Answers To Frequently Asked Questions

Please have a read of this page as it answers the most common questions in regard to the current situation on running mainline steam trains in Northern Ireland.

Why aren’t you operating steam trains out of Whitehead?

  •  Our trains when operating on NIR were always 'operated' by NIR under their Safety Systems, Instructions, Policies, etc., dating right back to the formation of NIR. No matter how often we would say “the RPSI is running the Portrush Flyer,” we were really providing rolling stock and support crew for NIR to run the “Portrush Flyer”! The procedures, methods and working practices developed organically over more than 50 years.

  • We had two drivers who drove steam trains for us on Northern Ireland Railways. Tragically one of the two died in January 2023, and we miss him very much as a colleague and a friend. The other driver retired from steam duties at the end of 2019, and we are pleased that he is enjoying his retirement. Many other staff in NIR who were familiar with operating steam trains have retired in the past 3 years - safety managers, driver assessors (inspectors).

  • NIR have stated that with the non-availability of steam competent drivers, they can no longer take ownership of our operations, and we need to change the operating model.

  • The path back to operating is for the RPSI to become a Railway Undertaking (RU) in Northern Ireland. An RU is similar to a Train Operating Company (TOC) that you hear about in Great Britain.

  • This is the path that the RPSI in Dublin had to take about 10 years ago, when Irish Rail also said that they could not take ownership of our operations. So we have been here before!

  • We have a project team working to create an RPSI-NI SMS (safety management system) for operating on Northern Ireland Railways’ infrastructure. The team includes the architect of the Dublin Ops SMS.

  • Once the SMS is drafted, it goes through an approval process by the Department for Infrastructure’s Railway Safety Authority, who are supported by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). Certificates are issued by the RSA.

  • This is not a simple process and is a big change in how the RPSI has functioned in Northern Ireland – while the maintenance and engineering work to keep the trains in working order will not be changed, the requirement to organise the operational side is very different to what went before.

  • In terms of timescales, these things always take longer than we’d like – but we’re making good progress on drafting the suite of documents that make up the SMS. We are pleased to be receiving support from all the usual sources – N I Railways, the Department for Infrastructure, volunteers from both our Dublin and Belfast Operations teams, and from railway professionals. We are working towards a submission to the Department for Infrastructure during summer 2024.

  • RPSI steam trains continue to operate as normal in Dublin. 

If you haven’t got a steam driver, why don’t you use an NI Railways diesel locomotive? That would get some RPSI trains moving in NI and would earn you some income.

  • NI Railways have said that they can no longer take ownership of our operations, and that the RPSI must form its own TOC, and operate in its own right.

  • The class 111 locomotives (111, 112, 113) have been downgraded from passenger working to non-passenger hauled trains only.

If you can’t use a 111, why don’t you use a 201?

  • 201 class locomotives are permitted only as far as Bleach Green (near Whiteabbey), so couldn’t operate through to Whitehead.

  • NI Railways do not have any spare 201 class locomotives that they can loan us. Any 201 class locomotives that you see from the motorway at York Road are on standby to swap with an Enterprise locomotive.

If you can’t use those, why don’t you use an Irish Rail 071?

  • Irish Rail class 071 locomotives are not fitted with NI Railway’s safety system AWS/TPWS and would not be permitted to haul passenger trains on NI Railways.

  • Irish Rail have indicated that they could not spare an 071 class locomotive to be stationed in NI for a period.

Why don’t you get another operator (e.g. West Coast Railways) to drive your trains for you?

  • West Coast Railways, or indeed any other GB steam operator, e.g. DB Shenker, Vintage Trains etc., are indeed an operator who can run steam trains. However, for any of these operators to move a train in Ireland would require their SMS and certification to be accepted in Northern Ireland.

  • The only operators of steam trains on the island of Ireland are NI Railways (until just recently) and the RPSI (Republic of Ireland only).

Why don’t you get an Irish Rail driver to drive your train for you? That worked when No.131 went to Dundalk in April.

  • Yes, back in April we got permission for an Irish Rail crew to operate No.131 light engine to Dundalk from Whitehead. That was, however, a light engine move carried out under exceptional circumstances - not a passenger carrying train.

Why don’t you just get Irish Rail to operate a train for you?

  • Irish Rail do not operate steam trains anywhere, including on Irish Rail’s metals. As explained above, the steam trains on Irish Rail are operated by the RPSI under their SMS which applies only to the Republic of Ireland, not into Northern Ireland. 

Why have you tried running trains to Whitehead using CAFs (normal trains)?

  • Steam trains cost a lot of money to run and maintain. When we can run steam trains, we can make them pay for their upkeep - and that means that we can then keep running them, year after year. That’s how we’ve kept going for nearly 60 years. Given that we can’t run steam trains in NI just at the moment, we’re trying to make some money to keep the organisation going. That’s why you’ll see special trains using NI Railways trains running to our site at Whitehead.

I really like the May Railtour, why aren’t you running that?

  • Keep an eye out for an announcement in 2024.

Diesel locomotive B142 looks nicely repainted now, can you use it to pull passenger trains? 

  • B142 is looking very well indeed after receiving an engine overhaul, bodywork repairs and a top class paint job.

  • B142 would need significant investment and the fitting of the more recent safety systems before it could go on the Northern Ireland main line, namely DRA, TPWS, AWS and OTMR. Don’t look for much change from £70,000.

But it ran into Whitehead from Irish Rail light engine recently?

  • B142 was worked to Whitehead light engine (no passengers) more than a decade ago in 2010. In order to haul passengers it would need all the work mentioned above.