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1845-1861 Londonderry and Coleraine Railway
1861-1903 Belfast and Northern Counties Railway
1903-1949 Midland Railway – Northern Counties Committee
1949-1968 Ulster Transport Authority
1968 - present Northern Ireland Railways

Londonderry and Coleraine Railway

Derry was the second centre from which railways developed in Ulster. Two railway companies were incorporated in 1845 – the Londonderry and Coleraine Railway, and the Londonderry and Enniskillen Railway. Behind each was the same group of English Financiers, so these lines were English-based railways, a factor which led to difficulties with contractors and clashes with local interests. Further, they tapped less prosperous areas – the Foyle-Strule Valley and the coast lands of north Derry – so that by the time of their absorption they were already deeply in debt. Here was proof of the Drummond Commission’s contention in 1838 that the railways should have been constructed on a national plan, as in Belgium, that they should receive subventions from public funds, and they should be operated under a measure of State control. It was a fatal weakness that so much railway construction was left, as in the North West, to the haphazard devices of private capital, naturally interested more in dividends for shareholders and substantial fees for their directors than with provision of a necessary public service.

The reclamation of sloblands along the southern shore of Lough Foyle would, it was hoped, help to finance the 33-mile long railway from Derry to Coleraine. Instead, although it is true that some 22,000 acres were reclaimed, the resulting litigation, and the recurrent failure of successive contractors to honour their obligations led to frustrating delays and enormous expense. Physically the line was an easy one to build, as the steepest gradient was a mere 1 in 162, and the smallest radius a curve of 20 chains. Construction began in 1845 and in 1846 the major work on the line, the blasting of the Downhill tunnels between Downhill and Castlerock, was completed. Steamers crowded with onlookers sailed inshore and when the dust subsided, a great banquet was held inside one of the tunnels. However, this advertisement brought in no fresh flow of capital, and the first train only steamed into Newtownlimavady (as it was then called) in 1852. The Coleraine terminus on the west bank of the Bann was only opened to regular traffic from Derry (Waterside) on 18th July 1853.

The completion of the Londonderry and Coleraine Railway emphasised the need for a rail link between Ballymena and Coleraine. Dargan and others therefore formed the Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine and Portrush Junction Railway. Work went ahead rapidly, and by 1855 a single track was open from Ballymena to a terminus on the eastern bank of the Bann at Coleraine and a branch ran northwards to the growing resorts of Portstewart and Portrush. The completion of this railway provided a much better service from Derry to Belfast and Dublin than that available after 1859 via Enniskillen. A passenger leaving Dublin on the same train actually arrived in Derry two hours earlier than his fellow who chose the north-western railways. At Coleraine “Gillespie’s Omnibus attends to convey passengers to and from the Londonderry station”. The Londonderry and Coleraine Railway now perversely produced a plan for an extension to Castledawson, and thence over the Ballymena Railway’s metals to Belfast (York Road). This scheme, later to be realised by the Derry Central Railway, was however replaced by the more practical idea of bridging the Bann, a task completed which was completed in 1860, so providing a second through link with Derry. Significantly 1860 saw the Belfast and Ballymena Railway renamed the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway. The new company acquired the B.B.C. & P.J.R in 1861, and also leased the Londonderry and Coleraine Railway for 10 years.

Belfast and Northern Counties Railway


The Belfast and Ballymena Railway became the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Company in May 1860. It absorbed the BBC&PJR in January 1861 and the L&CR in July 1871. The following independent railways became part of the B&NCR after its incorporation (opening date(s)/amalgamation date): • Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine and Portrush Railway (November 1855/January 1861) • Londonderry and Coleraine Railway (December 1852 and July 1853/July 1871) • Ballymena, Cushandall and Redbay Railway 1875 & 1876/October 1884) • Ballymena and Larne Railway (August 1877, June & August 1878/July 1889) • Carrickfergus and Larne Railway (October 1862/July 1890) • Draperstown Railway (July 1883/July 1895) • Derry Central Railway (29 miles; 46km) (February 1880/September 1901) • Limavady and Dungiven Railway (10.75 miles; 17km) (July 1883/February 1907) • Londonderry and Strabane section, part of Donegal Railway (narrow gauge) (14.25 miles; 23km) vested in B&NCR May 1906 c64 miles (102km) of track • Portstewart Tramway (June 1882/June 1897) In 1903 track mileage was 335 miles (in 1922 route mileage was 201 miles of standard gauge and 64 of 3ft gauge). The company acquired a hotel in Portrush (1881) and built one in Belfast in 1898. Refreshment rooms existed at Belfast, Carrickfergus, Ballymena, Whitehead, Larne, Derry, Coleraine, Portrush, Glenariff Glen and Ballymoney.

The BNCR was purchased by the Midland Railway on 1/7/1903 and its name was changed to "Midland Railway (Northern Counties Committee)".

Midland Railway – Northern Counties Committee

LMS Arms NCC Arms

The BNCR was absorbed by the Midland Railway of England on 1/7/1903. The MRNCC became the LMSNCC on 1/1/1923 as a result of the Railways Act of 1921.

The NCC had operated profitably during the war, due to large-scale troop movements and additional local traffic, but with the ending of hostilities passenger and goods traffic began to decline rapidly as fuel for road transport became available. Despite the company's worsening financial state, a number of developments were undertaken in an attempt to improve the railway's competitive position. In the late summer of 1946 and during 1947, the first ten WT Class 2-6-4 tank locomotives entered service. These locomotives, modified versions of the standard LMS 4P Class suitably altered to suit Irish conditions, were built at Derby and erected in Belfast. To replace rolling stock damaged or destroyed during the war, the LMS supplied seven second-hand passenger coaches from its British lines, these being refurbished in Belfast and fitted with salvaged 5' 3" gauge bogies, while approximately 150 freight wagons were rebuilt, some by the GNR(I) and the GSR. The company's hotels, which were closed during the war years, had reopened to the public by mid-1947. A start was made on the rehabilitation of the permanent way, air-raid damage at York Road station was repaired and services were improved, although they never again reached their pre-war peak.

The nationalisation of the railways in Great Britain had seen the LMS, together with the NCC, become part of the British Transport Commission on 1st January, 1948. By this time the Stormont Government was actively pursuing its plans to amalgamate all public transport services in Northern Ireland into a single company, the UTA coming into existence on 1st April 1948. The operation of Northern Ireland's railway system by two state owned concerns was not to last long. The Belfast Government purchased the NCC from the British Transport Commission for 2,668,000 and incorporated it with the UTA on 1st April 1949.

Ulster Transport Authority

UTA Arms1 UTA Arms2
The Transport Act (N.I.) 1948 gave force to the amalgamation of the B&CDR, the NCC section of the LMS and the Northern Ireland Road Transport Board, into a single organisation and on 1st April of that year the UTA came into existence. The B&CDR and the NIRTB became part of the UTA on 1st October 1948. Following the nationalisation of the railways in Britain in 1948, the NCC was purchased by the Stormont Government for slightly in excess of 2 million, before being incorporated into the UTA on 1st April, 1949. The UTA proceeded with large scale closures of former B&CDR lines. The proposed closures were bitterly fought by opponents of the plan, but to no avail. The Authority then turned its attention to the former NCC section and closures here were equally drastic. July and August 1950 saw the complete closure of the lines from Kingsbog to Ballyclare, Larne Harbour to Ballyclare, Macfin to Kilrea, Magherafelt to Draperstown, Ballymoney to Ballycastle and Limavady to Dungiven. There were more closures in May 1955, which saw the withdrawal of all services from the Limavady and Magherafelt to Cookstown branches and in 1959 when the line from Cookstown Junction to Kilrea closed completely. In the meantime, the UTA, despite its anti-rail bias, initiated a number of developments on those lines which did survive which were aimed at improving the railway's economic position. The Authority had come to the conclusion that the complete dieselisation of its railway operations might solve the problem of cost cutting. Following trials with borrowed GNR(I) railcars, the first Multi-Engine Diesel (MED) trains went into service in August 1951 and by the spring of 1954 all services on the Bangor line were covered by railcars. Steam working from Queen's Quay shed ceased on 12th December, 1953, when the last B&CDR steam locomotive in use, No. 229, was replaced by ex-NCC diesel shunter No. 17. In the early 1960’s, the UTA implemented another round of line closures. The lines from Portadown to Derry, Goraghwood to Warrenpoint and Dungannon to Coalisland closed in early 1965. The Belfast Central line, which both the 1952 Tribunal Report and Benson had recommended retaining, closed in July 1965, but was not formally abandoned, and all regular internal freight services had ceased by the end of the year. The lines from Bleach Green to Derry, Knockmore Junction to Antrim and Coleraine to Portrush were kept open for political reasons.

1968 - present
Northern Ireland Railways

NIR Crest
Two Transport Acts, passed in 1966 and 1967, confirmed the break-up of the UTA's structure. The railways traded as Ulster Transport Railways from fall 1966 until June 1967 when Northern Ireland Railways was formed. The UTA survived until 5th April, 1968 when it formally ceased to exist.

NIR was incorporated under an Act of 21st April, 1967 and its formation did indeed mark the turning point in the fortunes of Northern Ireland's railway system. The new company was able to shed the road-bias of the UTA and concentrate on the running of the railway system. In 1969 the company introduced one of the most radical changes from traditional railway practice - the issuing of tickets on trains by conductor-guards. Not only did this allow further reductions in staff numbers, but it also led to the demolition of many obsolete vandal-prone buildings at now unstaffed halts.

In 1972 a decision was made to close both Great Victoria Street and Queen's Quay stations and replace them with a new station at Maysfields (Central Station) on a revamped Belfast Central line. Part of the plan was the diversion of Derry services from York Road to the new Central Station, Derry line services were finally diverted to Central in 1978. The new route taken by Derry line trains added 20 minutes to their running time. This disadvantage was offset by the advantages gained by connecting with the rest of the system, including cross-border services at Central Station and by serving Botanic station, which is closer to the city centre than York Road station.

With the re-opening of the Belfast Central Railway in 1976 two of the three routes out of Belfast were connected. The third, the line to Larne, was left virtually isolated at York Road. NIR felt that the construction of a line linking York Road with Central would offer significant advantages; Larne line commuter services could penetrate the city centre, thus boosting traffic and Derry line services could be returned to their original route via Bleach Green, thereby saving up to 20 minutes running time, while still serving Central and Botanic stations. Work on the construction of the section from Yorkgate to Lagan Junction, on the Central-Bangor line, began in 1991. This section includes a 1,425 metre long viaduct with 45 spans, including a 3-span crossing of the River Lagan, the centre span of which is 83 metres long. The line opened on 29th November 1994, with Larne line trains operating through to Central Station and beyond.

Translink is the brand name of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company (NITHCo), a public corporation of Northern Ireland charged to oversee the provision of public transport in the country. NITHCo was established by in 1967 to take over the railway and bus services of the Ulster Transport Authority (UTA), namely Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) and Ulsterbus. In 1996 the Translink organization was created to integrate the services of the Ulster Transport Authority as well as Citybus Limited (Belfast only - successor to the Belfast Corporation Transport Department). Citybus is now known as Metro.

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