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NI Railways 50th Anniversary

On 1st April 2018 Northern Ireland Railways is officially celebrating 50 years in operation. This is a short history of the company, its successes and achievements throughout the 50 years and a look to the future of the company.
Steam Train Journey
On 1st April 2018 Northern Ireland Railways is officially celebrating 50 years in operation. To celebrate why not take the family on a special steam train journey to Whitehead on Wednesday 4th April 2018.
The Beginning
Under the Transport Act of 1967 Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) took responsibility of rail services in early 1967, but a final decision on the Company name was postponed so NIR acted as an agent for the Ulster Transport Authority from 1st October 1967 to 31st March 1968. From 1st April 1968 NIR became a legal entity and took full responsibility for the railway network in Northern Ireland.
There had been substantial reduction of the route network in the 1950's and 1960's, from around 900 miles to 210 miles by the time NIR took over.
At the beginning a number of steam trains were inherited, but were retired by 1970. In the mid-1990's Northern Ireland Railways, Ulsterbus and Citybus came together when “Translink” was launched offering integrated public transport solutions within Northern Ireland.
As part of this exciting opportunity
© Irish Rail Records Society
The 1960's
After decades of underinvestment and significant reduction in the rail network, the Benson Report resulted in mass line closures right across the Province in the 1950's and 1960's. With the advent of the motor car now widely affordable and the reduction of freight traffic on the railways, NIR started off with a very uncertain future.
Among the trains inherited from the Ulster Transport Authority (UTA) were 2-6-4 Class steam tank locomotives, which were phased out two years later. Also from the UTA were Multi-Engined Diesels (MEDs) Multi-Purpose Diesels (MPDs) which were used mainly for freight and 70 Class trains which had been built by the UTA at Duncrue.
In 1969, the first ticket issuing conductors were appointed to work on the trains, and diesel hydraulic locomotives were ordered from English Electric, to replace the early diesels inherited from the UTA
As part of this exciting opportunity
© Irish Rail Records Society

Calling All Budding Train Drivers & Conductors!
As part of NIRailways’ 50th anniversary celebrations, we’re giving a young person (8-16 years old) the chance to go behind the scenes with NI Railways staff. The Prize includes;
Make an station announcement
Shadow a conductor on-board a train
Tour of Adelaide depot
Experience the Train Driver Simulator
To enter, simply tell us via our Facebook page why you should win our competition.
 See Terms and Conditions

The 1970's
The 1970's was a busy decade for Northern Ireland Railways (NIR), with new trains, new stations and ambitious plans.
The new Enterprise locomotives came into operation in 1970, named Eagle, Falcon and Merlin after steam engines which had previously operated on the Belfast to Dublin route. In mid-1973, blue and maroon Enterprise livery made its first appearance.
New stations opened at Portadown (formerly Craigavon West) with another halt between Portadown and Lurgan at the former Goodyear Tyre Factory in Craigavon.
Plans were also announced to re-open the Lisburn to Antrim line, to form part of a high speed route from Belfast to Derry-Londonderry
As part of this exciting opportunity
© Irish Rail Records Society
In 1972, the largest project yet for NIR was announced, with plans costing £1.2 million to replace Belfast and County Down Railway’s Queen's Quay Station and the Great Northern Railway’s Great Victoria Street Station with the Central Station project. New trains were also sanctioned, at a cost of £1.5 million for four 3 car and five 2 car diesel/electric sets.
Larne Station opened in June 1974 and the first of the 80 Class sets arrived by the end of that year.
“CityTrack” trains for Belfast were launched in 1976 along with a major advertising campaign and the long-awaited Belfast Central to Bangor Line opened. The new Belfast Central Station, which was at the time seen as more modern and with better facilities than Great Victoria Street or Queen's Quay Stations, was also to become the departure point for Dublin, Portadown and Lisburn services. The old Lanyon Station at Great Victoria Street closed in April in 1976 before being demolished to make way for the commercial development of a new train and the development of Europa Bus centre in the early 1990's.
In 1977 NIR took delivery of further 80 Class sets, nine 3 car and three 2 car. There were changes on the Larne Line, with the closure of halts at Eden, Kilroot, Barn and Bleach Green, while a new halt was constructed on the Bangor Line, namely Bridge End.
As part of this exciting opportunity
© Irish Rail Records Society
There were improvements on the Derry~Londonderry Line, which incorporated Lisburn after the closure of the signal cabin at Knockmore. These services transferred from Great Victoria Street to the new Central Station in 1978. That year also saw the reopening of Cultra Station on the Bangor Line for passengers travelling to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, as well as the introduction of new blue and grey livery on the Enterprise. The Enterprise service was an excellent example of cross border co-operation throughout “The Troubles”, despite constant attempts to disrupt services.
In 1978 a significant number of special trains were operated for the Papal visit to Ireland of His Holiness Pope John Paul II.
A new station opened in Ballymena in 1979, at a cost of £250,000.
A number of stations were damaged in bombings in the 1970's, including Great Victoria Street on 22nd March 1972 when a number of railcars were also damaged; and on 21st July 1972 York Road was also targeted. Lurgan station was damaged in the same year. 1974 saw the newly completed Lurgan Station damaged in a bombing, just a week before it was due to re-open in August. and Waterside Station was similarly damaged in September. The Enterprise was derailed near Scarva in 1976, while an evening train from Bangor to Portadown was bombed outside Lisburn, killing one passenger and injuring 12 others.
The dedication and commitment shown by NIR staff was exemplary providing a service to the public during some of the darkest days of “The Troubles”. As a result a number of staff encountered life threatening injuries and 2 customers were killed.
The 1980's
The 1980's began with the opening of the new Waterside Station in Derry~Londonderry and the Bleach Green halt re-opening in June 1980, although the latter closed again just 8 months later. Lurgan Station re-opened in October 1981.
Also in 1981, the Enterprise service was re-launched with two new trains, ‘Great Northern’ and ‘Northern Counties’. These were joined in 1984 by ‘Belfast and County Down’, replacing the 101s on the route. The 1980s also heralded the appearance of a four wheel railbus, RB3 on the Portrush branch, although this only operated for a short time due to operating and safety concerns.
By 1983, it was planned to retire the 70 Class trains, but with limited funding available, a decision was made to replace their engines’ undercarriages although they did contain new bodies and interior fittings.
The 450 “Castle” Class trains began operating in 1985 as part of a rolling stock upgrade. In all, there were nine 3 car sets.
As part of this exciting opportunity
© Noel Playfair
A signalling upgrade was also underway across the network. In the mid-1980s electric signalling came into effect at Lisburn and on the Larne and Bangor Lines.
City Hospital Halt opened in 1986 and plans were put forward to re-open the line to Great Victoria Street which had by now been closed for a decade; however, at this time, they were rejected.
1987 saw a radical overhaul of NIR’s services, with the network divided into “Suburban” for NI routes, “Inter City” for cross-border and “Freight”. This also saw new liveries introduced for all but the freight services.
In 1989 Iarnród Éireann and NIR formulated joint plans for an improved cross-border service, at a proposed cost of £50 million. Proposals for a light railway service in Greater Belfast were also launched, including lines to Greencastle and Dundonald.
As part of this exciting opportunity
© Irish Rail Records Society
The 1990's
The 1990's started with the phasing out of all ungated level crossings on the network and the opening of a new station at Greenisland.
The double track between Antrim and Ballymena was reduced to single line, with a passing loop at Magherabeg. Whitehead Station opened in December 1993 after a refurbishment programme.
Work on the Belfast Cross-Harbour Rail Link began in 1991, a massive project which took around three years to complete and included a new station at Yorkgate. The cross harbour “Dargan” Bridge (named after railway pioneer William Dargan) was officially opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II on 9th March 1995.
Other changes in the mid-1990's included the transfer of engineering from Central Services Depot at Queen’s Quay to York Road and resignalling of the Coleraine to Ballymena Line. The line extension to Great Victoria Street re-opened in September 1995, as part of a combined upgraded facility with the Europa Buscentre, representing investment of £6 million.
Lisburn Station underwent a refurbishment project in 1995 while work was also carried out at Carrickfergus Station.
As part of this exciting opportunity
The upgrade of the Belfast to Dublin Cross-Border Line was also moving ahead, with new sections of track to cater for heavier trains, higher speeds and new rolling stock. The work was sanctioned in 1992, at a cost of £65 million. This joint project, funded by the British and Irish Governments, saw the closure of the manual Signal Cabin at Poyntzpass.
The new trains, with General Motors engines and De Dietrich Ferroviaire carriages, came into operation in 1997, using a new striking green and grey Enterprise livery.
Towards the end of the decade, work started to re-open the 15 mile-long Bleach Green to Antrim Line, which had been closed since 1978. The result was a single line with a station and passing loop at Templepatrick and an additional station at Mossley West.
In the mid 1990's Northern Ireland Railways, Ulsterbus and Citybus came together when “Translink” was launched offering customers more integrated coach, bus and rail services. This also signalled a rebrand to N I Railways.
The decade finished with concerns about the future viability of the network. Following years of underinvestment in the railway system Translink commissioned AD Little to undertake a Strategic Safety Review of Northern Ireland Railways. The Report highlighted that without significant investment in rolling stock and infrastructure, services would have to be significantly reduced. In response to the report the Government established a Railways Task Force to assess the options for the future of railways in Northern Ireland. The potential closure options met with a “Save Our Railways” Campaign and public outcry.
As part of this exciting opportunity
The 2000's
The Strategic Safety Report, published in March 2000, recommended a large scale investment programme over the next decade, including new rolling stock; safety and track upgrades and signalling improvements.
In 2001, the Northern Ireland Executive sanctioned investment of £105 million - £70m of which was to be spent on new trains. This resulted in the purchase of twenty three 3000 Class 3 car sets from Spanish firm Construcciones y Auxiliar De Ferrocarriles (CAF) to replace the 80 Class trains. They came into operation on 24th November 2004.
2001 was a busy year for stations on the NI Railways network. Bangor’s new Rail and Bus Station opened in January, with a time capsule buried in the public concourse to mark the event. The new station in Coleraine opened in May, with a revamped Carrickfergus Station following suit in August. Mossley West Station on the Bleach Green/Antrim Line was opened to the public in October.
In addition the Portis ticketing machines were retired in 2003 and replaced with the digital Wayfarer machines and the advent of Smartcard technology..
As part of this exciting opportunity
The refurbishment of Belfast Central Station was finished in 2003, providing a new concourse, a bar/restaurant, improved toilet facilities and platform access ramps at a cost of £3.8 million. The full deployment of the new train fleet in June 2005 coincided with the introduction of a new “clockfaced” timetable with service enhancements on the Bangor-Portadown corridor and almost immediately passenger journeys rose to 7.7million a year.
2009 saw the introduction of new livery for the Enterprise. The trains were re-sprayed in silver with green livery.
By the end of the decade service enhancements had also been implemented on the North West corridor and NI Railways’ rapid growth continued. 10million passengers were now travelling by rail each year.
As part of this exciting opportunity
The 2010's
Developments to infrastructure and services continued into the new decade. In November 2011 NI Railways entered the digital age with the introduction of mobile phone ticketing.
Twenty new Class 4000 CAF trains entered service between 29 September 2011 and the summer of 2012. January 2013 witnessed further service developments with an hourly service on the Belfast-Coleraine Line and enhancements between Whitehead and Belfast.
In 2014, a mid-life refurbishment programme was announced for the Enterprise trains, including new in-coach electronics, modernised interiors and full mechanical systems overhaul. The refurbishment was completed in April 2016, to coincide with the introduction of an enhanced Belfast to Dublin timetable.
As part of this exciting opportunity
HM Queen Elizabeth II with Group Chief Executive Chris Conway and Royal Train Driver Noel Playfair
The new halt and passing loop at Bellarena was officially opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II on 28th June 2016.
Hourly services began on the Belfast to Derry~Londonderry Line in July 2017, following investment of £46.4 million to complete a passing loop and installation of new signalling and telecoms between Coleraine and Derry~Londonderry.
NI Railways have significantly increased customer satisfaction, with more trains, customer focused staff, commercial products, a customer centred “clockfaced timetable”, excellent facilities and trains to all major sporting, cultural and music events.
2017 was another record year for NI Railways carrying 14 million passengers each year and recognised as one of the UK’s best railways. Further plans are in development to further enhance services to address ever increasing customer demand with new Train 3 and an hourly Enterprise service.
As part of this exciting opportunity
The Future
Translink NI Railways is involved in a number of significant transport and railway projects:
Belfast Transport Hub - on a 20-acre site encompassing the Europa Buscentre and Great Victoria Street Station. This transport-led regeneration project consisting of a world-class transport interchange and surrounding masterplan development Weavers Cross, will become Northern Ireland’s main transport hub. With additional platforms, it will connect cross-border services with both bus and rail and will offer potential for hourly train services between Belfast and Dublin.
North West Hub - Incorporating the historic Waterside Station in Derry~Londonderry, this will be an important gateway to the North-West. It will provide integrated and convenient services to encourage more active travel for a healthier region. This facility sets a whole new standard in sustainable transport, encompassing a strong balance of services for public transport, cycling and other forms of active travel, as well as enhancing connectivity between railway and bus services in the City.
Portrush train station - the redevelopment of Portrush Train Station is due to be completed by Spring 2019. The work will provide fully accessible, modern waiting facilities, improved passenger information and signage to local amenities and attractions and enhanced station frontage onto Eglinton Street.
As part of this exciting opportunity
Artist’s impression of North-West Hub
Renaming and refurbishment of Central Station to Lanyon Place - Belfast Central Station is undergoing refurbishment to modernise passenger facilities to reflect local needs. With over 2.6 million passengers using the facility in 2017, this transformation will enhance the overall customer experience and support the area’s rapid regeneration. In line with these works the Station is to be re-named Lanyon Place. The area is a major city hub with 8,000+ employees in surrounding offices and the ‘Lanyon’ name has also been adopted by a range of neighbouring businesses.
TFTS - ‘Translink Future Ticketing System’ will be phased in from September 2018, with fully integrated ticketing across all Translink services, NI Railways, Ulsterbus, Metro and Glider It will offer more flexibility through online/app tickets and top-ups and will transform the passenger experience.
New Trains 3 - Rail journeys have doubled over the last 10 years - NI Railways is now carrying over 14 million passengers annually. Therefore, to build on this success and harness the customer enthusiasm and desire for rail travel there are plans for investment in new trains so we can increase passenger capacity across the rail network.
As part of this exciting opportunity
Artist’s impression of Belfast Transport Hub, Weaver’s Cross
35 Years of NIR 1967-2002 - Jonathan M. Allen
Dark Days and Brighter Days – Edwin McMillan
Special thanks goes to the following for sharing their photos and memorabilia for this commemorative brochure
Ciarán Cooney, Photographic Archivist, Irish Railway Records Society (IRRS)
Alex Esdale
Brian Goodfellow
Allistair Kitson
Edwin McMillan
Jonathan Miller
Hilton Parr
Noel Playfair