|Company||Northern Counties Committee|
|Driving Wheels||6ft 0ins|
|Cylinders||Outside – 19in x 26in|
The Northern Counties Committee (NCC) railway served the north-east of Ireland which was created in 1903 as a result of the English Midland Railway taking over the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway. Following the 1923 Grouping of British railway companies the Midland Railway became part of the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS). After nationalisation of Britain’s railways in 1948 NCC was briefly part of the British Transport Commission before being sold to the Ulster Transport Authority (UTA) in 1949. From 1967 the rail operations of the UTA were taken over by the Northern Ireland Railways.
The NCC decided in 1944 that all of its trains would be operated by tank engines to remove the need to turn locomotives.
The eighteen locomotives of the WT class were built at the Derby works of the Midland Railway in the period 1946-50. Although they were built to an Ivatt design they were based on a Henry Fowler design. The
Fowler design also provided the basis for 2-6-4T engines introduced on the LMS by Stanier, Fairburn and the standard BR design by Riddle introduced in 1951.
|Northern Counties Committee WT class introduced in 1946|
|Fowler tank introduced on the LMS in 1927|
|Fairburn engine introduced on the LMS in 1945|
They proved to be a great success, capable of covering the 95 miles between Belfast and Londonderry without stopping for water as well as achieving speeds in excess of 80mph. As they did not need to be turned the engines could run round the trains and be ready for the return journey in ten minutes.
The Irish locomotives were nicknamed jeeps. This name is said to have been coined by William McCullough, Night Foreman at Belfast’s York Road Works, who likened their ‘go anywhere’ ability to that of the Army Jeeps which were so common at the time.
In early 1966 until My 1970 some members of the class were employed on hauling spoil trains from the Blue Circle cement works at Magheramorne to Greencastle near Belfast to be used for motorway construction. There were three trains of twenty hopper waggons which enabled 600 tons of rock to be transported by each train which was topped and tailed by a WT class locomotive. Over the period the engines hauled about 7,600 trains.
One member of the WT class has been preserved – No 4. This was the last steam locomotive to run in Ireland other than in preservation. It was withdrawn from service in 1971 which was longer that any manged to survive on the mainland of Britain. It hauled the last passenger train at the end of March 1970 when it headed a local service from Whitehead to Carrickfergus. Just over a month later along with a classmate it pulled a train load of girders from Magheramorne quarry to the motorway construction site. After this it was employed on pilot duties at York Road in Belfast until finally withdrawn from service in June 1971.
Although No 4 has been preserved the original intention was of the RPSI was to acquire No 53 which had been withdrawn from service at the same time as No 4. The discovery of wasted stay heads (patched up for its 2nd May 1970 spoil train finale) led to it being condemned. Attention turned to No.4 and the 2-6-4T was bought direct from Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) in July 1971, a month after its withdrawal, for £1,275.
The locomotive undertook its first main line special in preservation in November 1972 when it ran from Whitehead to Belfast and back. It continued to operate on the main line until 1978 after which it was taken out of service for a general overhaul.
Following the overhaul the locomotive spent a week running on NIR track on permanent way trains as part of its running in. It was operational until November 1991 after which it was out of use until the following year when dismantling it started as the first stage of its overhaul.
It was only on the locomotive’s dismantling that it was realised just what a big job this was going to be. No.4 had been purchased by the RPSI in working order and although some heavy repairs such as wheel re-profiling had been undertaken in the meantime, the last major boiler work had been carried out at Swindon in 1963, when a new inner firebox was fitted. Investigation revealed serious wasting and cracking of boiler plates, the same with the firebox, and also corrosion of tanks, bunker and smokebox. So began the most extensive refurbishment of a locomotive yet undertaken by the RPSI.
Firebox repairs included the complete renewal of the lower three-quarters of the outer firebox sides and doorplate, together with internal stiffening plates and longitudinal and transverse stays. By 1997 the firebox had been completely re-stayed.
Welding work and repairs to plates were carried out on the boiler and a new front tubeplate fitted. The boiler has been completely re-tubed. The bunkers and the tanks were severely corroded and have largely been replaced. Likewise the frame stretchers under the footplating had deteriorated to such an extent that it had to be extensively replaced. The Axleboxes were remetalled, machined and refitted. The bogie also required considerable attention.
The motion was dismantled and overhauled, including the re-metalling of all bushes. The cylinders were re-bored in late 1999, before the chassis was re-wheeled and motion re-hung.
The locomotive was returned to steam and re-entered revenue earning service on the RPSI’s Belfast and Northern Counties May Railtour in 2001. It remained in service for ten years. Over the ten years it travelled over 31,000 miles and was in steam on about 270 days.
In June 2015 the locomotive returned to service again following another overhaul.
In 2020 it was withdrawn from service for some remedial work.
The locomotive remains owned by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland.