First step toward creation of an 'elite' attraction

THE completion of the first step towards the creation of the Borough's newest museum has been celebrated in Whitehead.

The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland last week hosted a ceremony at its base at the former Whitehead Excursion Station to unveil a restored buffet car, to serve as a ‘museum on wheels’, and the building that will house a new visitor centre.

Backed by the Heritiage Lottery Fund and Northern Ireland Museums Council, the first phase has seen an investment of 20,000 in coach no. 87, restored by RPSI’s youth team, and a former stable block.

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Vice chairman John Lockett commented: “We see considerable potential for the development of our centre at Whitehead as a visitor centre and are delighted to have completed this first step. There is a growing interest in our railway heritage and we are confident that a museum at Whitehead will be a major visitor attraction.

“We are grateful to Heritage Lottery Fund and the NI Museums Council who have provided grants for this project. They have not only provided financial support but have also demonstrated their commitment to the idea and encouragement to the Society.”

Ronnie Spence, who chairs HLF’s Northern Ireland committee, added: “Steam trains still turn heads and we commend the RPSI for its activities over more than 40 years in keeping trains such as the Portrush Flyer and the Steam Enterprise in operation.”

NIMC chairman Lexie Scott predicted that, once complete, RPSI’s visitor centre will “take its place among the elite,” rivalling the National Railway Museum in York and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra as a destination for railway enthusiasts.

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No. 87 buffet car was built in 1950 and has now been restored in the colours of the London Midland and Scottish Railway - Northern Counties Committee. It houses a tea bar and mobile museum containing RPSI’s small artefacts collection as well as an exhibition on railway catering in Ireland from 1898 to the present.

The stables, which have been in use as a store but have now been re-roofed as a first step to the creation of an interpretative centre, were built by LMS-NCC in 1907 to accommodate horses and carriages used for excursions from Whitehead to the Gobbins cliff path.

Members of the public will have an opportunity for a first glimpse of no. 87 on September 12, when steam train rides will be available at the excursion station.

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