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Originally constructed to the Irish standard gauge of 5 ft 3 in (1600 mm), a number of 3 ft 0 in (914 mm) narrow gauge lines were acquired later.
The NCC itself came into existence on 1 July 1903 as the result of the Midland Railway taking over the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway (BNCR), which the Belfast and Ballymena Railway had become.
At the 1923 Grouping of British railway companies, the Committee became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS).
The line passed to the British Transport Commission with the nationalisation of the railways in Britain in 1948 and in the following year, 1949, it was sold to the Ulster Transport Authority (UTA).
The BNCR and its successors recognised the potential value of tourism and were influential in its development throughout the North of Ireland. It was able to develop and exploit the advantages of the Larne-Stranraer short sea route between Ireland and Scotland which would gain importance during World War II.