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A journey into the Far North, forty years ago

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We're in the mid seventies here, and I've got an interview in Coleraine; not a town I was ever able to develop a great fondness for, I have to admit, but an interview's an interview. I boarded a train at York Road and sat opposite a young lady with impossibly wide bellbottoms, and who was impossibly tall. Let's call her Flossie.


We were in a leading driving trailer of what I think was about a five car 70 class set. It was a stormy enough day, with autumn leaves blowing about. We left on time, more or less, but as we crashed and lurched our way up towards Bleach Green, it seemed we had several signals against us, and for several periods the train trundled along quite slowly. Up the double track section to Antrim, following laborious wheel-screeching across points in the vicinity of Bleach Green. I had looked out for the former junction to the "Back Line", still very visible and still with track on most of it, though only connected at the Greenisland end.


The train sat for a while in Antrim, where we crossed a brand new 80 class set, not long out of its Hornby Box. 70's ruled the roost, though, on the NCC main line, aided and abetted by the motley collection of MPDs. Most MPDs and 70s were in maroon and oyster grey, though the new "Enterprise" livery (then so called) was making inroads. This soon-to-be-familiar maroon and blue was applied from new to the 80s, which never carried the maroon and grey; similarly, none of the MED sets ever received the maroon and blue.


By the time we left Antrim, we were almost 10 minutes late. I never found out why, but as we set sail north on the (still double track) NCC main line, yer man threw the throttle open and off we went! It turned out to be the most spirited run I ever did in a 70 class set, and the leading driving trailer was buckin' and leppin' about like a good thing! Side to side it swayed, bogies crashing over joints, suspension lurching myself and Flossie, the only passengers up front for the whole ride, like a roller coaster in Barry's in Portrush.


At one point I gripped the seat cushions. I had never before done so on a train, nor have I since, and nor do I want to. How that thing stayed on the track is a miracle - I didn't know a train could BE so bouncy, until some years later I had a run in the cab of a 141 at speed....


Coleraine beckoned, and it was very cold and windy. Nothing new there; but as I left the train one thing stuck in my mind - a fleeting look af real fear on Flossie's face somewhere about Cullybaaackey, as they call it in those parts...


Interview concluded, I set off back to the station. This time, it was a three car 70 class back to Belfast, and lo and behold, the leading and centre cars were absolutely brand newly painted in maroon and blue - you could smell the new paint. I sat in the power car and as those who ever did similar will recall, there mightn't have been as spirited a ride as in a leading trailer car, but as the railcar started from each station, the noise and vibration from the windows and even seat frames was, let's say memorable; just like the overpowering diesel smell in an MED.


I'm not painting either in a good light, am I? But - these trains had character - real character. Need I add more?


Belfast was reached easily on time. Now, a walk across to Great Victoria Street for a train back to Lisburn. Would it be only my second or third run in one of these new 80s? Or a humdrum AEC........


Yes!!! It was an 80 class. Sure you can go in an AEC any oul day.


And I got the interview. But I didn't go back; life had pulled me in another directiom, and U2 are the support act in the Baggot Inn tonight.... See ye there. Guinness has gone up to 45p a pint, though....

Edited by jhb171achill
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Superb story jhb,told in such a way it just jogs the old memory banks again,thanks for sharing.A driving trailer leading a 5 car 70 set would certainly not be the norm,it would normally have been a power car at each end.If there was only one power car in the formation,then no wonder it was going so slow in the steep run to Antrim and no wonder it paused for so long at the station!

At least when you got back to Great Victoria Street,your fear of getting an AEC instead of an 80 class would not have been realised as they had all gone before the 80 class arrived,more likely an old MED,MPD or the very last of the BUTs which just crossed over into the 80 class period would have been what was in store.But sure,you got the ultra modern 80 class with slam doors,rather than the old style fume filled MED with automatic doors!!

Character indeed were all these old railcars,never to be enjoyed again.

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True, Hunslet! I wonder about that five car set.. I very much doubt myself whether a single power car could have done that - especially the hell-for-leather run north of Antrim. There must have been some sort of unusual formation with two power cars, which would inevitably have meant that you couldn't have walked end to end in the train. Doubtless it was the result of a breakdown or some hurried unusual formation. Pity I didn't have a picture of it.


There were indeed a few BUTs kicking about then.


Yesterday, going through Senior's stuff, I came upon a colour slide of a three car AEC in Lisburn station a few years earlier. The leading car is No. 111, still in that "suburban" light blue and cream; the centre car is newly maroon and grey, and the power car at the other end is UTA green.... That will figure in a future publication, for sure!

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Yesterday, going through Senior's stuff, I came upon a colour slide of a three car AEC in Lisburn station a few years earlier. The leading car is No. 111, still in that "suburban" light blue and cream; the centre car is newly maroon and grey, and the power car at the other end is UTA green.... That will figure in a future publication, for sure!


That would be a picture to behold,I would really love a glimpse of that.I have seen green and blue/cream and maroon/grey and blue/cream in formations together,but never all 3 in the one formation.Iwould reckon the photo is from around 1967/68,as that was when the maroon/grey livery first appeared,the blue/cream appearing around 1965.

With regards the 70 class,you are right,I would doubt if a single power car could perform such a task.Maybe a 3 car set that was strengthened by a power car and driving trailer marshalled the wrong way round,who knows!!

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It must have been, Hunslet! But the run was exciting.....


Yes, the 80s were new. The first batch went into use in '74, the rest '77 / '78. The 70s, a few MPDs, and MEDs soldiered on a few years more. The last of the AECs and BUTs, from memory, disappeared in '74 / '75.


The 80s struck us as odd at the time. We were used to railcar sets with either a gangwayed power car at each end, or a non gangway end one. Not a set with one of each! The 80s, obviously, were of this species. Odder still, the concept of 2 car sets was very unusual indeed. Almost all NIR trains of the day were 3 car, or more on the NCC.


Even in the early 90s, the idea of a Derry train, once a major main line player, being a 2 car 80 was peculiar, given that what that actually meant was only one and a half carriages of actual passenger accommodation. I saw this service thus operated more than once, though to be fair it was usually a three piece.

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I think it would be more practical to have at least 1 gangwayed end to a set, so as to be able to pass along the length of the train. for example, if you got on a six piece CAF and the part you are in is full, you're stuffed, but with a gangway you could look all along for a seat.

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