A NUMBER of young railway enthusiasts from the Lisburn area are amongst those who have been recognised for their work by being chosen as the winners of the prestigious Best Wagon 2009 award, for their work on restoring a 1945 built Brake Van steam train.
Mark Walsh, Nathan Lightowler and Adam Lohoff, who all hail from the local area, were members of a 12-strong team of volunteers in the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland who have brought the vehicle, and memories of the job of the railway Goods Guard, back to life at Whitehead, County Antrim.
The group, who range in age from 15 to 25, have been recognised by the Heritage Railway Association of the UK and Ireland for the quality of their restoration work and now members of the youth team will attend the awards ceremony, appropriately held at the National Railway Museum in York on February 6. The judges commented that they were impressed with the quality of the restoration and the substantial use of young volunteers.
The 1945 built Brake Van was built in Dundalk. It would have been common place in the years of steam trains, being the last vehicle at the end of goods trains taking bread, cement, milk, coal, furniture and farm supplies all over Northern Ireland. In the days before every wagon had brakes controlled by the train driver, it was vital for the Guard to provide extra braking effort from the Brake Van, using a large wheeled handbrake to prevent the wagons breaking away from the train.
Team member James Friel commented: "We stripped the wagon back to its bare shell and used all the parts we took off as patterns for new ones. The wagon today is precisely as it would have been as it rolled out of Dundalk's railway works in 1945."
Mark Walsh from Lambeg added, "During the restoration one of our team interviewed a former steam train Fireman and a former Goods Guard who would have worked in our brake van. The interviews allowed us to understand the Guards life and create posters and a presentation. We use these to bring the Guards life alive during open days at our Whitehead site. The public find it hard to imagine such a job nowadays, travelling around Ireland at night with just an oil lamp and a coal stove for company."
The project was part funded by the Northern Ireland Museums Council, who recognised the requirement to pass heritage skills on to the next generation. RPSI Chairman, Johnny Glendinning, also from Lisburn, said: "It is vital for the future of steam trains in Ireland that the skills required to restore and maintain these magnificent machines are passed on. Everyone in the preservation society is pleased that the project led to more youth members joining, but also very proud of the work our youth team have done and they justly deserve this important recognition."