Queen revisits coronation year north coast steam train journey

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh at Coleraine rail station for their north coast steam train to Bellarena
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh at Coleraine rail station for their north coast steam train to Bellarena

The Queen has recreated a scenic rail journey she first made in her coronation year as she ended a 90th birthday visit to Northern Ireland that also took in the famous stones of the Giant’s Causeway.

In between those engagements, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh unveiled a statue to a Victoria Cross-winning hero of the Battle of the Somme on a packed day touring the scenic north coast.

Pupils from local schools present the monarch with flowers during her visit to Coleraine train station

Pupils from local schools present the monarch with flowers during her visit to Coleraine train station

The Royals also attended a private lunch reception at Royal Portrush Golf Club. The seaside course is due to host the Open Championship in 2019.

The last stop on her visit saw her board a Merlin steam train at Coleraine station to embark on the world-renowned rail journey along the picturesque coastline.

Well-wishers waved at the passing train from beaches, golf courses, level crossings and even back gardens as the steamer pulled the carriage on the 30-minute trip to the restored platforms at Bellarena.

The journey represented a section of a longer train ride the Queen took in 1953, a month after her coronation.

The Queen unveils the plaque marking the opening of the new rail platform at Bellarena

The Queen unveils the plaque marking the opening of the new rail platform at Bellarena

Joan Smyth, vice president of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, had waved to the Queen’s train as it passed her as a child in 1953.

“It’s very exciting to have her here and to use the steam train,” she said, on board the same carriages. “We treat it as an honour.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster were among the other passengers on the train.

Hundreds of people turned out in Bellarena to catch a glimpse of the Queen as she officially opened the new rail platform.

The 90-year-old, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, arrived by steam train shortly before 3.10pm.

The Queen, dressed in green, unveiled a plaque to mark the opening of the extended platforms at Bellarena.

After the unveiling, the Queen met briefly with Translink staff, before stopping to speak with assembled students from local schools who presented her with flowers.

St Aidan’s Primary School principal, Lisa Wilson, was among those who met the Queen.

“She asked what school we were from and I was very pleased to say St Aidan’s, and some of the pupils got to say a personal ‘hello’ as well,” said Mrs Wilson.

Another who had a conversation with the Queen was retired SDLP MLA, John Dallat.

“She said the railway would be good for tourists, and I told her it was the best used line in Northern Ireland and she was very pleased with that, especially when the mayor told her it had been scheduled for closure a few years ago.

“So, hopefully she will reflect on that and become a staunch supporter of the renaissance of the railways, not just here but everywhere,” said Mr Dallat.

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh left the area by car, under heavy security.

Among those on board the train from Coleraine were Economy Minister Simon Hamilton and DUP MP Gregory Campbell.

“It’s a tremendous day and I don’t think Bellarena has seen anything like this in 50 years, and maybe not for another 50 years,” said Mr Campbell.

“It’s a great day, and the crowds have come out and the weather has stayed good. A real win-win day.”

Mr Hamilton said he hoped the visit would boost tourism.

“It’s a great day for Bellarena and the whole of the north coast. What this does is it highlights Northern Ireland and the north coast to an international audience and I hope we see a lot of tourists come along on the back of this,” he said.

The steam train which carried the Royals to Bellarena was Locomotive, No 85 Merlin – one of five locomotives built by Beyer Peacock in Manchester in 1932 for the Great Northern Railway (Ireland).