Meet the Locals:
Roy Thompson, a volunteer at Whitehead Railway Museum, offers an insight into this iconic attraction's past.
People assume the Railway Museum is just for the older generation. It's true that many visitors talk about the smell of the smoke and memories it brings back but thanks to Thomas the Tank Engine and Harry Potter and the Hogwarts Express you’d be amazed at the number of kids that love it here.
I guess my journey here started with a model railway in the loft as a kid. I joined the modern Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, which ran tours here and when I saw the interaction volunteers had with the visitors I was hooked.
The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland started this place over 50 years ago in what had been the Whitehead excursion station. Special excursion trains used to arrive here.
The visitors used to congregate at the Stables, where we now have an exhibition, before being taken by horses and jaunting cars to The Gobbins, which was then more popular than the Giant’s Causeway.
Whitehead was a railway town and we have some great photos of crowds of day trippers from Belfast arriving into the excursion station. I think the record for the day is around 7,000 visitors in 1904.
One of the few structures that was here at the beginning was the old water tower. People are amazed when I tell them how much water a steam engine uses, water storage needed much more space than the coal and the train had to stop regularly to top up.
At the moment we have railway carriages from the 1960s on the platform which people can enjoy. We usually use these for our steam train excursions too.
We don't have our own track but we use Northern Ireland Railway tracks and go as far as Dublin as well as seaside excursions to Portrush, just like in Victorian and Edwardian times.
We also have special trains at Halloween, Easter and Christmas plus regular events such as steam and jazz and steam and stetsons!. All I can say is book early though. Steam trains take a while to get ready, so volunteers have to be here all night before an excursion, gradually building up the pressure!
We have the largest workshop in Ireland and our restoration team is constantly working on old engines and carriages. You can see all of our engines in our museum on the tour, including a blue engine the kids love because it looks just like Thomas.
Our engines are film stars too. One was in the Great Train Robbery, another in Michael Collins. Others are still used for the excursions.
There are some really old atmospheric carriages you can wander through in the carriage room too. One of the carriages was even used by Queen Elizabeth II.
The tour takes around an hour but it will fly by!