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(Updated 11/1/2015)

Builder: BREL, Doncaster, 1970, works number 7198.

Withdrawn: NIR, 2002.

Companies: NIR, RPSI, UF&TM.

Preservation Career: 2002 to present.

Current Status: On display, Irish Railway Gallery, Cultra.

102 in the yard at Whitehead in 2005. (B.Pickup)

The 101 ("Hunslet") Class of Northern Ireland Railways were three mainline diesel-electric locomotives designed for use in hauling the Enterprise passenger services between Belfast and Dublin. They were built, under contract from Hunslet Engine Company, by British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL) at Doncaster in 1970. They were of Bo-Bo wheel arrangement and fitted with 1.350 hp engines. All three were named, using names previously carried by the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) Class V locomotives, as follows:

  • 101 Eagle
  • 102 Falcon
  • 103 Merlin

They were displaced from the principal passenger workings by the arrival of the 111 Class locomotives and were then used on freight duties. All three locomotives were subsequently withdrawn from service, the first having been stored in 1989 (103) and the last in 1998 (102). It was expected that 102 would be reinstated in 2002, but after only one outing it was stopped once more. 103 was scrapped in 1997 at Ballymena, but 101 and 102 stayed around for a few years! In fact, after a request by NIR, they were moved to the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland site at Whitehead for storage.

102 shunting fertiliser wagons at Adelaide Freight yard. (L.Smyth)

When Translink offered the locomotives for sale a few years later the Society bid for them because they were both at Whitehead anyway and, being realistic, no matter what other body might have obtained them they would have stayed there for some time (and might still be there now). So two of the three locomotives came into the Society's ownership in July 2005.

Shortly after the purchase, a group of enthusiastic individuals rallied round to make locomotive 102 operational. Sadly, due to a combination of bad luck and personal misfortune, they did not succeed. The locomotive was stored in the open at Whitehead for a few years after that. Not much could be done with 101 either, as it had arrived from NIR as a not much more than a shell, with much of the innards missing.

102 on passenger duties enters Lisburn. (L.Smyth)

In mid 2008 it was suggested that 102 could be made to work without too much effort, with the goal of transferring it to the Downpatrick and County Down Railway. However, practical considerations made this impossible. Around this time both locomotives were offered for disposal as there really was not much space to store them at Whitehead - but there were no takers. Reluctantly, the decision was taken to scrap 101 and, following removal of all useful parts, the locomotive was cut up in January 2010.

But the idea of making 102 work again did not die. In January 2009 a proposal to start the locomotive signed by some of the regular volunteer workers at Whitehead was submitted to The RPSI's Council. It was given approval and very slowly, in between boiler washouts, paint jobs and other tasks essential to keeping RPSI trains on the main line, work began on 102.

102 shunting cement wagons at Adelaide Freight yard. (L.Smyth)

The first hurdle was to get a full set of starting batteries in order. A number of cells were obtained second-hand, while some of the cells that had been in 102 were coaxed back into life by gentle charging. Once all the cells were back in good condition, they were loaded into 102's battery boxes. The battery isolating switch was missing, after it burnt out during previous attempts to start the locomotive. This left a tangle of unlabelled wires which luckily had escaped damage in the electrical fire. Electrical circuit diagrams were obtained, scanned and the unclear parts reconstructed, to allow a spare switch to be wired in correctly. 101's isolating switch was then wired in as a substitute. The batteries were connected and the locomotive's lights were tested.

In January 2009, 102 was reconnected to a set of traction batteries and her lights and auxilaries were run for the first time in several years. This is the view inside her engine room. On the left is the box which contains fuel priming and local start push-buttons, and the low oil pressure relay. In the centre the 127 litre V8 diesel engine may be seen, with fuel pump covers off. It was built by English Electric and is their model 8CSVT. The green box is the governor, which controls engine speed, and the circular object on the right is the Napier turbocharger.

Inside the locomotive the air filters were changed using the filters from 101, which were much cleaner. The fuel filter was replaced, while the fuel suction strainer was found to be almost completely blocked. It was cleaned out and reassembled.

The engine's exhaust outlet had been covered since the last attempts by the previous group and as a result the cylinders only had condensate in them when the engine was barred over by hand. If the outlet had been uncovered the engine would probably have seized after rainwater filled the cylinders and valves. However, it was not all good news as it seems that the outlet was uncovered for a considerable time when the locomotive was in storage at York Road; the cylinder liners had the pattern of the piston rings rusted into them. With this in mind, the engine oil sump was checked for water but thankfully none was found. Two minor leaks were identified in the coolant system, but these were in decayed flexible hoses and were not going to leak water into the lubrication systems.

Despite the sump being full of oil, oil pressure would not build, no matter how much the oil priming pump was pumped. After some tracing and poking, the oil return valve was found to be sticking open. It was cleaned out and adjusted, and from then on functioned normally.

A 110V battery charger was rendered operational and the locomotive hooked up to it through long runs of 1" diameter cable. The batteries were then charged enough to turn the engine briskly.

Attempts were made to turn the engine over on battery power but these were frustrated by a bad contact somewhere in the auxiliary cupboard, which prevented the Start Control Contactor from closing. The faulty relay was cleaned, and the engine then turned over when the correct buttons were pressed.

Fuel was bled up to the injector pumps, and attempts were made at starting the engine; each seemed more successful than the last as more cylinders fired each time. However, the cylinders refused to fire more than a few times consecutively, meaning the engine would not run under its own power. It was suggested that the fuel had deteriorated during its six years in storage; with this in mind a temporary supply of clean diesel from a 5 gallon drum was set up in the engine room. However, it quickly became clear that unless the return line was routed into this drum our clean diesel would be emptied into the locomotive's fuel tank in a matter of seconds.

This rather blurry image inside No.2 cab shows the "engine stopped" and "emergency pipe" warning lights burning brightly, with the "fire warning" light dim. The "Engine stopped" light went out only once, in June 2009.

It was suggested that fuel must be bled from the injector pumps through the high pressure injector pipes to the injectors themselves. Much struggling proved that if this was possible at all it was going to be very difficult. Later our contacts in the engine shop at York Road told us that they usually bleed fuel only as high as the fuel rails.

While trying to do things with injector pipes, two stuck exhaust valves on separate cylinders were identified. They did not want to bounce up again when shocked with a blow from a hammer. The valves did not stop the engine from turning over, so it was assumed that they were simply not closing fully. This of course meant that these two cylinders could not be expected to fire.

The correct course of action, given more manpower, was now to take the affected cylinder heads off the engine to free the stuck valves. The other possible course of action was to complete the clean fuel supply and try starting the engine again, despite the stuck valves, and rely on the other 6 cylinders to function correctly.

The decision was taken to mothball the project while more important jobs at Whitehead were tackled. However, before the decision became official, the first attempts to start the engine on the clean diesel were tried. To everybody's amazement the locomotive spluttered into life, firing on two cylinders (out of eight) only. It ran for about a minute, until the uneven vibrations shook the suction pipe from the temporary fuel tank, and the engine stopped due to fuel starvation.

102's engine running (but only just) in June 2009.

102 again faced an uncertain future, with a list of defects as long as your arm, and the people who worked on it with a list of "things to do" even longer - and none of them were Hunslet related! However, the group were keen to get the engine running one more time, perhaps with a more secure suction pipe arrangement, to see if maybe more cylinders would start to fire as it warmed through. But only if they could find the time ...

However, things then took an interesting turn. Following an approach from the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum at Cultra, a cosmetic overhaul plan was put in place. The work was subsequently carried out by the Locomotive Department and 102, resplendent in its original livery of maroon, was transferred to the museum on 22nd January 2012. (See news reports and pictures in Five Foot Three No.58.

102 on display in the Irish Railway Gallery, Cultra. ('jawfin')

Keeping Steam alive in Ireland since 1964

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