Queen''s Award for Voluntary Service Awarded to RPSI
The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland has capped its 50th anniversary celebrations by being named as a winner in this year's Queen's Award for Voluntary Service scheme.
The Queen's Award is the highest accolade given to volunteer groups across the UK and has been described as the "MBE for Volunteer Groups". This year, awards have been won by a record 187 charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups.
The RPSI, which is based at Whitehead, Co Antrim, operates more than 80 steam trains a year for the public on the tracks on Northern Ireland Railways and Irish Rail, carrying around 15,000 passengers a year.
Lord O'Neill, who has served as RPSI president since the Society was formed in 1964, said he was delighted that the Society had received this recognition.
"The Society has always been an all-island organisation, open to all but the volunteers have been the secret of our success," he said. "Those who give up so much of their free time to keep the trains running fully deserve this kudos."
The RPSI relies on its volunteer workforce to keep the wheels turning in terms of everything from maintenance and marketing to steam-raising, checking tickets, operating the buffet car and acting as coach stewards.
Dr Joan Smyth, vice-president of the RPSI, said: "We are hugely encouraged to have received this prestigious honour but all the credit must go to the Society's 150-strong volunteer workforce in Northern Ireland and the Republic. Thanks to the efforts of our volunteers and the willing co-operation of the railway companies, a new generation is able to enjoy the sound and sight of a real-life steam train. This year our trains will visit most of the Irish railway system - from Coleraine to Cork and from Portadown to Portlaoise. Steam trains still turn heads - and are a valuable part of our transport heritage."
The RPSI is poised to develop its base at Whitehead as a heritage centre and museum where visitors will be able to see restoration work in progress on the carriages and engines, some of which were originally built 100 years ago.
RPSI chairman Denis Grimshaw, who served as secretary when the Society was first established in 1964, said membership now stood at around 1,000, with a third each from Northern Ireland, the Republic and Britain.
Mr Grimshaw said: "Over the years the role played the volunteers has been crucial to the Society's development and success and we are thrilled to have received this award. We are particularly encouraged to see a new generation of volunteers coming forward and this augurs well for the future of the Society. They are not afraid to get their hands dirty or work unsociable hours to ensure that the train leaves on time. The RPSI is now an important player in the tourism field, and we regularly have visitors from Britain and further afield coming to Ireland specifically to travel on our trains and perhaps building a holiday around that."
The Lord Lieutenant for Co. Antrim, Mrs Joan Christie, will be visiting the RPSI's base later in the summer to present the Society with its award.