Sunday, 18 May 2008

Giant's Causeway Railway Fires

I got a call at 3:28 this afternoon to say that there was another and more extensive fire alongside the trackbed of the Giant's Causeway and Bushmills Railway.

It turned out that there were two fires, a small one just over one hundred yards or so from the station and a much more extensive one just to the west of the gates on the Sand Rodden and between the track and Blackrock Strand. A stiffish breeze from the east was slowly carrying the fire through the whins and grass on the dunes.

Five fire tenders arrived and one of them had reversed down the Sand Rodden as far as the track gates. I'm told that the fire was reported about 2:40pm and the first of the tenders was there by 3pm. The firefighters didn't have a key to lower the bollards; I understand one was eventually delivered by a member of the railway staff about 3:40pm just before I'd arrived. Had there been no obstruction the tender might have been able to drive down the Sand Rodden instead of reversing and turn in the small car park below the crossing gates.

The bollards were put in place last year by Moyle District Council but it seems that they hadn't got around to supplying the essential services with the requisite keys. The firefighters had attended an earlier fire near the same spot just a few weeks ago and walked down the track from the railway station.

A local told me told me that there had been another fire earlier today a few hundred yards from the Bushmills end of the track but it turned out to be just a small stretch of grass beside the track.

The train continued to run as the undergrowth smouldered and burned and the smoke spiralled up into the sky. The fire seems to have begun whilst Shane, the steam engine, was pulling the carriages but it was Rory, the diesel engine, that did the 4pm run from the station. The train leaves the station on the hour and Bushmills on the half-hour.

Let's hope the authorities get these problems resolved just in case there is a much more serious incident where lives are at risk.


The issue was raised at a meeting of Moyle District Council on Monday, May 19, by local Councillors McConaghy and Graham. Apparently council officials were unable to say who'd been issued with keys or who had provided the key on Sunday.

At the Council Meeting, Price McConaghy said there was an issue about access to the area as a bollard blocks a pathway.

The councillor said it was fortunate no lives were in danger but he said if there was an accident at sea emerency services could be restricted by the bollard.

A spokesman for Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said: "Firefighters have tackled a small gorse fire in the Portballintrae area*.

"The fire broke out at 1.50pm on Sunday, May 18. One appliance from Portrush attended the scene, using beaters to extinguish the flame.

THE CHRONICLE, May 22, 2008
*Perhaps this was the earlier reported fire near the Bushmills end of the track.

A friend of mine last autumn was struck by the number of private signs that he spotted in a stroll around the Giants Causeway hinterland. Perhaps there's a conflict between the desire for privacy and the need for public safety and local convenience.

I see no reason why the bollards should not be removed. If there is a problem with rail safety then a safer option to deal with it should be adopted.

I've had another look at the photos and I've spotted another safety issue, the failure to close the crossing gate to road traffic coming from the direction of Runkerry House as the train approaches the station. Photographic evidence indicates that this gate has been left open on a number of occasions during the past year as the train has passed over the crossing.


I'm told that David Laing, a previous manager of the railway, maintained a fire tender in a state of readiness in the station sheds in case of fire and hauled it to the scene of an outbreak using a diesel engine.

Is that tender still on the premises? Is it ready to be taken promptly to the site of a fire? If it is, why wasn't the Sunday service brought to a halt and why weren't all the resources deployed to tackle the various fires that had broken out along the side of the track?


In light of the more recent fire on Friday, May 23, and the discovery of a large piece of clinker and what appear to be parts of metal plating on the track. Perhaps the responsible railway inspectorate officials need to take a look at the safety of rolling stock, especially engine Shane, and other parts of the operating system. Shane was formerly fuelled by peat but coal is used now. Could there be a problem with the ash box?


I received an email today that sheds some new light on the end of April fire by the 50p hut:

Oh, yes, we saw it pass by at least 3 times before the fire. We did not recognize that it was a train at first, but then we realized it was a train. Maybe we should have had a ride on it. But then we might have been involved in the fire!


A principal inspector from the Health and Safety Executive has been appointed to examine a range of issues raised in this blog and elsewhere.

A number of complaints have been raised about the quality of coal being used to fuel the steam engine. The smoke has become much blacker and washing has had to be relaundered after having been splattered with particles of soot and exposed to obnoxious odours.


It was all go on the railway this afternoon, Thursday June 12.

Shane, the blue steam engine, was hauling empty carriages and Rory, the diesel, was rumbling up and down the track. There was a fire tender filling up at a hydrant on the Ballaghmore Road and I wondered, "Surely not another fire".

As we headed for the golf club lane, firemen could be seen directing their hoses onto a trackside fire below the golf course, not far from another recent outbreak. The damaged pedestrian crossing had been repaired but the decking looked higher than it should be. Perhaps that was why the protective angle-iron strip had been knocked off and the metal item in the sketch left lying between the tracks.

There were an additional two tenders on the path across the tracks from the fire and the firefighters had just about extinguished the flames. It's just as well the three vehicles were not needed for more important work elsewhere. I've lost count of the number of tenders that have been to these fires in the past few weeks.

The plates linking the rails had recently received a coating of oil - something a friend noted had not been seen for ages!!

More images with captions here.