'Landmark moment' as station shuts after 200 years

Belfast’s city centre railway station closed on Friday to make way for the opening of a new public transport hub later this year.

The last train left Great Victoria Street station at 23:32 BST.

The new transport hub, Belfast Grand Central Station, is not due to open until the autumn.

Essential infrastructure work is required to link the rail network to the new hub, which explains the imminent closure of the nearby Great Victoria Street station.

A mock up of what the new hub will look like
The new hub is close to the Europa Bus Centre and Great Victoria Street rail station [Translink]

The adjoining Europa bus station will remain open as will other Belfast train stations, including Botanic and Lanyon Place.

Rail services in Great Victoria Street in Belfast date back almost 200 years.

The new station is being built nearby and will combine rail and bus services.

From Saturday, Translink is introducing a revised train timetable which will operate until the autumn.

Later in the summer, the rail line will close between Lanyon Place and Lisburn.

During this time, bus substitution services will operate.

Adrian Collen and his son Ian
Adrian Collen and his son Ian were happy to be among the last passengers [BBC]

Adrian Collen took the journey from Lurgan, County Armagh, into Great Victoria Street to mark the historic day with his son.

"Back in 1966, I used to come into the old station once a week for work.

"Today feels like a bit of history," Adrian said.

His son Ian Collen commutes into Belfast every day and said he had no concerns about disruption to his journey.

"I’m sure they’ll do what they can to accommodate us," he said.

Ian added that making the journey with his dad was a "lovely thing to do".

Disruption concerns

The gap between the closure of Great Victoria Street and the opening of the new hub will inconvenience many regular passengers.

One commuter who spoke to BBC News NI on Friday morning said she will have to leave home nearly an hour earlier to get work five days a week.

"I've now to get a bus and I can't use my train ticket on the buses because they say the trains are still running.

"But they don't run in time for me to get to work on time, so I'd have to get multiple trains and multiple buses," she explained.

"I understand that the work needs done and it is to better the services and that's all fine, but they should have better things implemented for people who can't go into work later."

Taylor Lemon
Taylor Lemon is among regular commuters who face disruption this summer [BBC]

Taylor Lemon, who commutes into Great Victoria Street from Lambeg, said she does not know how she will navigate her new route.

"I’m still trying to figure it all out," she said.

"My main concern is later in the summer when the trains to Lisburn are disrupted.

"With the cost of fuel, and car parking charges somewhere secure, it’s going to be expensive."

'Landmark moment'

In a message to passengers, the chief executive of Translink, Chris Conway, said: “We recognise this will cause disruption, but Belfast Grand Central is coming very close (to completion).”

Trains will run as normal on Friday and the last departure from Belfast's Great Victoria Street station will be the 23:32 BST service to Bangor.

The final service is likely to be popular with rail enthusiasts and historians, as well as regular travellers.

Chris Conway from Translink
Translink chief executive Chris Conway says the new station is close to completion [BBC]

Hilton Parr, head of rail customer services at Translink, said the closure was a landmark moment.

He said: “It has been a key rail station for the region for some 185 years.

"It played a significant role in several key moments in history including both World Wars, facilitating ambulance trains in the first and American troops in training for D-Day during the second.”

The first railway terminus in the area was called Glengall Place and opened in August 1839 providing a service to Lisburn.

It was renamed Belfast Victoria Street in 1852 and then, in 1856, Belfast Great Victoria Street.

Great Victoria Street railway station

Part of the original station was demolished to make way for the new Europa Hotel, which opened in 1971.

The remaining parts of the station were then damaged by two separate bombings in 1972.

Four years later, the station was closed with all rail services moving to the newly-built Belfast Central Station, now renamed Lanyon Place.

In 1991 came the new Europa Bus Centre and Great Northern Mall shopping area. Great Victoria Street Station re-opened in September 1995.

There is no exact date yet for the opening of the new bus and rail transport hub.

A new station opened last month at York Street in north Belfast, as part of the ongoing rail revamp in Northern Ireland.