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The revised history of railways in Northern Ireland Part 1


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Ian Sinclair, who has written on the UTA, and is a founder member of the “Northern Counties Group”, recently produced this item as a result of some detailed research, and I felt it appropriate to reproduce most of it here today (April 1st) , along with a selection of the photographs, with captions and additional material added my myself. (Colm)


“I recently saw a photo online showing a Blue Pullman in Coleraine station, so I undertook some research and learnt this: this came from the estate from an obscure photographer’s estate.

This photograph, and another, are reproduced below.





CAPTION : The Blue Pullman at Coleraine; it is thought this was a test run before any alterations were carried out.


In February 1927, the BCDR Chairman approached the President of the LMS to see if they might take over the Co. Down lines (as recorded in Desmond Coakham's book). Naturally, the LMS jumped at the chance and in 1928 the BCDR was formally acquired by the LMS and merged with the NCC. The bigger company then embarked on a programme of investment, particularly in terms of new rolling stock. There were also upgrades in infrastructure and instead of installing banner signals on the Bangor line, colour lights with telephone communication to the relevant signal boxes were provided along the full length of the line.


As a result there was no Ballymacarrett accident in 1945 and no BCDR to get into financial trouble anyway. Consequently there was no need for the NI Government to create an Ulster Transport Authority.


The 1948 Railways Act meant nationalisation of the railways in GB; the subsidiaries in NI - the enlarged NCC and the Co Donegal - passed to British Railways by default. (The Donegal was half-owned by the GNR and continued to be operated by the Joint Committee.) The NCC lines came under Midland Region control (as happened in reality) but with no UTA on the horizon and the NI Government having no interest in railways, they were fully integrated into British Railways. Although BR closed some branch lines, closures were not as widespread as they might have been under a UTA.


We now fast forward to summer 1966 and additional trains were required for the thriving inter-city service between Belfast and Portrush/Londonderry. At that time, the Midland Region no longer required its two Blue Pullman sets. They had planned to replace the bogies anyway due to rough riding, so they replaced them with 5'3" bogies and sent them to Belfast for the re-introduction of the prestigious North Atlantic Express.



The method of delivery was unusual. The two 6 car trains were driven to Stranraer and there split as needed, for conveyance onward by the train ferry “Twickenham Ferry” which often provided summer only services for cars on the Larne Stranraer route, supplementing the “Caledonian Princess”. This pictures was taken on that occasion. To facilitate loading, the sets were split.





When the two sets arrived across, they were immediately fitted with the new 5’3” bogies and one set went to Queen's Quay to see how it might perform on the Golfers' Express. On the day of the trial run (empty working), there was a bomb scare at Dundrum so the train was diverted, some reports suggest to Donaghadee and others suggest Ardglass. (At that time the Ardglass line was effectively mothballed although there were still trains to the racecourse on race days. Several trains had to be run to bring the spectators from Belfast and beyond and to eliminate congestion at Downpatrick, once the trains unloaded they ran straight on to Ardglass to get them out of the way. There they were stored and remarshalled for the return journey.)



Remarkably the same photographer had got wind of this special working and was on hand to record at least some memories of it at Ballynoe (the Culverwell style shelter there was the only one on the branch) – and approaching Ardglass signal box. - in colour this time..




The photographer clearly knew the Ardglass branch well as he was able to get to Ballynoe just in time to catch the train passing through. The low speed limit on the branch would have helped.




Arriving at Ardglass.


However it was felt that the BPs were too heavy for the Co. Down line and wasted due to the speed restrictions, so after this one run the train was sent to join its sister at York Road. A few trial runs were made to Coleraine and Portrush but then the ever-resourceful engineers at York Road had a bright idea of getting double the trains for their money.




Somewhere between Ballymena and Cullybackey) a further colour shot of the 1966 test run.


Plans were drawn up to put a drivers' cab in the rear of the four power cars, creating four locomotives with built-in parcel space for the burgeoning freight traffic on the former BNCR lines. Meanwhile driving cabs were fitted to four of the trailers, the catering facilities were downsized, and under floor engines were installed, making two air-conditioned MPD sets. They went into service in the summer of 1967 but immediately drew hundreds of complaints from disgruntled passengers as the lower powered under-floor engines could not provide a reliable power source for the air-conditioning units. After just three weeks they were withdrawn until the matter was rectified; the proposal was to fit an auxiliary engine under some cars.


Meanwhile changes were afoot in the management of the railways. The NI and Eire governments had jointly established the GNR Board in 1953. In 1967 the NI government decided to take full control of the GNR lines in Ulster, being fed up with paying for new trains which the GNR Board then used on the Dublin suburban services leaving the rubbish up north. They approached British Railways to see if they would take over the lines but they declined. However a compromise was reached whereby a new company, Northern Ireland Railways, would be jointly set up and owned by BR and the NI government to operate all rail services in NI. This formally took over on 1st April 1968 but quickly the NI government made arrangements to buy BR's shares and soon became the sole owner of NIR.


A new General Manager was appointed, and as his policy was not to rely on second hand trains or make-do-and-mend policies, the BP MPDs never returned to service and were soon scrapped along with the power cars- which were never modified. Hence the scarcity of photos of them here, save for a few around Coleraine although there is a rumour that one or two may surface of the set in Donaghadee, or was it Ardglass.”


Ian Sinclair.


And indeed they did surface, oddly enough, as you can see above. Regrettably there are no pictures of the converted vehicles in service.



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This may not be quite as daft as people might think.

I seem to remember reading in an Irish Railway News issue from the late 60s/early 70s that CIE (now Irish Rail) did look at buying the Blue Pullmans for use on the Dublin-Cork route.

So, a Blue Pullman but in CIE 'black & tan' livery passing through Coleraine is (just!) possible but, frankly, Ardglass is pushing it!





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