Northern Ireland

Whitehead railway station: A journey back in time

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Media captionThe visitor attraction is modelled on a 19th Century station designed by Sir Charles Lanyon

A new railway station has opened in Whitehead, County Antrim, but it is not an addition to the public transport network.

The building is a replica of a 19th Century station and has been built by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI).

It is part of a £4m redevelopment that is transforming the site from a place where enthusiasts maintain old engines into a new visitor attraction.

The project took a year to complete.

The building is modelled on a station, designed by renowned architect Sir Charles Lanyon, that would have once stood at Whiteabbey, about 10 miles down Belfast Lough.

The old Whiteabbey station was demolished in the 1970s.

'Day trippers'

Construction for the new Whitehead project was funded by Carrickfergus Borough Council, Ulster Garden Villages and GROW South Antrim (Generating Rural Opportunities Within South Antrim).

Image caption Denis Grimshaw said the replica station could be used as a film location

Vice-chair of the RPSI, Denis Grimshaw, said stations such as the one the society has built were once important places.

"They were very much part of the community, they were a bit like the post office or the bank," he said.

"You would have had a ticket office, a station master's office, a waiting area for the passengers and some of the larger stations would have had a café or tea bar for passengers."

The building is on a platform and section of line that has been used by the RPSI for the last 50 years.

Volunteers and a few paid staff work at the site to preserve old engines and carriages.

Charles Friel from the RPSI said the platform was built to cope with the large volumes of tourists coming to Whitehead a century ago.

"The Belfast and Northern Counties railway encouraged Whitehead as a place to come to for day trippers from Belfast.

"They built the promenade, they built a bandstand, they built a swimming pool, they even brought train loads of sand from Portrush to try and make a beach and people came in their droves," Mr Friel said.

'Traditional'

The RPSI wants the public to visit Whitehead in big numbers in future - but this time it will be to experience Northern Ireland's railway past.

Image caption The new station cost approximately £270,000 to construct

The completed station will be the gateway to a site that will allow the public to get up close to steam engines, view restoration work in progress and visit a railway museum.

Mr Grimshaw said that with Northern Ireland's growth as a filming location, there may also be the possibility of providing working trains and a station for future productions.

"I think it would be very suitable for that, we can provide a background of a steam train arriving at or departing from a traditional railway station."

The new station cost approximately £270,000 to construct and the RPSI hopes the work on the rest of the site will be redeveloped within 18 months.