In BBC Radio Ulster’s “Stories in Sound” series this week, John Bennett investigated the story of the 1945 Ballymacarrett railway disaster on the old Belfast & County Down Railway in “An Accident Waiting to Happen”.
John Bennett learns how a series of errors and poor decisions, dating back many years, led to the worst accident on Ireland’s railways since 1889, with the deaths of 22 passengers. The accident essentially sealed its fate as a private company and led to the nationalisation of Northern Ireland’s rail network and the closure of the Belfast-Newcastle main line.
The episode was partly recorded at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway on board the sister carriage to Railmotor No. 3 which was involved in the accident.
As well as DCDR curator Neil Hamilton, John heard from survivors, spoke to family members left behind and learned how railway safety has been transformed in the intervening years.
Catch up with the episode for the next 30 days here:
Or download the programme as a podcast here:
Railway volunteers at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway were celebrating a major milestone this weekend in a large scale track renewal at the town’s heritage railway station, as they take advantage of the winter break to carry out some essential work.
The entire length of track that runs along the station platform has been entirely removed and completely replaced in a rush against time to be ready for St. Patrick’s Day, when the steam train will once again be used as part of the town’s “Park and Ride” services for the carnival and celebrations.
DCDR Chief Civil Engineer, David Crone, explained the size of the project, “The track in the station was the only remaining wooden sleepered track left on the system, and it was beginning to show it’s age.”
Mr Crone continues, “It’s been a long time since Translink or Irish Rail have used large sections of wooden track and supplies of good quality sleepers are hard to obtain in Northern Ireland so we are replacing them with concrete ones, which will make maintenance in the future a lot easier.”
He adds that passengers will notice a difference with this work, “One of the key goals in this project is to lower the height of the step from the platform into the train, making it much easier for passengers of limited mobility to board.
“The track was 5 inches too high along most of the platform face making it more difficult for passengers entering and leaving trains so we needed to address this problem as well.”
So far, work has seen all the old wooden timbers removed, old ballast stone removed and new ballast added– and volunteers are now moving on to replacing the track with concrete sleepers which originally came from the Belfast-Antrim “Bleach Green Line”, which were recovered when the line was reopened after being “mothballed” for over two decades.
Work has seen volunteers working three days during the week as well as weekends to complete the mammoth operation – which also required moving the passenger and buffet trains out of the way to access the track – not an easy task Mr Crone says when the station yard is comparatively small to work in.
David Crone explains, “Now that all the track on the platform face is laid, we are going to tackle the second line, the passing loop, which our visitors will know as the line the locomotives uses to run round the train on running days. Here we need to replace two sections of wooden track and addition of a new safety feature known as a trap point”.
The Downpatrick & County Down Railway is a volunteer run not-for-profit charity, and is always on the lookout for new recruits – if you have a passion for mucking in with heritage, check out the Get Involved section of our website or our Facebook page and maybe you’ll find yourself a new hobby?