Railway Preservation Society of Ireland

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The RPSI's oldest locomotive, No.186, a GS&WR Class 101, in steam at Whitehead.

The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) is an Irish railway preservation group operating throughout Ireland. It was founded in 1964. The society has its headquarters at Whitehead, County Antrim, and also maintains an operational base in Dublin. It operates steam train excursions primarily from Dublin and from Belfast, but occasionally from other locations as well. [1]


Passenger excursions[edit]

The Society runs mainline trains on the Irish railway network using steam traction and vintage carriages. It also owns a small fleet of vintage diesel locomotives. Its longest running and most famous train, the Portrush Flyer, takes day trippers from Belfast to Portrush during the summer. Out of Dublin, several trains are operated over the scenic Rosslare line to Greystones and Wicklow over the course of the summer.

RPSI excursions could be any of:

  • 'Easter Shuttle': These are Easter-themed steam trains operating from Dublin
  • 'Easter Eggspress': These are Easter-themed steam trains operating from Belfast
  • 'May Weekend Railtour': A weekend Railtour visiting various parts of the island
  • 'Bangor Belle': Steam train between Whitehead and Bangor
  • 'Steam & Jazz': Operating on Summer evenings, taking passengers to a mystery destination with jazz music played at stations
  • 'Portrush Flyer': The RPSI's most famous and longest-running trip, to Portrush and back
  • 'Sea Breeze': Steam train between Dublin and Rosslare
  • 'Whitehead Summer Open Day': Open days at the RPSI's Whitehead base, including tours and mini train rides up and down the platform
  • 'Steam Enterprise': Express Steam train between Belfast and Dublin
  • 'Broomstick Belle': Halloween-themed steam train operating between Belfast and Whitehead
  • 'Santa Special': Christmas-themed steam trains operating in the Belfast and Dublin areas
  • 'Mince Pie Special': Steam train operating on the last or first day of the year

Each year the society organises a major weekend event, operating usually from Dublin in May and covering major routes in Ireland at a leisurely pace. Many visitors return year after year from homes as far flung as New Jersey and Berlin. The 2008 tour operated to Waterford[2] and the 2009 tour to Westport. The May 2014 tour, the Saint Canice, operated in the Dublin area.

Excursion trains run throughout the year, primarily at weekends, from both Dublin and Belfast. An operational set of vintage carriages is kept both at Whitehead and in Dublin for these purposes. These trains are frequently packed to capacity, and advance booking is recommended.

Other operations[edit]

'R. H. Smyth' dropping ballast near Jordanstown in August 2005

An RPSI steam locomotive has on two occasions been used for permanent way work by subcontractors for Northern Ireland Railways. In 2000, R. H. Smyth was employed to pull ballast dropping wagons on the Bleach Green to Antrim line, and in 2005 the engine performed a similar role on the Bleach Green to Whitehead route.[3]

On many occasions the RPSI has provided trains for films and television dramas, notably The First Great Train Robbery in 1979.[4]

The RPSI opened and runs a museum dubbed Whitehead Railway Museum early 2017[5], with full official opening on Wednesday 25 October 2017. This £2.1mil investment is tour guide led, with the possibility of self-guided tours in the future using interactive displays and tablet computers.

Finally, in winter months the Society runs public meetings in Belfast, comprising slide shows, films, and guest speakers.[6]


In 1983, the Association of Railway Preservation Societies (now known as the Heritage Railway Association) presented the RPSI with its annual award for "continuing highly successful operation...of steam excursions", and for the restoration of steam locomotive No. 4 and carriages 87, 1142 and 91.[7]

In 1987 the RPSI won a certificate of commendation in the British Coal Annual Steam Heritage Awards for the restoration of No. 85 Merlin.[8]

In 2000 the Heritage Railway Association gave the Supreme Champion award in the carriage and wagon category to the RPSI for its work on Irish State coach No. 351.[9]

The HRA has also presented the RPSI with the John Coiley Award for Locomotive Preservation (in 2004, for No. 186[10]); a certificate of commendation in 2006 (for its part in the Bleach Green to Whitehead track relay) and the Wagon Award in 2009 (for the restoration of a GNR(I) brake van[11][12]).

Chief Engineer and Locomotive Officer Peter Scott received an MBE for his services to the Railway Preservation Society in Northern Ireland in the Queen's Birthday Honours list, June 2006.[13]

2014 was the Society's 50th Anniversary, having been set up in September 1964. A number of special events, including a DVD, were arranged to celebrate the event.

2018 saw the society win the Manisty Award in recognition of opening the new Whitehead Railway Museum. [14]


The RPSI owns a total of nine steam and six diesel locomotives, a mixture of large main line and small industrial shunting types, all to the Irish gauge of 5 ft 3in. In addition it has had No.85 Merlin, last of the GNR(I) Class V, on loan from the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum since the 1980s. The Society also owns or cares for a large collection of carriages and wagons of varying ages.

GSWR steam locomotive No.186 on former GNR tracks, near Newry.
RPSI Steam Locomotives[15][16]
Number Name Class Wheel Arrangement Build Date Original Operator Notes
3 R.H. Smyth 0-6-0ST 1928 Londonderry Port & Harbour Commissioners

Stored awaiting overhaul.

3BG 0-4-0ST 1919 Arthur Guinness, Son & Co Overhaul complete 2016. In traffic.
4 WT 2-6-4T 1947 LMS NCC Operational, Mainline Certified. Returned to steam after overhaul in June 2015.
27 Lough Erne Lough 0-6-4T 1949 SL&NCR UTA No.27 of class Z. Stored. In need of extensive restoration.
131 Uranus Q 4-4-0 1901 GNR(I) In traffic. Certified for mainline use 2018.
171 Slieve Gullion S 4-4-0 1913 GNR(I) Under overhaul at Whitehead.
184 101 0-6-0 1880 GS&WR Stored. Requires heavy overhaul.
186 101 0-6-0 1879 GS&WR Out of traffic.
461 K2 2-6-0 1922 DSER Operational, Mainline Certified. Originally DSER No.15, renumbered by GSR.
85 Merlin V 4-4-0 1932 GNR(I) Operational, Mainline Certified. On long term loan from UFTM Cultra.
RPSI Internal Combustion Locomotives [15][16]
Number Name Class Wheel Arrangement Build Date Original Operator Notes
1 Carlow Ruston 88DS 4wDM 1955 Comlucht Siúcre Éireann Teoranta (Irish Sugar Co., Carlow Shunter at Whitehead. Repainted to original livery 2018.
4wPM 1965 UTA 'Unilok' road-rail shunter, light overhaul in progress (2018) at Whitehead.
23 Planet Hibberd 88hp 4wDM 1951 Irish Shell Stored at Whitehead
B134 121 Bo-Bo 1961 CIÉ Overhaul in progress at Inchicore works
B141 141 Bo-Bo 1962 CIÉ Stored at Connolly
B142 141 Bo-Bo 1962 CIÉ Shunter at Whitehead. Light body overhaul & repaint 2017/18.
175 141 Bo-Bo 1962 CIÉ Stored at Connolly

At present, the group has three operational mainline steam locomotives, DSER K2 class 2-6-0 No. 461 (last overhaul completed 2011), the borrowed Great Northern Railway (Ireland) V Class 4-4-0 No. 85 Merlin (last overhaul completed 2014) and LMS NCC WT 2-6-4T No. 4 (last overhaul completed 2015). No. 461 is the only surviving mogul locomotive to have inside cylinders in either Ireland or the UK, while No. 85 is the only operational compound railway locomotive. Normally, one locomotive is based in Dublin and one in Whitehead, with locomotives occasionally being swapped round to suit local requirements.

The RPSI has a diesel department with a view to running a few railtours a year using vintage diesel locomotives. 141 class locomotives B141 and B142 were acquired in 2010, repainted in original CIÉ black livery. 175, along with 121 class locomotive B134 are also owned by RPSI. B142 is in active service in Whitehead as a shunting locomotive, and has received a light body overhaul in 2017 and will be repainted in 2018. B141 and 175 are stored in the society's shed at Connolly Station in Dublin, and in early 2017 B134 was sent to Irish Rail's Inchicore depot for restoration to mainline standard.[17]

As of 2014, the society has in operation three distinct rakes of carriages. One is made up of a mixture of NIR, Irish Rail, and BR Mark 2 vehicles, based at Whitehead.[18] This set is painted in the RPSI's dark green livery. In Dublin, there exists two further rakes of carriages. One, the "heritage set", is mainly made up of 1950s vintage CIÉ Park Royal and laminate stock, along with some ex-GNR(I), GSR and GSWR vehicles (including 1st corridor No. 1142).[19] These are mostly painted in 1950s CIÉ green livery. The other is made up of ex-Iarnród Éireann Cravens coaches, along with a BR steam heating van.[20]

The Society's founder members still perform regular maintenance tasks and undertake full engine restorations. They are joined regularly by new volunteers who assist in tasks from boiler repair to carriage painting. Volunteers are always welcome to visit and help at either of the engineering depots.

GNR(I) 4-4-0 Compound No 85 Merlin returned to service early in 2014.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The RPSI, how it all began..." RPSI. Retrieved 14 January 2009.
  2. ^ "Saturday "Barrow Bridge" Railtour Dublin – Carlow – Waterford – Clonmel -Waterford". RPSI. Retrieved 14 January 2009.
  3. ^ "Londonderry Port & Harbour Commissioners 0-6-0ST No.3 'R H Smyth'". RPSI. Archived from the original on 11 September 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2010.
  4. ^ "Film Contracts". RPSI. Archived from the original on 24 July 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2010.
  5. ^ "RPSI's Whitehead museum opens its doors to public". The Railway Magazine. 12 April 2017. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  6. ^ 31interactive.co.uk. "Railway Preservation Society of Ireland - Belfast Meetings". www.steamtrainsireland.com. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  7. ^ "Five Foot Three No.29" (PDF). RPSI. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  8. ^ "Five Foot Three No.34" (PDF). RPSI. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  9. ^ "Five Foot Three No.48" (PDF). RPSI. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  10. ^ "RPSI Wins Major HRA Award". RPSI. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  11. ^ "RPSI Wins HRA Award". RPSI. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  12. ^ "All aboard! Award recognition for local young railway enthusiasts". Antrim Times. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
  13. ^ "Peter Scott MBE. For services to the Railway Preservation Society in Northern Ireland". RPSI. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  14. ^ https://www.steamtrainsireland.com/news/77/manisty-award
  15. ^ a b Cassells, Joe and Friel, Charles. Forty Shades of Steam – The Story of the RPSI. Colourpoint books, 2004
  16. ^ a b "RPSI Locomotives". RPSI. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
  17. ^ "Inchicore to carry out RPSI's Class 121 overhaul". The Railway Magazine. 22 February 2017. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  18. ^ "RPSI Carriage & Wagon Lists Steel-bodied Carriages in the Belfast Area". RPSI. Archived from the original on 22 April 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2009.
  19. ^ "RPSI Carriage & Wagon Lists Vintage Carriages in the Dublin Area". RPSI. Archived from the original on 22 April 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2009.
  20. ^ "RPSI Carriage & Wagon Lists Steel-bodied Carriages in the Dublin Area". RPSI. Archived from the original on 22 April 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2009.

Further reading[edit]

  • "Five Foot Three". Railway Preservation Society of Ireland.

External links[edit]