of their family homes from the train for the last time.
Eugene Flood, a solicitor from Antrim and his family, got a special treat as they were told the history of the Knockmore line by a former railway man who was sharing their carriage.
He had brought with him lots of old pictures of the trains and characters and the locals of the railway era .
"Whilst everyone was obviously sad about the demise of the line the battle to save the railway was put aside for the day whilst everyone enjoyed the sunshine and atmosphere," said Alan Clarke, Antrim Towns Manager.
"The turn around of the locomotive at Lisburn Station provided another thrill for the passengers who by now had spilled out onto the platform to partake of their picnics and admire the glorious floral displays that adorned the station and platform area.
"On the way back the fabulously restored locomotive, with her tasteful ensemble of coaches, gave a spirited performance of speed between Crumlin and Antrim before the final whistle blew and Antrim platform appeared with the smiling faces exiting the coaches certainly testimony to a great day out." He thanked Taylors Newsagent in Crumlin and the Antrim Tourist Information for their handling of the ticket sales.
"According to the Department of Regional Development, this is a strategic transport route. Antrim and Lisburn are major growth towns in the Regional Development Strategy, and Crumlin is a secondary growth town. The line runs along the boundary fence of the International Airport.
"Nowhere else in Europe would such a line be closed.
"There is now an urgent need to develop a strategy for the full circle line, from Antrim to Belfast via Whiteabbey and onward via Lisburn and Crumlin to Antrim.
"Only public transport can deal with the growing numbers of commuters from all over South Antrim into Belfast. Experience elsewhere shows that a good quality train service is much the most effective way of attracting commuters out of their cars."
`It wouldn't happen anywhere else' - Ford
ALLIANCE representative David Ford has called for the publication of a detailed strategy for the restoration of a full passenger service on the Antrim to Lisburn railway, as well as maximising the benefits of the Bleach Green line.
Mr Ford travelled on the last trains from Antrim to Lisburn and back at the weekend, when the Railway Preservation Society put on special steam services to mark the cessation of passenger services.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Ford said he would be raising the issues with the new Minister of Regional Development, John Spellar.
"I find it inconceivable that passenger services have now been withdrawn between Antrim and Lisburn and the line is being mothballed" he said.