A veteran of the steam age returned triumphantly to service at the Downpatrick &Co. Down Railway on Saturday 18th October after a £23,000 overhaul.
Steam engine No. 90 was officially launched at a ceremony at Downpatrick by Dick Fearn, the chief executive of Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail), the national rail operator of the Republic of Ireland and joint operators of the cross-border ‘Enterprise’ service.
Mr Fearn cut the commemorative tape to formally mark the successful completion of a two-year restoration project.
Built in 1875, No. 90 is the oldest steam locomotive in Ireland still working, and is reckoned to be either the seventh or eighth oldest operational locomotive in the world. No. 90, which has been out of traffic since 1992, will now be used on our rebuilt section of the old Belfast-Newcastle railway line in County Down.
Mr. Fearn said, “In an era where railways, North and South, are experiencing a great renaissance it is always heartening to see the immense work undertaken by volunteers which allows us to reflect on, and savour our past.”
He continued, “Organisations like the Downpatrick &County Down Railway keep us in touch with our roots as an industry and indeed as a community. The railway networks of Ireland, the United Kingdom and of the rest of the world brought communities closer together commercially, educationally and socially. It was in these islands the world was given the lead in railway invention and technology. Today we value the opportunity you present us to learn from our past; our yesteryears inform our future.
Listen to Dick Fearn’s speech at No. 90’s launch:
“As Chief Executive of Iarnród Éireann, successor to the original Great Southern & Western Railway who built Locomotive No. 90, I am especially pleased to be invited to inaugurate a new era for this engine.”
Mr. Fearn added, “This illustrates the continuity which is such a feature of the railway industry, and in this little engine we see the results of three determined volunteer groups in saving and returning to operation a unique locomotive able to haul vintage rolling stock on a full-scale railway here in the beautiful setting of County Down for future generations to enjoy -a task which is beyond the remit of a modern professional operating railway company. We wish the Downpatrick &County Down Railway and its volunteer staff every success in the future.”
He also described how locomotive No. 90’s story is testament to the inventive genius and the durability of Victorian engineering. She was one of four identical engines built at Inchicore Works in Dublin between 1875 and 1915 for the Castleisland branch of the vast Great Southern & Western Railway, which operated an extensive network from Dublin to Cork and Galway.
She was withdrawn in 1961, and after a distinguished career, No. 90 was seen as a fit candidate for early preservation and stood on display on the platform at Fermoy from 1963, and then Mallow from 1967 to 1985. She was then rescued and restored to operational condition by a Southern-based preservation group, but lay unused for nearly two decades from 1992 when that scheme folded.
Michael Collins, DCDR chairman, said, “We’ve been in negotiations with Irish Rail for some time to give No. 90 a new home, and all our members are delighted that she can now be seen in action on our line.”
He continues, “Once agreement had been reached between Irish Rail and the DCDR, No. 90 was taken in 2006 to the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland’s workshops in Whitehead to conduct a thorough overhaul after having been out of use for fourteen years.”
Still owned by Irish Rail, the work on the engine was funded by the cross-border Interreg scheme, which has brought together four heritage railway schemes from both sides of the border.
Mr Collins adds, “We know No. 90 will be a major draw not just with railway enthusiasts from near and far but with local people and families looking for a day out with a difference.”
At today’s ceremony, the 50 guests, which included Mal McGreevy, Translink’s General Manager for Northern Ireland Railways, as well as representatives from the local council, had a chance to sample the Society’s vintage carriages, which date from the early 1900s, one of which from the same company as No. 90.
Visitors will have a chance to travel behind No. 90 on either the railway’s Halloween Ghost Trains this Halloween night or weekend, or on Santa’s Lapland Express in December.