Posted on October 30, 2013 · Posted in North West & Wales
11.10.13 Study Tour Northern Ireland

11.10.13 Study Tour
Northern Ireland

The North West and North Wales Area repeated its successes of recent years by organizing a 3-day Study Tour between 11 and 13 October. This time the visit was to the compact Northern Ireland Railways system.

Thanks to the help and planning of Hilton Parr (Head of Rail Customer Services/ Chair of IRO Ireland) and his team an excellent, very busy weekend was enjoyed by all. In fact more than one member remarked that it was the best Study Tour to date. For the North West the initial planning was undertaken by Roy Chapman, Area Secretary, whilst Tom Cox (the organizer of all the Tours to date) took over and completed the planning to his usual excellent standard.

Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) is a subsidiary of Translink whose parent company is the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company (NITHCo), and is one of three state-owned train operators in the UK (and ultimately controlled by the Northern Ireland Assembly).

Using the 1,600mm gauge common to NIR and IE, Northern Ireland has six designated routes, all except Portrush-Coleraine at some point serving the capital city of Belfast. Much improved by rebuilding to install better passenger facilities, Belfast Central has the greatest concentration of services. Stations across the network are subject to a rolling programme of improvements to increase the appeal of using rail including lighting, signage, access and platform surfaces. There is also a plan to further expand Belfast Great Victoria Street, once the main terminal in the city and which is better placed for the centre, by concentrating more trains there, including the important Belfast – Dublin ‘Enterprise’ service.

Throughout the weekend the IRO party was well looked after by Hilton and particularly by Gerard Holly (Senior Customer Services Supervisor, NIR), who ensured the programme went to plan (and like any good railwayman, modified the plan as necessary to meet contingencies).

The group stayed in the City Centre in the historic Cathedral Quarter and the weekend began with a meal in one of the areas excellent restaurants, at which the NIR hosts were guests.

There then followed a very busy three days. Saturday was the ‘out and about the system day, including;
• A tour of Belfast Central Signal Cabin;

• A visit to the new Adelaide Train and Signalling Simulators and operating training facility;

• A tour of Adelaide Maintenance Depot and a chance to have a closer look at some of the new Class 3000 and 4000 trains. In 2004/2005, NIR received 23 3000 class DMUs from CAF of Spain in an £80m order. All units had entered service by 24 September 2005. They operate principally between Bangor, Portadown and Londonderry and Belfast. In 2007, NIR announced plans to purchase up to 20 more new trains under its “New Trains 2010”. Also supplied by CAF, this new fleet, named Class 4000, the twenty three-car units first entered service in in September 2011. This fleet replaced the remaining Class 80 and Class 450 trains by March 2012. The Class 450 are affectionately nicknamed ‘Thumpers’ and ‘Castles’ by rail enthusiasts.The additional new trains, their greater reliability and speed have enabled service frequencies to be improved. The one or two trips taken in the morning peak showed just how well the trains are used.

• A tour of the new Portadown Station and Signal Cabin

• With train travel between each
On the Sunday we travelled to Cultra to visit the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. It not only has transport on display, but also a recreated village centre. The visit there was enlivened when Roy Chapman, the Area Secretary, gave a number of the impromptu lessons and demonstrations to some IRO Members and visiting public on how to drive and fire steam locomotives (in the cab of ‘Maeve’, the CIE (GSR) class 800 locomotive built at Inchicore, Dublin, The locos were built between 1939-1940 and were among the largest 4-6-0s in Europe).

On the Monday the group travelled to Londonderry. NIR had recently completed the relaying of the Belfast-Londonderry line north of Coleraine, including new signaling and a new crossing loop, allowing more trains at a cost of some £64 million. Begun in 2011, the 2-year project cost some £64 million and was completed in the summer of 2013. Prior to that work, there had been a £12 million scheme to improve the section between Ballymena and Coleraine. Once the project has facilitated the addition of two trains per day, and allowed journey times between Belfast and Londonderry to be reduced by up to 30 minutes. Eventually, NIR plans an hourly service to Londonderry, half-hourly to Ballymena.

With subsequent track rebuilding and stock renewal, Northern Ireland’s railways appear to have a much better future than previously. However, developments have yet to gain the momentum of those over the border under the ambitious plans of the Irish government’s Railway Procurement Agency.

The development of railways in Northern Ireland has been linked to the future economic growth of the region, and as a way of reducing road congestion. That NIR is succeeding is shown in patronage figures, and loadings for NIR overall increased by 34% between 2002 and 2006. For 2007–8 there were 9.5m rail passenger journeys made on NIR, a 12% increase over the previous year, current patronage is over 10 million and NIR is planning to carry 20 million passengers per annum by 2020.

Special thanks go to those at NIR who facilitated the trip and visits, including
Hilton Parr (Head of Rail Customer Services/ Chair of IRO Ireland)
Gerard Holly (Senior Customer Services Supervisor, NIR),
Tony O’Hanlan – Signalling Traffic Supervisor
John Thompson – Mechanical Eng
Pat Hunt – Station Supervisor Portadown