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Whitehead Developments
(Updated 5/2/2017)

A more extensive range of photographs may be found on the Society's Facebook page for:

- general building work
- turntable installation
- signal cabin construction.


The station building is being fitted out as a café and shop. The Society's Curatorial Adviser, Mark Kennedy, has sourced recycled shop fittings and these will be used to lend a period feel to the café.

Mark has undertaken much of the work so far himself. (M.Walsh).


With the building work finished, there is an urgency to get Museum fitted out internally. Roy Thompson was on hand to get a first glimpse of the information panels in place around the various buildings.

17th January 2017

The viewing window (left) panel.

The viewing gallery.
19th January 2017

The Carriage Shed.

The Stables.

The Stables.


With the building work complete and Google Maps having updated their satellite imagery, the new building layout at Whitehead can be properly viewed.

The grey roofs show the older sheds, the lighter blue the older carriage shed and workshop, while the darker grey/blue are the new extensions. The turntable is very obvious. The signal cabin can also be seen on the platform.


Some images of the new turntable being connected finally to the rest of the yard track network, and hence to the Irish railway system!

Just waiting now for the first locomotive to use it.

The final connection. (T.Taylor)

Compacting the surface. (T.Taylor)

The connected track. (T.Taylor)

Celebrating a job well done. (G.Hunt)


A ceremony has taken place at the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland in Whitehead to mark the successful completion of the construction phase of a new £3.1m railway museum.

MSM Contracts from Portadown finished work on the 12-month construction contract at the start of September and the new buildings have now officially been handed over to the RPSI.

Pictured at the official handover ceremony at RPSI Whitehead are (from left) MSM Contracts site manager Alan McNeill, RPSI chairman Denis Grimshaw, MSM contracts manager Spencer Savage, Morgan Haylett, project manager from consulting engineers RPS, and Tom Wilson from architects Ostick & Williams. (F.Robinson)

The next stage will be to fit out the new museum and the RPSI's target is to open the new tourist attraction to the public in April 2017. While work progresses, the site is closed to visitors.

The construction phase has involved the installation of a 60ft locomotive turntable along with a period-style signal cabin, the construction of new sheds and the extension of the existing facilities.

Denis Grimshaw, RPSI chairman, said the Society's base had been transformed thanks to the £2m construction contract.

"This is a pivotal point in terms of the development. We will now commence fitting out the museum with multimedia displays, educational facilities and audio links, plus a café, all of which will be key to creating this significant new tourist attraction.

"An exciting element of the museum will be the opportunity for visitors to walk through historic carriages, examine mainline steam engines at close quarters and see the engineering works in action.

"We aim to attract at least 15,000 visitors in the museum's first full year of operation. We will complement other tourist attractions in the area, such as the Gobbins Cliff Path and Black Head lighthouse

"Together this will make the railway town of Whitehead a 'must-see' stop on the Causeway Coastal Route."

Robert Mackey, managing director of MSM Contracts, said: "MSM is delighted to have worked as main contractor alongside the RPSI and their design team in the redevelopment of the Whitehead Railway Museum.

"The project has required our company to overcome a number of unique challenges associated with delivering the project within a 'live' working environment with ongoing restoration works being carried out by RPSI members.

"We wish the RPSI all the best with its new Whitehead Railway Museum when it opens to the public in 2017 and we are confident it will provide a first-class visitor attraction whilst also preserving the link with our steam train engineering past."

Funding for the project has been provided by Heritage Lottery Fund and Tourism Northern Ireland (part financed by the European Regional Development Fund under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland and administered by Tourism Northern Ireland), with additional support from Mid and East Antrim Council and Ulster Garden Villages.

The RPSI already operates mainline steam trains from Whitehead, and among recent passengers was the Queen, who travelled on the Society's steam train from Coleraine to Bellarena in June.


One of the last things needing done before the building can be handed over by the contractors is the marking out of the public walkways.

The pathway being marked across the turntable access area to the building entrance. (R.Thompson)


The first vehicle to venture onto the new turntable was the Atlas road-rail excavator. It was used to lift the new side deck plates into position for marking out and drilling. Because of the turntable pit, nothing else could actually reach the table itself from where the new plates were stacked at the pit edge.

The plates were lifted into place at one end of the turntable, which was then turned so that the other end was nearest. So the table actually turned with a vehicle on it, for the first time since closure of the NIR Central Service Depot in 1993 (we think!).

Note that as yet, the Atlas is the only machine that can access the turntable. Anything else must await the connection of the turntable access track to the rest of the yard network.

Phillip Newell moves the Atlas cautiously onto the table. The new deck plates are stacked in the foreground. (P.Scott)


The building work is nearing completion. Roy Thompson has provided these images of the surfaced yard.

The track to the turntable embedded in the yard.

The lane from Castleview Road past the Stables.


Finally, the day arrives for the installation of the turntable. It came from Belfast Central Services Depot when it closed in 1993. It was installed on Wednesday 1st June, as these photos by Alastair Maxwell show.

The crane lifts the table from the trailer.

One of the refurbished turntable runners is plainly visible on the circular bearing rail.

Lowering is a delicate process.

This shows the angle at which the track will approach the turntable.

The track will pass through the gap between the Stables (left) and the Engine Shed (right) in the background.

Attaching to the central pivot.


The turntable pit is more or less complete, awaiting installation of the table itself and the access track.


The turntable pit is progressing well, with the walls being erected and the carrying rails being overhauled. These photographs are courtesy of Charles Friel.

Reinforcing rods in place for turntable pit walls, 30/4/2016.

The Loadall moves the carrying rails for the turntable, 30/4/2016.

Site gang chipping rust off the turntable carrying rails, 5/5/2016.

Shuttering in place for part of the turntable pit wall, 5/5/2016.


The turntable pit is starting to take shape, views courtesy of Alastair Maxwell. The scale of the reinforcements can be clearly seen.

Looking towards Belfast.

Looking towards Larne.


Some recent views by Paul McCann.

The reinforced wall around the turntable pit.

The carriage shed viewing platform under construction.

The carriage shed viewing platform close up.


These views by Charles Friel show that the signal cabin is now starting to look like the real thing.

Showing the cobbled platform using recycled NCC tiles.

The Belfast end.

View from inside towards Belfast.

Peter Scott demonstrates the one lever - so far!

Below decks, the frame is taking shape.


Here is a video which shows the extent of the development work around the Whitehead site. The new sheds (with the darker blue roofs) and the turntable pit are clearly visible.


A progress update from the lens of Charles Friel.

The turntable pit has been excavated and the bottom is being stoned.

A view across the turntable pit towards Larne.

A view across the turntable pit along the route of the access between the Stables and No.5 Loco Shed wall.

The new foundry, looking towards Belfast. Note the beams to carry the travelling crane.

Looking along Road B. The reinforcing rods are in place to bring the floor up to rail level.

The Larne end of Carriage Shed Road A.


Some recent photographs from Andrew Davidson.

The signal cabin looking like the real thing.

The walls for the new foundry.

Track laying commences in the carriage shed.


Some recent photographs from Charles Friel (6th January) and Jame Friel (9th January).

The new foundry ready for its floor. (C.P.Friel)

The gabion cages as the retaining wall takes shape. (C.P.Friel)

Carriage workshop area, looking towards Larne. (C.P.Friel)

Larne side of the signal cabin. (C.P.Friel)

Signal cabin lever frame components before and after shot-blasting. (C.P.Friel)

The upper floor of the loco shed extension, looking towards Belfast. The viewing gallery to No.1 shed road wil be extreme right. (J.J.Friel)

The upper floor at the back of No.2 shed road, looking towards Belfast. The wheel-drop road is beyond the opening. (J.J.Friel)

The viewing gallery will allow folk to see what's in the extension of No.1 shed road. The platform and window beyond will do the same for the Dunleath Workshop. (J.J.Friel)


Steady progress despite the wet weather.

The signal cabin brickwork matches the station building, seen from the Belfast side.

Inside the carriage shed extension with pit in evidence.

A closer look at the pit on Road D.

The 'hard standing' area is being cast.

The steelwork and foundations for Shed Road 2, 3, 4 and 5 extensions.

The internal partitions go up in the Stables.


A couple more photographs from Charles Friel.

The Larne end of Roads A and B showing there is a very short siding space at the rear of the shed.

Looking along the pit in road D from the existing carriage shed, showing how it spans both old and new buildings.


The progress since September is amazing, as these photographs show (by Charles Friel).

The replica signal cabin takes shape, seen from the Larne side.

Inside the Stables, the walls of the new loos begin to take shape in what had been the groom's living quarters.

Looking across the turntable site towards Larne. Visitors will enter the buildings to the right of the new loco shed.

Looking across the future materials bins to the Carriage Shed.

Looking along Road A towards Larne.

Along Road C towards Belfast showing the huge undercover and free space between the pillars.

The start of the pit in the carriage workshop road (Road D) in the existing Carriage Shed.

The boundary fence takes shape between us and our neighbours.


Another week, another selection of photographs by Charles Friel.

New window and door openings being made in the Stables, looking towards Belfast.

New window openings being made on the west wall of the Stables, Tarry to the left.

From the same vantage point as earlier pictures, the view across the turntable area towards Larne.

Carriage Shed extensions and workshop steelwork takes shape.

Looking along the length of Carriage Shed, roads A, B and C, towards Belfast.

The steelwork for the Carriage Workshop in place, public entrance door to the left.


Another progress report. Photographs by Charles Friel.

The turntable area is now at ground level. The pit itself will be dug later as the table will be installed towards the end of the project.

The damp course is injected into the Stables wall.

The Belfast end of the Stables learning room with new windows and doorway in progress.

The signal cabin base is now at platform level.


The chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the major funder of the Whitehead developments, took time out to inspect progress while on a one-day visit to Northern Ireland. Photographs by Charles Friel.

Denis Grimshaw (RPSI Chairman), - Sir Peter Luff (HLF Chairman), Paul Mullan (Head of HLF NI).

Sir Peter poses with a group of the usual RPSI suspects.

Foundation blockwork for the new signal cabin.

A close-up of the signal cabin base.

The ex Belfast Central Services turntable which will be installed as part of the work.

The steelwork for the carriage shed extension has been erected.


Some further photographs, including the excavations for the turntable. Progress can clearly be seen by comparison with recent views from below. Photographs by Charles Friel.

The first concrete is poured for the signal cabin foundations.

Cabin base reinforcements in view.

The site is cleared back to the Larne end fence beyond the carriage shed.

A view towards Larne across the excavations for the turntable.

The turntable area viewed from the Larne side.

The turntable well site.


As well as developments at the side and rear of the sheds at Whitehead there will be a new signal cabin, based on NCC practice. This and other recent progress is shown.

The foundations of the NCC replica cabin are being dug on the Belfast end of the platform. (C.P.Friel)

The original brickwork of the former rear platform can be seen. (M.Walsh)

The site of the extended loco shed and workshop, with piling in evidence. (C.P.Friel)

A view towards Larne of the foundations for the extension of Carriage Shed Road A. (C.P.Friel)

Larne end, looking back at the foundations of the outer wall of Carriage Shed Road D. (C.P.Friel)

The Stables has been totally cleared. This is the Larne end which had stalls for four horses. (C.P.Friel)


Charles Friel has documented further progress.

Compare this with the first shot from 20th September below - the same yellow peg in the foreground. Another before and after - the jaunting car stalls in the Stables revealed. Wider access now round the corner of No.5 shed road. The clearance of the bank towards the site boundary is evident.


Work on the final phase of development at Whitehead has commenced. These pictures from Charles Friel (17/9/2015) and Paul McCann (19/9/2015) give an idea of the scope of the work.

Looking towards Larne with foundry extreme left and workshop extension beyond. The bank beyond the yellow marker will be removed. (CPF) The almost-cleared loco store in the stables. It is due to become a learning room for visiting school parties. (CPF)
From the Larne end of the carriage shed extension with the Larne line extreme right. (CPF) At the Larne end of the carriage shed the earth is being dug away and disposed off near the Rinkha. The white geo-textile mat is visible. (CPF)
The foundry at the back of 3, 4 and 5 roads in the engine shed has been demolished. (CPF) A high level view of the work. The Larne line is beyond the four-road carriage shed. (CPF)
Another high level view showing the geo-textile mat and stone surface. (CPF) Stables to the left and loco shed to the right. GN steam crane and No.85 (being coaled). The turntable will be below the photographer's feet. (CPF)

The extreme Larne end of the site is visible for the first time in decades. The yellow peg below the tree indicates the rear of the proposed buildings. (PMcC)

The most important part of the contractor's equipment. (PMcC)


The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland has announced the appointment of MSM Contracts, a Portadown-based building and civil engineering company, to carry out a major development project at its base in Whitehead.

The £2m building contract is part of an overall £3m investment which will see the transformation of the RPSI's base into a museum and interpretative centre, open to the public and creating a significant new tourist attraction in Whitehead.

Funding for the project has been provided by Heritage Lottery Fund and Tourism Northern Ireland, with additional support from Mid and East Antrim Council and Ulster Garden Villages.

Frank Robinson (RPSI), Spencer Savage (MSM Manager), Alan McNeill (MSM Site Manager), Caroline Bell (Tourism NI Project Manager), Paul Mullan (Head of HLF NI), Robert Mackey (MSM Managing Director), Dr Joan Smyth (RPSI Vice-President).

Work on the 36-week construction phase started on 7th September when the contractors came on site.

RPSI chairman Denis Grimshaw said: "We are delighted to have reached this significant point in the Society's development and now look forward to work proceeding rapidly on the new Whitehead Railway Centre. We are confident that the £3m centre will provide a major tourist attraction which will help to put the railway town of Whitehead on the map.

"Since the RPSI established its base at Whitehead in 1966 we have been increasingly aware of the need to create a proper museum and interpretative centre for visitors, as well as improving our display potential and enhancing our heritage engineering capacity and storage facilities. This project will transform our base into a visitor-friendly living museum with a period-style signal cabin, a 60 ft locomotive turntable and extensions to our locomotive workshops and carriage sheds.

"This facility will include interpretative displays that will tell the story of the development of the railways and set Whitehead and the RPSI in this context. Visitors will also be able to watch from a viewing gallery as work is carried out on our locomotives in our engineering workshops. It promises to create a unique attraction and coupled with the recently re-opened Gobbins Cliff Path, will give tourists and locals a new reason to visit Whitehead and Islandmagee.

"We are most grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund and Tourism Northern Ireland, along with Mid and East Antrim Council and Ulster Garden Villages, for the commitment they are making to this project. MSM Contracts has already worked with the RPSI in that it built the International Fund for Ireland-backed two-track carriage shed at Whitehead back in 1992/3. Work on the latest development is due to be completed by summer 2016 - a fitting way to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Society's arrival in Whitehead."

Paul Mullan, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund NI, added: "It is wonderful to see the money raised by National Lottery players making a real difference to local projects and communities. The beginning of works here at Whitehead is another milestone in a journey to create a unique visitor experience which will complement and add to the wealth of heritage attractions already on offer throughout Mid and East Antrim."

Rosemarie McHugh, Tourism NI, Capital Funds Manager, said: "Tourism NI is delighted to support this innovative project which offers a fantastic new visitor dimension to Whitehead and will complement the many tourist attractions along the Causeway Coastal Route. The restoration works and creation of a living museum will not only provide an educational and interactive experience for all to enjoy, but this new quality facility will also encourage more people to visit Whitehead, spend more and stay longer."

Robert Mackey, managing director of MSM Contracts, said: "MSM Contracts are delighted to have been appointed by RPSI to deliver the next phase of the development of their Whitehead Railway Centre. Having completed a construction project at the Whitehead site in the 1990s, MSM are proud to be involved as main contractor on another exciting project with RPSI that will seek to preserve the history and excellence of our steam train engineering past. Our company is positive that on completion of construction works, the Whitehead Railway Centre will be a first class living engineering museum and educational facility that will complement other recent tourist attractions in the local area."


The rear of the Carriage shed has all been cleared as of today (apart from a 3-plank pyramid end match wagon (NCC C355?) which broke its back in the effort to remove the steam crane). The contractors will have to move this with their cranes.

The Larne Line is beyond the fence, then A, B, C and D Roads. The current carriage shed is just out of shot to the left and the new shed extension will cover all this ... and then some! (M.Walsh)

A-Road was emptied in January during a shunt to retrieve the GNR VS Class tender with the view to using its wheels for No.131's tender (they were then found to actually be in worse condition than No.131's and so won't be used). C and D Roads were cleared in mid August, including the removal from D-Road of that nemesis of the site squad, the ex-GNR steam crane. B-Road was cleared today of its small rake of 4 wagons, a CIÉ ballast hopper, an NCC 4-plank wagon, an oil tank wagon and a CIÉ brake van. The recalcitrant NCC wagon, which decided to collapse and lock its brakes onto its wheels, was no match for the power of diesel locomotive B142 and, once in the shed, application of an angle grinder to several pins in the brake gear sorted it out.

It is pleasing to note the main yard at the front of the sheds is not as bad as was expected and it looks as if it will be possible to continue operating, shunting for maintenance, etc., pretty much as normal. The removal of the Gatwick coaches to Dundalk for temporary storage was the key element here.

The above photo is the result of much work - actually a couple of years of work when building the siding opposite the platform is taken into account - by operations and site squads. The acquisition of Connolly shed has helped too, as there are now 2 locomotives in Dublin where formerly there would only have been one and hence a space created at Whitehead!


The GROW/Carrickfergus 'Thank You' day has once again featured in the Carrickfergus Times, this time in their 26th March edition.


The recent development work at Whitehead has been featured in a 4-page spread in the trade journal, Northern Builder.

It's an interesting read. (Use the magnifying glass at the botton left of the linked page to zoom in.)



Report by Robin Morton, photographs by Charles Friel.

The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland has held a ceremony at Whitehead to express its appreciation to two key funders - Generating Rural Opportunities Within (GROW) South Antrim and Carrickfergus Borough Council. The event took place at Whitehead Excursion Station on the morning of Wednesday 18th March and the timing was chosen because both bodies are in the process of winding down.

GROW South Antrim will continue to carry out monitoring work until September but all projects have to be completed by the end of March.

For its part, Carrickfergus Council will be superseded by the new Mid & East Antrim Council (covering Ballymena, Larne and Carrick) at the start of April.

On a beautifully sunny and calm morning almost 80 guests arrived at Whitehead Youth Centre, the yellow building which abuts the Society's premises in Whitehead. Catering officer Eileen Armstrong and her team provided tea, coffee, scones and buns for guests as they were welcomed and registered with Sullivan and Heather Boomer at the reception desk in the youth centre.

At 11am guests proceeded to the station building where the ceremony took place, with RPSI President The Lord O'Neill acting as master of ceremonies. He opened proceedings by welcoming everyone and then called for a minute's silence in memory of two recently deceased people - RPSI carriage officer Francis Richards and the Mayor of Carrickfergus, Alderman Charles Johnston.

Among the organisations that were represented at the event were GROW South Antrim, Carrickfergus Borough Council, Mid & East Antrim Council, Tourism NI, Translink, National Museums Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Museums Council, Marsh Insurance, Whitehead Regeneration Committee, Brighter Whitehead, the Irish Railway Record Society and Dundalk Railway Heritage Society.

Guests were treated to a short PowerPoint presentation on the RPSI's volunteers which had been created by RPSI volunteer co-ordinator Alastair Maxwell, who provided a commentary to go along with the presentation.

RPSI chairman Denis Grimshaw expressed thanks on behalf of the RPSI to both GROW South Antrim and Carrickfergus Council. He said that the grants from the two bodies - along with the support of other funders including Heritage Lottery Fund and Ulster Garden Villages - had made a real difference to the utility and ambience of the Society's premises and facilities at Whitehead. He said GROW had funded several major projects in recent years at Whitehead, ranging from the station building and the restoration of steam locomotives No.131 and No.171 to the construction of a car park and major extensions to the locomotive and carriage sheds.

Altogether, he said, GROW South Antrim had provided funding for the Whitehead Station Building project and had helped fund the Society's heritage and strategic projects. GROW South Antrim had funded a new inspection pit and concrete apron outside the locomotive shed, and had provided specialised tools and equipment for the workshops.

All this, he said, had helped the Society provide full-time employment for four people. In addition, the facilities had helped attract hundreds of visitors to Whitehead every year. Mr Grimshaw said that without the support of Carrickfergus Borough Council and its predecessor body, Whitehead Urban District Council, the RPSI would never have been able to set up shop in Whitehead. He recalled that the council had secured the site and then willingly leased it to the Society from 1966 through to 2007, at which stage the Society acquired it, finally providing the security of tenure that the RPSI needed to qualify for grant aid applications. Carrickfergus Council, he added, had created the foundations upon which the RPSI was able to build its future.

Mr Grimshaw also noted the contribution made by individual RPSI members, who had donated more than £90,000 to an appeal to help with the overhaul of No.171 "Slieve Gullion".

The purpose of all this was to transform the RPSI's Whitehead Railway Centre into a major tourist amenity with safe and controlled access to view the heritage engineering and restoration work taking place. This would be enhanced by up-to-date display, information and interpretative facilities which would explain the context and historical background to the Society's operation, its restoration work and its collection of historic locomotives and carriages.

The next phase, he said, would involve the extension of secure storage facilities, provision of a 60ft diameter locomotive turntable, a traditional railway signal cabin and a relocated foundry. Improved facilities would be provided for employees and working members.

Mr Grimshaw added: "I am delighted to announce that we now have confirmation that our grant application to the NI Tourist Board (now Tourism NI) has been approved. This means that the entire funding package for the whole project is now in place. With major grants in place from from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Tourism Northern Ireland this means that the project can go ahead. We expect the next and final phase of our building work will start this autumn, for completion in the summer of 2016."

Alastair Maxwell then presented a second PowerPoint show, this time featuring a series of "before and after" photographs showing how support from GROW South Antrim in particular was already changing the face of RPSI Whitehead Railway Centre.

Councillor Lynn McClurg, deputising Mayor of Carrickfergus, said the long-standing relationship between Carrickfergus Borough Council and the RPSI had been mutually beneficial. She said her fellow councillors and she were encouraged by the efforts of the RPSI in attracting funding for the further development of RPSI Whitehead Railway Centre.

"The Council is very excited to learn that the RPSI has been successful in drawing down funding from Tourism NI and the Heritage Lottery Fund for the delivery of a major capital scheme and is pleased to be able to provide some match funding for the project," she said. "The development of the living engineering museum, educational facility and interpretive display will offer a unique visitor experience highlighting the story of the railway in Ireland. It is envisaged that the project will create 50 to 80 design and construction jobs and 15-20 permanent jobs. It will have a significant economic and social impact on Whitehead, the Antrim Coast and Northern Ireland as a whole."

Vera McWilliam, Chair of GROW South Antrim Local Action Group, said that GROW had provided the RPSI with funding for projects which had been a welcome boost to tourist facilities in Whitehead. "Not only do these projects attract visitors to Whitehead, but they will also preserve important heritage for years to come. In total, more than £2.4m of Rural Development Funding has been invested in 48 projects in the rural Carrickfergus area. They have helped businesses expand, farmers diversify and upgraded basic services projects, for example at Whitehead Community Centre. Projects at the RPSI and at County Antrim Yacht Club are making Whitehead a more attractive place to visit, stay and explore."

Lord O'Neill then invited Jean Grimshaw, wife of the RPSI chairman, to come forward and present Mrs McWilliam and Councillor McClurg with bouquets of flowers to mark the occasion.

A presentation of a framed photograph of steam engine No.131 in action was then made by RPSI Museum Committee Chairman Charles Friel to Pearse McKeown, who had travelled from his home in Dublin for the occasion. The presentation, Mr Friel told guests, was in recognition of the key role played by Mr McKeown in 1963 in securing for preservation the three remaining CIÉ steam engines - Nos. 131, 184 and 461. Mr McKeown, who was working in Inchicore at the time, had intervened with management to highlight the heritage importance of the three engines - all of which are now in the RPSI's collection.

Lord O'Neill invited guests to accompany him out to the station platform, where No.131 was in steam. He then asked Mrs McWilliam to unveil a plaque which was affixed to the handrail of the locomotive. The plaque acknowledged the funding contribution of GROW South Antrim which had enabled the Society to restore the engine to mainline running order - after a gap of more than 50 years.

Mrs McWilliam and Councillor McClurg were then invited onto the footplate of No.131 and taken for a short trip down the siding. The driver and fireman were RPSI volunteers Nelson Poots and Ryan Downey, while shunting was under the control of volunteers Dermot Mackie and John Williams.

No.131 still has to be fitted with modern safety equipment to enable it to operate on NIR and Irish Rail metals, but it is hoped to make an historic return to the main line later in 2015.

The Carrickfergus Times newspaper featured the event in their 19th March edition.



An Information Day on the Station Building was organised for 7th March 2015 when up-to-date plans for the next phase of developments at Whitehead were on display. These were the latest drawings for the overall site, the loco shed and the carriage shed extensions as well as for the signal cabin. The site layout plan, the loco shed plan and the carriage shed plan were mounted on boards at eye level while two other site plans, the signal cabin drawings and Edward Friel's model of the locomotive shed area were on the tables for inspection. They were supplemented by A4 copies of the site plan which people could take away.

Also on display, on the large screen, were three videos - the 8-minute 3D flying graphic of the planned developments, a 5-minute outline of the 3D Scanning project so far and a 4-minute update on the On-Train Apps. The first came from GBDM and the other two were supplied by CMC Associates. These three videos ran in a continuous loop during the day. The three videos were silent, so Charles Friel provided a commentary on each as often as he could.

Refreshments were organised by Eileen Armstrong and Fiona Gault while Henry Ritchie encouraged folk to sign the visitors' book and manned the shop which has been relocated to allow for the cafe area to be developed by Eileen and Richard Armstrong.

The morning session was aimed at working members and there were quite a few before the advertised start time of 10:30. There was a continuous trickle of visitors throughout the morning and it was busy enough without feeling crowded. The general membership was invited for the afternoon session and, again, there was a healthy level of interest though it tailed off quickly after about 15:30 or so.

The comments made were very largely encouraging and several suggestions were noted which will be fed back to the Design Team for their attention.
The early afternoon visitors.
View from behind the station.
A wider view of the layout.
The carriage and locomotive sheds.


A comprehensive write-up of the handover of the new buildings was carried in the Carrickfergus Times of 20th November 2014.


With the handover from the contractor, Clearys, for the current phase of the work at Whitehead, some updated views are in order, all from the lens of Charles Friel.

Engine shed extension rear.
Engine shed extension showing the wheeldrop.
Engine shed extension.
Carriage shed extension towards the rear.
Carriage shed extension towards the side.
Carriage shed extension towards the front.


A long-overdue update of the work at Whitehead shows a lot is happening. As always, the map below will help to get your bearings.

The carpark entrance.
The carpark laneway.
The carpark.
The workshop extension behind the engine shed.
The workshop extension showing the engine shed.
The workshop extension with the excavations beyond.
No.184 sits alone in the carriage shed extension.
The carriage shed extension towards the Larne end.
The carriage shed extension towards the side.
The old carriage shed meets the extension.
The front of the carriage shed extension.
The side of the carriage shed extension.
The rear of the carriage shed extension.


Work on the new carpark is progressing well, as is the steelwork for the carriage shed extension.


Work on the next phase of development at Whitehead has commenced. The entrance to the new carpark can be seen at the end of the lane.

Behind the sheds, the rolling stock has been cleared and the track lifted to allow 30m for building work. The first of the piles for the new buildings can be seen.



A £1m development project at the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland's headquarters in Whitehead, Co. Antrim officially got under way on.

The scheme is being sponsored by Generating Rural Opportunities Within (GROW) South Antrim, delivering funding through the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme (2007-2013), which is part financed by the European Union and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Today the first sod was cut to signal the start of work on the construction element of the programme - a £486,500 contract which involves extensions to the locomotive and carriage sheds, the start of a new carriage workshop, the construction of a new coal bunker, and the building of a 30-bay car park.

The rest of the funding is going towards the already announced restoration of 1901-built Great Northern Railway (Ireland) steam engines No. 131 and No.171, and a sleeping car which will be used by members.

The Society's aim is to transform the Society's engine sheds and workshops into a living museum and major tourist attraction where visitors can view heritage vehicles and observe restoration work in progress.

To mark the start of the construction phase, the first sod on the six-month project was cut by Councillor Mark Cosgrove, chair of the GROW South Antrim Joint Council Committee Chair, and GROW South Antrim Local Action Group chair Vera McWilliam.

Also participating were Denis Grimshaw, RPSI chairman, and Pat Cleary, managing director of Cleary Contracting from Randalstown, the firm which is undertaking the constructing project.

And in attendance were Morgan Haylett and David Logan from lead consultants RPS and Colin Robinson from architects Ostick & Williams.

Mr Cosgrove said: "We are delighted to see work commencing on what we know is a further significant step forward for the RPSI. We see the development of the railway centre as a key element in the economic regeneration of Whitehead and the surrounding area. The RPSI is harnessing engineering skills which would otherwise have been lost and there is significant potential in terms of job creation and tourism."

Denis Grimshaw said: "The RPSI is deeply grateful to GROW South Antrim and the Rural Development Programme for their support for this project. The construction project that has now started at Whitehead is a key building block in our overall plans to transform our centre into a major tourist destination. The extensions to the locomotive and carriage sheds are particularly valuable as at present we are very tight for space to carry out all our overhaul work on steam engines and coaches. Our ultimate plan is to develop our heritage engineering skills and build a visitor attraction around what is the last surviving traditional railway workshop in Northern Ireland."

GROW South Antrim was involved last year in funding the construction of a new £270,000 period-style station building at Whitehead, which is now in use at open days and special events.

Mr Grimshaw added: "It is particularly significant that we are starting work on this project in 2014, which is the Society's 50th anniversary year. We intend to have a series of special events during the year to mark our golden anniversary and we are already looking forward to the return to traffic of former Great Northern Railway (Ireland) steam locomotive No.85 Merlin".

The event was recorded in the Carrick Times of 13th March 2014 and in the construction industry magazine, Specify:


Cleary Contracting arrive on site. Equipment and storage containers are delivered. Work is well under way on the erection of a new temporary fence along the full length of the expanded site boundary.

This phase of work will include car park and extensions to the Carriage Shed. It is mainly sponsored by GROW (South Antrim) delivering funding through the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme (2007-2014),



RPSI members and other readers of our journal Five Foot Three will recall that in the June 2012 issue the overall plan for the Whitehead development was laid out. This can be found on page 52 of the paper edition or page 44 of the online edition.

Since then - and since the report in the last issue - plans have changed somewhat. Basically we intend to achieve all the same things but in a different order. It was intended to carry out the project in several stages, with funding from different sources. Some of the funding bodies have committed to supporting us, while others have not yet done so, so the order, and therefore the objectives, of each stage of the project have been altered.

The first stage involved the construction of the Station Building. This was funded by GROW South Antrim, and this stage is now complete.

Back in March 2013 GROW announced a further £800,000 of funding, and the HLF announced a grant of £1,600,000. The terms of these two grants are somewhat different, though. The HLF grant can only be used as part of a project that costs at least £3,200,000, and this can't start until the other half is found. On the other hand, GROW's grant can be used on its own but must be spent by the end of 2014.

We are still petitioning other funding bodies to come up with the funds to match the HLF's contribution. In the meantime we have had to start making use of GROW's funding in order to meet the time limit. We had envisaged using this fund to finish off the project. Instead we are now using it in a separate stage to make a start on the development that will be concluded once bigger grants are available for use.

The map below shows in green the objectives of the current stage of building work, funded by GROW. Blue areas are the objectives for the next stage using funding from the HLF and other bodies (click for enlargement):

In addition, the current stage will provide funds for the overhaul of three vehicles: GNR(I) No.131, NCC Diesel Railcar No.1, and our BR Mark 3 sleeping coach (to improve overnight accommodation for volunteers). Our own engineering company, Heritage Engineering Ireland Ltd, has successfully bid for this contract, although they unfortunately had to forego bidding for the restoration of NCC Railcar No.1 due to the severely limited timescale required. Accordingly, GNR(I) Q-Class 4-4-0 No.131 is now on the road to its return to main line traffic - after some 50 years! The work on our Sleeping Car will also be started shortly.

Part of the concrete apron - covering No.2 Road of the Loco Shed - has now been built, as well as a new locomotive servicing pit on No.1 Road, just outside the shed door (see below).

It will be seen that this stage involves building only parts of the carriage shed and locomotive workshop extensions. When built these are bound to look odd, but please do not be alarmed! It is still very much the plan to complete all the blue areas of the drawing as well, once the funding is all in place. This is by no means planned to be the end of construction, only the start.

If the worst did happen the locomotive workshop extension would still be there and be able to fulfil some of its intended practical functions. The short extensions to the carriage shed would obviously be of little use by themselves. However, this has been assessed as the best way to take the maximum advantage of the funding we have available now to progress towards completing the whole 2020 project, and so make the operation of preserved main line trains in Ireland significantly more secure for the future.


Work on the new ash pit and apron progresses.

Following completion of the drainage for the pit, the Site squad laid 40 concrete sleepers and most of the refurbished track, including flat-bottomed rail on the pit walls in late September.

All has been keyed up and levelled and is being partially in-filled with compacted ballast. The whole area will be concreted to have the contract complete by mid October.

Thanks to Mark Walsh for the photographs.

The track to be buried under the apron on No.2 Road.

Track over pit to No.1 Road.

The pit and surround.

Site Officer out of his depth.


As part of the overall Whitehead development programme, a preliminary contract has been awarded to Cleary Contracting Ltd (who also recently built the new station house) for the construction of an Ash Pit on Shed Road No.1 and a concrete "Apron" around the track on the adjacent No.2 Shed Road. This has been funded by GROW South Antrim.

As well as enhancing the area concerned, this will greatly facilitate the pre-trip preparation (inspection and oiling) of locomotives, and the disposal of ash at the end of the trip. Hopefully the days of our volunteers lying on their backs in the mud in wet weather whilst doing some of these tasks will soon be at an end!

Some lifting and packing of the approach tracks will be necessary to achieve a level area just in front of the shed and a satisfactory gradient profile between the gantry Road turnout and the shed, over a distance of some 60m.

The work is expected to last for a period of six weeks. Excavations in front of the shed commenced on 4th September and by 6th September had progressed well as these photos by Denis Grimshaw show.


The finished building, including some interior views.



Pat Cleary, managing director of Cleary Contracting from Randalstown, presents Denis Grimshaw of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland with the keys for the new £270,000 station building which has just been completed at Whitehead Excursion Station. Pictured from left are: Colin Robinson, Ostick & Williams (Architect), Adrian McErlean, site supervisor, David Logan, RPS (engineering consultants), Siobhan Dillon, RPSI project manager, Tom Wilson, Ostick & Williams, Pat Cleary, Johnny Glendinning, RPSI 2020 committee, and Denis Grimshaw. (Photo by Geoff Moore)

Work on the new £270,000 period style station at Whitehead Excursion Station has been completed and the keys have been handed over to the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland.

Work started in September and was completed on time and within budget on 6 June, although the interior still needs to be fitted out before it can be opened to the public.

RPSI vice-chairman Denis Grimshaw said the Society was delighted with the building and looked forward to the day when it would house a cafe, small railway exhibition and ticket office.

"The building looks just like we hoped it would and it creates a fitting atmosphere at Whitehead Excursion Station, where we will be running steam train rides during the summer," said Mr Grimshaw.

"Although the exterior is period style, the interior is very contemporary and we believe it will provide most suitable premises for a cafe franchise.

"We are grateful to Cleary Contracting for all their work and to the various consultants such as RPS and Ostick & Williams for their input. This was an unconventional project for all concerned and it involved a lot of intricate work, but they all rose to the challenge.

"All the interior painting, flooring and lighting have been completed, but because the tenders were higher than anticipated, the budget would not stretch to furniture and fittings at this stage."

The building contract was awarded to Cleary Contracting and the building is in the style of an original Belfast & Northern Counties Railway station similar to the former Whiteabbey station, which had been designed by famous Ulster Architect Charles Lanyon.

Heritage Engineering Ireland, the RPSI's engineering arm, was responsible for designing and manufacturing historically accurate decorative collars and base units in cast iron for the supports for the platform canopy. They were turned out by the HEI foundry at Whitehead.

When it is fully fitted out, the two-storey station building will house a visitor reception area, ticket office, cafe with seating for 56 customers, and a souvenir shop.

There will also be visual and interactive information and display facilities depicting and explaining the history and background of the railways in Ireland in general, and in the local area in particular.

The construction has been funded by GROW South Antrim, Carrickfergus Borough Council and Ulster Garden Villages.

The RPSI is still in negotiation over the provision of match funding for the £2.4m that was pledged in March for the Whitehead 2020 project by Heritage Lottery Fund and GROW South Antrim. Mr Grimshaw said the Society hoped to be able to make an announcement shortly.


Work on the new storage siding progresses. Thanks to Trevor Taylor for the photographs.

The turnout.

Atlas and trailer.

Carefully does it!

Safely there.


The new station gains the frame of a canopy (and front and rear views of Henry!). Also, in the workshop is the new 1 tonne overhead crane.


The first public trains arrive at the new (but not yet open) station.

No.186 and train at the Larne end.

Chimney visible as No.461 is prepared.



Plans by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland to develop its Whitehead base as a major tourist and heritage centre today took a significant step forward.

The Whitehead 2020 project has received offers of funding amounting to £2.4m from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and GROW South Antrim. (GROW's funding comes through the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme which is part financed by the Department of Agriculture & Rural Development and the European Union.)

HLF is committing £1.6m to the scheme, while £800,000 is being provided by GROW (Generating Rural Opportunities Within South Antrim) through the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme.

Head of HLF Northern Ireland, Paul Mullan, said: "This project will secure the railway heritage in Ireland for generations by enhancing the conservation and engineering facilities at the RPSI's accredited Museum in Whitehead. The improved visitor facilities will draw more people into the Whitehead area to view and learn about our railway heritage.

"An extensive programme of interpretation, education and events will be delivered including additional mainline excursions on new routes, living history and themed days and a schools programme. Guided and self-guided tours of the Whitehead site and railway workshop will be offered and opportunities for volunteers to get involved in the project will also be created."

The project will major on the RPSI's collection which includes 10 steam locomotives along with historic carriages and wagons formerly used on railway systems throughout Ireland from the 1880s to the 1980s.

Denis Grimshaw, the RPSI vice-chairman, welcomed news of the funding boost, saying that it was a 'red-letter day' for the Society.

He said: "We are tremendously grateful for the commitment that HLF and GROW are making to this landmark project. We are in the final stages of negotiations to secure a further major grant to complete our funding requirements, and we hope to have everything in place within the next few weeks."

Mr Grimshaw said the project would transform RPSI Whitehead from an industrial workshop and storage facility into a national railway museum and major tourist attraction.

He said: "Our aim is to create further employment, including apprenticeships, and promote the passing on of valuable industrial heritage skills to the next generation.

"We hope to start work early next year and complete the project by the end of 2014, which means it will be the focal point of celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment in 1964 of the RPSI.

"This funding will go towards vastly enhanced visitor facilities including a small exhibits museum, a workshop viewing gallery, a historic carriage exhibition building, interactive displays, an extension to our workshops and a locomotive turntable."

Mr Grimshaw said the development would put Whitehead on the map not just for the railway enthusiast fraternity but also for wider tourist market.

"Whitehead is already the only operational mainline steam depot in Ireland, and this working museum and heritage centre will complement the important static display at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra. Visitors to our centre will be able to see engines and carriages undergoing restoration - as well as taking a trip on our steam trains from Whitehead to destinations such as Portrush, Bangor and Dublin.

"This groundbreaking development will complement a £269,000 station building which was mainly funded by GROW and which is approaching completion on our platform at Whitehead. The station will include a cafe and other visitor facilities.

The RPSI boasts the largest historic railway collection anywhere in Ireland. Its workshop facilities, which visitors will be able to see in action, include an overhead transporter crane, heavy-lift sheer-leg cranes, a huge lathe for re-profiling locomotive wheels and a jobbing foundry.


The new station has its roof complete and the scaffolding removed. Work now turns to the building interior. Thanks to Adam Lohoff (1-2) and Johnny Glendinning (3-5) for the photographs.

(1) Front.

(2) Front, Larne end.

(3) Rear.

(4) Belfast end.

(5) Larne end.


As part of the development of the station area new siding space is required, especially during the construction work when vehicles will be displaced from their normal storage positions. During late January part of the bank between the RPSI premises and the NIR line to Larne was removed to create space for an extra siding.





These views were taken during a lull over the holiday period.

The Larne end.

The Belfast end.

A close-up of the brickwork.

The new fencing.


The pace of building is rapid. Thanks to Mark Walsh for these images.

The Larne end.

From the rear.

From the front.

Across the tracks.


On Wednesday 17th October a number of invited guests attend a ceremony at Whitehead to mark the
official laying of the first brick.

The foundations reach floor level.

Vera McWilliam of major sponsor GROW lays the first brick.

The architect's sketch-up of the station is on display to give the guests an idea of what they will be seeing in a year's time:


Work on the foundations is well underway.

Looking towards Larne.

Looking towards Belfast.


The contractors take possession of the platform at Whitehead to commence construction.


It was announced that Cleary Construction Ltd had been appointed as the contractor for the new Whitehead Station Building and additional site security fencing. The work is due to start on Monday 3rd September 2012, for completion by the end of May 2013.

The building will house a visitor reception area, ticket office, cafe with seating for 56 customers, and a souvenir shop. There will also be visual and interactive information and display facilities depicting and explaining the history and background of the railways in Ireland in general, and in the local area in particular.

The £269,000 contract has been financed by GROW South Antrim, Carrickfergus Council, and Ulster Garden Villages, to whom the Society is extremely grateful. It is hoped that the new station will later form part of a much larger development comprising greatly enhanced workshop and restoration facilities and an extensive railway museum, educational and interpretive centre.

The station building will be in the style of an original Belfast & Northern Counties Railway station similar to the former Whiteabbey station. The architect's elevations give an idea of scale:

Tony Ragg's photographs show Whiteabbey station, giving a hint of what the new building will look like:

Future Plans

Plans for the building work at Whitehead have been through many revisions, but this rough sketch, based on a 1962 map, gives an idea of what is planned. It should not be taken as entirely accurate, especially in terms of track layout. Note that the two workshop buildings marked in yellow are not rail connected.

Keeping Steam alive in Ireland since 1964