Railway enthusiasts have said farewell to a much-loved survivor of the steam age with a special Belfast to Larne outing yesterday.
Known simply as ‘No.186’, the 134-year-old steam locomotive passed through Carrickfergus and Whitehead on its way to Larne harbour for the last time before retirement.
The Liverpool-built general purpose engine was originally delivered to the Great Southern and Western Railway of Ireland in 1879 – the year electric light bulbs were first demonstrated and milk became available in bottles.
No.186 has hauled many thousands of passengers over the years and yesterday’s journey was a chance for the general public to experience the sights, sounds and smells of a bygone era.
The train’s owners – the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) – described the event as a “leisurely afternoon romp, befitting a locomotive with such vintage”.
Those on board were well catered for with full dining car – serving hot and cold meals – and bar facilities.
RPSI operations officer Mervyn Darragh said No.186 had been the mainstay of the body’s steam trains in Northern Ireland since 2004.
“She has given fantastic service and is very powerful for her small size,” he said.
“Unfortunately 186 is not a big, express locomotive and due to her lower top speed it is most unlikely she will reappear on the modern railway where finding train schedules for the locomotive is becoming ever more difficult.”
Speaking ahead of yesterday’s journey, Mr Darragh said: “It is remarkable to think that No.186 will be pulling us to Larne in much the same way she pulled passengers and freight all over Ireland well over 130 years ago.
“Although the locomotive was based in the Cork area for much of that time, there is a possible Belfast connection as she may well have pulled goods or passengers to meet the Titanic when she docked in Cobh in 1912.”
RPSI volunteer, Philip Lockett, one of the steam locomotive crew members on the day, said the last 10 years with No.186 had been a wonderful experience.
“We have travelled all over Northern Ireland in this Victorian machine and she has given us great service,” he said.
“Crew comfort was not important back in 1879 and there is no doubt that the crew is quite exposed on cold winter days.
“But I’m sure many an old railwayman would be proud to think of us still caring for the locomotive today.
“When it comes to the end of the year there will be many of us who will miss 186 and be sorry to see her retire,” Mr Lockett added.
Other steam engine runs are planned for Halloween and a special Christmas excursion to see Santa.
Information is available from the Belfast Welcome Centre on 028 9024 6609 or at www.steamtrainsireland.com/events