Railway Launches Ambitious Track Renewal Project

Replacing the old Bay Platform turnout with concrete sleepers

Replacing the old Bay Platform turnout with concrete sleepers

For many people the New Year heralds a chance to be ‘out with the old but for the volunteers at Downpatrick and County Down Railway time their spring clean is a different proposition. They have decided to replace a large section of the track.

After nearly 3,000 people travelled on Santa’s Lapland Express, the heritage railway is taking advantage of the post-New Year gap in the DCDR’s timetable until St. Patrick’s Day to undertake some vital track renewals.

They intend to lay track which will allow two trains trains to enter and out of the station from either the Inch Abbey line or the Ballydugan line giving greater operational flexibility.

The railway nearly closed twice over Christmas due to high water levels, and a diesel gala event in October had to be rescheduled due to floods, so it is planning to raise the height of the trackbed to combat this.

Part of the track being lifted is among some of the first laid at Downpatrick by the fledgling heritage line in the 1980s. Old worn-out timber sleepers will also be replaced with new or concrete ones.

Slewing over the runround turnout to allow the new south line to come in parallel

Slewing over the runround turnout to allow the new south line to come in parallel

Project manager David Crone is overseeing the maintenance work, which commenced at the weekend, and he said there was still much work to be done. He has reiterated the DCDR’s appeal for volunteers especially anyone with any experience in construction.

The work undertaken last Saturday, according to project manager David Crone, included:

  • Redundant former shed access turnout fully removed.
  • South line broken and first panel of temporary track removed.
  • Switch section of former shed access turnout relaid on South line as start of West Crossover South turnout
  • Most of former Bay turnout removed and stored on now redundant bay line. Switch section and crossing removed but the closure timbers have still to be lifted.
  • Loop turnout facing point lock cranks disconnected and removed.
  • Both Daewoo and Atlas diggers were working.
  • New fence for the back of the station platform following removal of old bay line.

The next jobs are in order of priority:

  • Remove remainder of Bay turnout
  • Disconnect remainder of fishplates on North line so it can be lifted.
  • Excavate and grade trackbed with new stone ballast
  • Continue lifting the North line.

“Why not come down one Saturday and try it out?” said David. “You could find yourself with a very different hobby.”

2013 track plans

To see the extent of the new trackplan, click on the above picture

Hope for the Ballydugan Extension?

Ballydugan Mill, just one of the attractions at the end of the proposed extension

Ballydugan Mill, just one of the attractions at the end of the proposed extension

The DCDR’s long held ambition to complete its extension to Ballydugan could finally have received some welcome news.

Down District Council is considering vesting land so that the heritage railway line can be extended, linking the town with the hamlet of Ballydugan.

The extension of the Downpatrick and Co Down Railway (DCDR) has been in the pipeline for 20 years, first announced in 1992, following a recommendation from consultants working for Down District Council on proposals for regeneration projects for the town, but attempts by the DCDR to broker a deal with those who own part of the former trackbed have failed to reach any agreement.

In 2010 the council agreed to open discussions with two landowners in a bid to reach a deal to secure the land, but also decided that if it was unable to do a deal, it would exercise its vesting powers to acquire the land, subject to a suitable valuation and all necessary legal formalities being completed. One of the landowners has refused to sell, while the other has not responded to any council correspondence on the issue.

Ballydugan Lake at the end of the proposed extension

Ballydugan Lake at the end of the proposed extension

At the meeting, councillor Colin McGrath said Down Council supports the railway and has previously approved the plan to extend the railway lines.

“This particular request is about vesting the land they require and passing this issue to the Rates Working Party given the spend that’s involved,” he explained.“Down Council can vest land, but the railway cannot.“

Councillor Robert Burgess praised the work of railway officials and said he was in no doubt that the facility would continue to grow in popularity and produce an economic benefit for Downpatrick and the surrounding area.

Councillors John Doris, Garth Craig and Mickey Coogan also agreed to refer the request to vest the land to the Rates Working Party, with committee members informed the issue will be dealt with a Lands Tribunal hearing.

DCDR spokesman Robert Gardiner said: “Twenty years is a long time to try and bring a project to fruition, but the reason we haven’t given up on it is because our passengers keep telling us they want it and asking when it’s going to happen,” he said.

Some young Ballydugan residents enjoying the delights of the area

Some young Ballydugan residents enjoying the delights of the area

“We really hoped an amicable solution could’ve and indeed still hope it can be found to bring the railway back to Ballydugan”, he says.

The land was sold off in the 1950s by the Ulster Transport Authority after much of the railway system was dismantled. In recent years DCDR’s volunteers have started rebuilding the line on the land that the group access to.

“Railway trackbeds can’t be used for anything else other than cycleways and walkways,” Mr Gardiner said. In the meantime, DCDR has extended a spur to Inch Abbey but say it has reached the “end of the line” there, as it has veered off the original line to Crossgar.

“But at Ballydugan,” he says, “there’s a fantastic lake down there, coupled with Holymount Forest, plus the Lakeside Inn and Ballydugan Mill, and we are very keen to work with these local businesses and the local residents”

Ballydugan Mill owner Noel Killen said the extension would be to everybody’s benefit.

He said: “The land is totally derelict and is overgrown and steep and it’s absolutely of no value to anybody.”