68 Can’t Be Late

by Robin Morton
Audio version recorded by Ian Sinclair for Whitehead Railway Museum

I don’t have a name but I do have a number – 68. I like it, because as I travel along, I can sing “68, can’t be late”. Let me explain. I am a railway carriage and my home is Whitehead Railway Museum. I am an important carriage because I am used for steam train rides. I love hearing the chatter of excited children and families as the train chuffs up and down the siding.

I suppose I’m still a bit of a blow-in, though. I was built by the Midland Railway in England in 1922. My goodness, that means I will soon be 100 years old! I operated in the north-west of England, carrying mill workers to the seaside for their excursions, ferrying workers to their factories and offices and then, when the war started, I helped convey troops on the first leg of their journeys.

But suddenly, in 1941, I was sent to Ireland. These were the dark days of the Blitz and tragically Belfast was a major target. Homes, factories and shops were destroyed and York Road station was a target. Fire bombs started an inferno and 20 carriages were destroyed. They were really glad to see me and I was able to keep the train service going.

Slight problem in that the track here was too wide – the English railway gauge is six inches narrower. But I was fitted with new wheelsets and was soon back in traffic again. I was involved in carrying troops to and fro. But there were also commuter trains and trips up to the north coast, where I loved to hear the sea and smell that fresh air.

Come peacetime I was busier than ever – transporting workers in and out of Belfast and conveying day-trippers to places like Whitehead and Portrush. I also saw service on the boat train express to Larne Harbour.

It was always a highlight when a pair of newly-weds boarded the boat train to go on holiday. Although I have eight first and second class compartments, I also have two more private half compartments which were popularly known as “honeymoon compartments”.

By contrast with today’s modern diesel trains I’m rather quaint. I have a side-corridor and sliding glass doors. I also have droplight windows so that passengers can lean out to open the doors for themselves.

That’s why they decided to preserve me 40 years ago and it’s what makes me so popular at Whitehead Railway Museum. Children get really excited as we trundle up and down the line and they love hearing the click-clack sound that my wheels make as we pass over rail joints.

It looks like my story is not over. Coming into winter, the volunteers at Whitehead were making sure my steam heating and all my lights worked. I’m not sure what’s afoot but it means a lot that I’m still helping people enjoy themselves. Whatever happens, my catchphrase will continue to be: “68, Can’t be late”.

The photographs on this page were taken by Charles Friel in June 2011 

Robin Morton