74 Dunluce Castle Northern Counties Committee 4-4-0 Class U2 North British Locomotive Company Works No 23096

CompanyNorthern Counties Committee
WeightEngine – 51t 10cwt Tender – 30t 19cwt
Driving Wheels6ft 0ins
Boiler Pressure170psi
CylindersInside – 19in x 24in
Tractive Effort17,388lbf  
Valve GearWalschaerts

The North Counties Committee (NCC) had a fleet of eighteen class U2 locomotives which made it the most numerous of any class of engines on the NCC. There were though four sub classes of U2 locomotives.

The NCC was formed in 1903 as the result of the Midland Railway of England taking over the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway.

  • Seven locomotives were built new by the North British Locomotive Company (NBL) in Glasgow
  • Three engines were build by the NCC at the York Road works in Belfast
  • Four were renewals of class A engines. These were largely new engines as not much of the originals remained. Regarding them as renewals avoided accounting for the expenditure as capital
  • Four were rebuilds of class U locomotives

Although less than half of the class had been built in Glasgow, the U2s gained the general nickname of “Scotch Engines”. Eleven of the engines were named after Ulster castles and a twelfth, No.87, carried the name Queen Alexandra. Apart from a slight difference in the cab, the quality of the external finish of the NBL engines appears to have given them an advantage in prestige among the crews over the three Belfast-built engines.

The new locomotives were supplied with Fowler-type flush-sided tenders with a capacity of 5 tons of coal and 2,500 gallons of water whilst the rebuilt locomotives were coupled to the original BNCR – type six-wheeled tenders which could carry 6 tons of coal and 2,690 gallons of water.

All eighteen engines, though differing slightly in appearance had, until 1945, the same power output. The only dimensional difference was caused by six boilers, identical with the others, except that the opportunity had been taken for the first time with a Derby boiler to use the broader Irish gauge (5ft 3in compared with 4ft 8½in) to full advantage for a wider firebox. The first two of these G7S boilers were fitted to class A locomotives when they were renewed as class U2 in 1934.

Two years later, four more of this type of boiler were ordered when another class A was converted and two U class engines were rebuilt. The remaining boiler was probably intended to be a spare but it was fitted to the last of the NBL new built locomotives in 1936, some twelve years after it was built by NBL in 1924. 

The U2s provided the top-link workings on the NCC until the arrival of the W class locomotives in 1933.

The fastest timing for the Portrush expresses that the U2s worked in 1932 was 82 minutes for the 58.3 miles  from Greenisland to Portrush, over half of the route being over a single line. They also worked the Larne Harbour boat trains, being allowed 30 minutes for the 24⅓ miles, again over a route with a significant proportion of single track.

While most of the class were based at Belfast, three were at one time based at Larne shed and two (including the preserved locomotive No 74) were at Coleraine. In later years, No.77 was also based at Coleraine and would be one of the last engines to work a train over the Derry Central line before it closed.

The U2s performed sterling service during the busiest years of Second World War. A typical job was to take over a military train at Antrim that had been worked through from the Great Northern Railway.Having hauled eight bogie coaches from Antrim to the summit of the NCC main line, a stop would be made at Ballyclare Junction to attach carriages that had arrived from Derry or Cookstown on a previous train before travelling on to Larne Harbour where it was common to see trains of twelve or more bogie coaches arriving.

In 1945–1946 two locomotives had the diameters of their cylinders reduced from 19–18 in. It is possible that the cylinders fitted to one came from  a class U1engine which had just been withdrawn. Originally fitted with Fowler pattern chimneys that had capuchins, some later received a Stanier type and it was said by their crews that they never steamed as well after this alteration.

In 1949 the NCC was absorbed into the Ulster Transport Authority (UTA).


The UTA withdrew the U2 class locomotives over the period January 1956 to June 1962. The last locomotive to be withdrawn from service was the NBL built No 74 Dunluce Castle (Works no 23096) which had entered service in July 1924.

Dunluce Castle was restored to LMS (NCC) livery at the UTA’s Duncrue Street workshops during late 1962 and in April 1963 was transferred to the Belfast Transport Museum. This locomotive is the only preserved NCC tender engine.

The locomotive is on static display at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra which is a few miles outside Belfast.

74 Dunluce Castle at Belfast York Road diesel shed – March 1963
74 Dunluce Castle in the former Belfast Transport Museum – September 1964
74 Dunluce Castle in the Ulster Transport & Folk Museum at Cultra – December 2017
74 Dunluce Castle in the Ulster Transport & Folk Museum at Cultra – May 2019

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