12th May 2016 - Magic Merlin
Thursday 12th May 2016
Off to Whitehead this morning as planned for our first RPSI tour for nine years, it just hadn't fallen on the right weekend leave-wise in the past few years and on the one occasion that it had, the tour was moved to the autumn due to the Giro d'Italia bike race starting in Dublin on the same weekend. Today was a "positioning move" to get the coaching stock to Dublin for the main tour and it provided an opportunity for ex GNR(I) 4-4-0 compound no. 85 "Merlin" to stretch it legs; it is too heavy to work on many lines so this was an ideal opportunity to let it loose on the line it was built for. Quite a few people joined us on the service train from Belfast to Whitehead including the NIR crew who were going to drive and fire the loco to Dublin.
The train set off on time with decent run to Belfast, though there were never going to be any fireworks due to the nature of the line, until we stopped just before York Road depot; we think due to some sort of signalling failure. A nice slow run past the shed gave an opportunity for some photos but GM loco 8113 which was nicely parked near the mainline last night was now hiding between two sheds but we did get a shot of the class 80 "thumper" unit converted to a sandite car.
Over the river Lagan on the William Dargan bridge, a stop at Belfast Central to pick up, then off to Lisburn to take water which was not as easy as its sounds as the water column is on the north end of the northbound platform. In order for the loco to take water, the train was crossed over to to "wrong road" before the station and the loco stopped next to the column with the train out of the platform. Once the loco had been refreshed, the train was brought into the platform and the passengers could stretch their legs whilst a couple of DMUs and the 10:35 "Enterprise" service to Dublin passed. Unfortunately an attempt to cross to the other platform to get some photos was thwarted when a DMU pulled in and disgorged a seething mass of humanity who went straight over the footbridge in the opposite direction so there was no chance of going against the flow. There appeared to be some sort of show in the park next to the station as there was a lady standing on the footbridge valiantly trying to hand out leaflets and parroting "enjoy the show" so we retreated and busied oursleves photographing the items in the sidings including a couple of former Gatwick Express coaches and a track machine.
There was one further stop at Portadown to pick up then "Merlin" continued south and was soon flying along sounding absolutely superb. Across the border to the Irish Republic and another water stop at Dundalk and a chance to look in the museum on the station platform housed in what was the top of the former Dundalk Central signal cabin which had been moved from it's previous location following closure in May 1996.
We thought that the crew might have changed to an IE crew at Dundalk but the NIR crew stayed on board and treated us to a fine run to Dublin with a further brief stop at Drogheda until we came to a stand shortly before Dublin Connolly having caught up a DART suburban EMU and finally arriving seven minutes late.
Our hotel here (Wynns) was booked through the RPSI and was abut a 15 minute walk from Connolly station so we went to dump our bag before making our way to Docklands station as there was some new track which had opened since our previous visit to the area. The area around Docklands was unrecognisable since our days of chasing freight trains down to North and East Wall Yards and the Alexandra Road "tramway". Lots of new flats, shops and offices had sprung up and Docklands station itself had been built on the site of the former North Wall Yard and we were very surprised to see that Church Road signal box was still open, a long-range shot of it was possible from the station platforms.
As we had a bit of time before the train we walked down the road and just missed 075 doing a shunt in East Wall yard so we hung around to see if it would continue but the driver got off and walked away so we had to be content with an overall view of the yard.
Docklands station had barriers but the man in the booking office readily opened the nearest one with a cheery wave when we flashed our FIP coupons at him and we went onto the platform to wait for the train, which was late. We had thought that it departed at 15:45 but the platform indidcators said 15:50 but it eventually turned up, reversed and set off along the previously rare route for passenger trains alongside the Royal Canal to Glasnevin Junction. We then joined the line to Maynooth and Mullingar as far as Clonsilla where the train turned right onto our second bit of required track along what used to be the branch to Navan and Athboy which had closed in 1963. This had been re-instated to a new station called M3 Parkway near Dunboyne and had opened in September 2010 though we noticed that the track continued for some distance before disappearing into the undergrowth. We believe that the intention is to carry on to Navan at some stage in the future.
We missed a trick on the return journey in that we could have got off at Clonsilla and updated our photo of the signal box there whilst waiting for a train to Connolly station which would have saved us a walk back in Dublin. Never mind, we wanted a further look round the much-altered Docklands area and need the exercise as well. There was a branch of Boojum opposite the hotel, we had tried (and failed) to eat in the Belfast one yesterday so as this one did not look as busy we decided to give it a try. Our verdict? Not bad really, the best way that we can think of describing it was a Mexican answer to McDonalds though we much preferred it to the "golden arches". There was a choice of a burrito or hard / soft taco which was served with the filling of your choice and there was quite a selection to choose from, a nice tasty way to end the day.
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