Ian Davis (second from left) receives his award with fellow winner Liz McMorris, from Down District Chairman Eddie Rea (right) and BBC Northern Ireland’s Noel Thompson
One of the Downpatrick &Co. Down Railway’s own has been chosen as Down District’s Tourism Hero for 2008.
Ian Davis, 82, has been a stalwart of the volunteer-run tourist attraction for over 20 years, and received the accolade from Down District Chairman Eddie Rea and the BBC’s Noel Thompson at this year’s award ceremony, held at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle last Thursday night.
The society was formed in 1985, and it wasn’t long before Ian’s good friend and railway enthusiast, the late John McCutcheon, convinced him that he should spend his retirement from the Civil Service rebuilding old carriages at the fledgling society.
The lack of facilities at Downpatrick yard back in the late 1980s didn’t put Ian off, and he would often be found with other members of the team working on vintage carriages out in the open with no cover against the elements or electricity for power tools – only hand tools to get the job done.
Railway Chairman John Wilson described Ian as an absolute credit to the Railway.
“Few of us have been volunteering as long as Ian, certainly not myself, nor the rest of the management team!” he says.
“He’s had a hand in nearly all our carriage restoration projects, and has served on the committee on several occasions as well as recently editing our newsletter.”
Ian’s nomination came from his fellow society members who felt that his determination to return to the railway after a serious car accident two years ago deserved to be recognised.
Ian accepts his award, watched by Noel Thompson and Cllr. Eddie Rea
“Ian had to wear a neck brace for nearly a year, and everyone would have understood at his age if he chose to take it a bit easier,” Mr. Wilson says, “But Ian was having none of it, and as soon as it was off he was straight back down to help on the restoration work of a carriage that he used to travel in as a schoolboy.”
“That shows you the sort of character Ian is, and the dedication of the man.”
The carriage in question is a former Belfast &County Down Railway carriage that used to run between Belfast and Holywood, and that Ian would always choose when boarding at Sydenham because of its distinctive shape, allowing the person who was picking him up in Belfast to know exactly where to find him.
Mr. Wilson says, “We are all delighted for Ian, he thoroughly deserves this award, and it shows you that you’re never too old to volunteer or to make a contribution to the community.”
Ian always thanks his wife for allowing him to come down on Wednesday and Saturdays to work on his projects.
The Tamper being craned on to the track at Downpatrick
The Downpatrick and County Down Railway gave a “lift” to an unusual train today.
The machine, known as a ‘tamper’ was acquired from Northern Ireland Railways and was delivered to Downpatrick after being craned onto a lorry at NIR’s Adelaide Depot in South Belfast.
Andy Cook, Infrastructure Manager with the DCDR, explains that this is an essential piece of maintenance equipment designed to pack stones underneath railway track.
“Over time trains moving over railway track cause gaps, known as ‘voids’, to form in the ballast that holds the line in position. On any railway where this has happened you can clearly see sleepers bouncing up and down as the wheels pass over them. When this happens passengers notice a distinct bounce.”
“From a technical viewpoint this movement wears out the track quicker, which may mean having to relay sections. So voids need to be filled in to give a firm base for each sleeper.”
He adds, “This machine will help prevent any such voids developing on our line, and stop the track from going out of alignment, as well as meaning a smoother ride for our passengers.”
Mr. Cook explained that the Downpatrick &Co. Down Railway is Ireland’s only full-size heritage line, and has laid and maintains nearly three miles of track by hand.
“It’s back-breaking work, as we’re using picks and shovels to do this work at the moment,” he says, “We’ve done an amazing job but if we’re to keep the line in shape or extend it at some stage our handful of volunteers would face a daunting task. While we’re a heritage railway committed to preserving our Victorian and Edwardian railway past, I don’t think we should rely on 19th Century track laying and maintenance techniques!” jokes Mr. Cook.
So the DCDR jumped at the chance when a mechanical tamping machine became available. An older type of machine had been withdrawn from service by NIR, and was lying in storage at their depot at Adelaide.
The Tamper is prepared for lifting at Adelaide Yard. One of the newly refurbished NIR 80 Class railcars can be seen on the right hand side.
Eugene O’Brien, Infrastructure Engineer with Translink said, “This piece of equipment which was used to maintain the track is now obsolete. As we no longer have any requirement for it we are pleased to be able to let the Downpatrick &Co. Down Railway have it.”
He explained that this machine packs ballast under an old type of old jointed track known as bull-head rail, which NIR no longer uses on any of its lines, but that the DCDR’s line is made entirely from this type of track.
It is expected to take around a year to refurbish and overhaul the tamper, and any diesel engine buffs or anyone with an interest in getting it going or helping out with the track at the DCDR should get in touch with us, or come and see us at the railway on any Wednesday or Saturday.