TV company on track with Ballycastle narrow gauge railway show

A TELEVISION company is putting together a show which will feature the old railway line between Ballycastle and Ballymoney.

It has been over 60 years since the last train rolled out of Ballycastle and now those behind the show - Waddell Media - have called on anyone with stories of the line to get in touch with them for a documentary series set to be staged on TG4.

The first narrow-gauge railway lines were established in the 1800s and closed in the 1950s.

They include the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway, the Belfast and County Down Railway, the Ballycastle Railway, the Ballymena/Larne Railway and the Clogher Valley Railway.

A spokesperson for Wadell Media said: “We are interested in speaking to anyone who has any memories (however small) of the Ballycastle/Ballymoney line, or any of these other lines.

“These could be stories passed on by parents, grandparents or other relatives about journeys on these trains and the impact the railways had on people’s lives at the time.

“Also if you have any memorabilia, photographs or old Super 8 footage of these trains or railway lines we would love to hear from you. If you would like to contribute to this series please contact Órfhlaith at Waddell Media on (00 44) 28 9042 7646 or email orfhlaith@waddellmedia.com.

“This series is being produced for TG4 with assistance from Northern Ireland Screen’s Irish Language Broadcast Fund.”

The Ballycastle Railway Company opened their narrow gauge railway line in October 1880. It linked Ballymoney with Ballycastle and replaced a one-horse car which had previously trod the 15 miles only once a day.

The new railway was an important link to the rest of Ireland as it joined with the broad gauge line at Ballymoney. It also provided a valuable freight route for the coal mining operations at the coast. In addition, as a seaside resort, Ballycastle began to welcome more and more tourists and both towns benefited from the crowds of passengers that arrived for fair days and markets.

The trains ran between the following stations: Ballymoney - Dervock - Stranocum - Gracehill - Armoy - Capecastle - Ballycastle.

At its peak, the line was carrying over 85,000 passengers a year. By the 1940s, the amount of traffic on the railways of Northern Ireland had started to decline and lines began to close across the country. The last train left Ballycastle on 2 July 1950.

Traces of the old line are still visible, including station buildings and the tunnel at Capecastle.

Construction of the Ballycastle Railway started in December 1878, and it was hoped to have the line in readiness for the summer traffic of 1880. However the inspecting officer from the Board of Trade was unhappy with the cheap way the line had been built and didn’t give permission for it to open until 18th October 1880, by which time the defects had been corrected.

From the start the line was always in financial difficulties, despite attempts at various economies. By 1922 the Railway Commission had become aware of Ballycastle Railway’s difficulties and recommended it’s absorption by the NCC. However a single loss at the end of 1923 spelled the end of the railway.

At a meeting of the board on 21st January 1924 it was decided to close the line. On 8th February the shareholders consented to the closure and this happened on 24th March 1924.

But the closure was by no means the end of the story. The railway approached the Northern Ireland government for assistance, but they were not prepared to help as they had other matters to deal with.

So the only other options available were to either try and sell the line as a going concern or sell it for scrap.

The neighbouring Northern Counties Commission were approached and they offered £10,000.

Disappointed with the offer, the board asked for more and other shareholders lobbied the NCC to increase the offer, which eventually they did.

So the Ballycastle Railway was sold to the LMS NCC for £12,500 on 4th May 1924.

Services did not recommence immediately as the new owners had a backlog of maintenance to catch up with as well as re-equipping the line with rolling stock transferred from the NCC’s other narrow gauge lines.

The railway reopened on 11th August 1924, although legal title to the line did not come about until 7th August 1925.

The new owners managed to keep the line running economically to the extent that it was the last of the NCC narrow gauge lines to close. The end finally came on 3rd July 1950 when the Ulster Transport Authority closed the line completely.

REPORT: CHRIS KILPATRICK