It was full steam ahead yesterday as HM The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh took the scenic route in a 1932 locomotive along the north west coast and disembarked at picturesque Bellarena.
The train journey between Londonderry and Coleraine was described by travel writer and presenter Michael Palin as “one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world” and the Queen and her husband were able to enjoy the rugged coastline in all its splendour as they made their way from Coleraine Railway Station to Bellarena Railway Station, where the Monarch unveiled a plaque to mark its opening.
The visit was the last item on the Royal couple’s whistle-stop two-day itinerary, which allowed them to experience some of Northern Ireland’s best loved tourism locations along the way, and they wee treated to a small but very enthusiastic welcome.
The train used for the Royal visit was provided by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland and the National Museums Northern Ireland and was operated by Northern Ireland Railways. It comprised of a steam locomotive No 85 Merlin, which was on loan for the occasion, which was hauling five RPSI carriages. The No 85 Merlin was one of five locomotives built by Beyer Peacock in Manchester in 1932 for GNRI.
Considered one of the top 10 scenic train journeys in the world, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were able to sit back in comfort and enjoy the picturesque panorama of Castlerock, where the River Bann enters the Atlantic Ocean between two stone and concrete breakwaters, Downhill and Mussenden Temple and the lush countryside as they made their way to the quaint Bellarena Railway Station.
The reason for the Queen’s visit to the petite station was the completion of the extended platforms at Bellarena in March, which was hailed as a milestone in the delivery of extensive engineering and improvement work on the Londonderry line to Belfast.
The first phase of the improvements was completed in March 2013 and the second phase started in 2015 and the completion of the works has secured the line’s continued operation for the future, enhance current levels of safety and reliability, and providing the capability for an hourly service to Londonderry.
Passenger numbers have increased by more than 10 per cent in the last year and the line now carries over two million passenger journeys each year.
The Royal couple arrived in the Province on Monday at George Best City Airport, where they were formally welcomed, before making the journey to Hillsborough Castle for audiences with the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, First Minister Arlene Foster and the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.
After a private evening together at the castle, the Royal couple embarked on a busy day of engagements which began with an early visit to the Giant’s Causeway and tour of the Causeway Visitor Centre, before travelling to Bushmills, where the Royal Party attended an Act of Remembrance and the Queen also unveiled a statue of Robert Quigg, VC, while the Duke unveiled a VC commemorative paving stone.
The Royal couple also met members of the Quigg family. The bronze sculpture was unveiled to mark the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
Tourism NI chairman Terence Brannigan said the organisation was delighted at the visit, which was part of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday celebrations.
“Northern Ireland is brimming with exciting tourism destinations so it is a privilege that Her Majesty will experience some of our most renowned beauty spots such as the Giant’s Causeway, the village of Bushmills and the breath-taking scenery on the train journey between Coleraine and Bellarena Railway station.”