New South Down MP Chris Hazzard and MLA Emma Rogan visited the Downpatrick & County Down Railway last Saturday to see for themselves the exciting extension plans for the local heritage railway.
The elected representatives were taken out on a light engine as far is currently possible to go on the Ballydugan Extension of the railway, seeing the investment that the railway has put in to this line to get it shovel ready for when remaining land issues are resolved.
DCDR Chairman Robert Gardiner said, “We were delighted to host our new local representatives and to show them the behind-the-scenes work at the railway.”
“Mr Hazzard was of course Minister of Infrastructure at Stormont before his election as MP, in charge of both mainline and heritage railways, and was very interested in the potential of heritage railways as a tourism driver in the area,” Mr Gardiner adds.
When the railway was proposed in 1982 the intention was to restore the entire former Belfast & Co. Down Railway (BCDR) branch from Downpatrick to Ardglass in phases. However, in 1992 consultants from Down District Council visited the railway and made a series of recommendations that shaped the direction the railway would (literally) take. They recommended extending the line along the former Newcastle alignment to Ballydugan to encourage visitors to the Mill and the lake. They also recommended that the line should cross the Quoile River and Inch Abbey.
The Inch Abbey line was started in 1999 with the installation of the replacement Quoile Bridge and the completion of land negotiations for the necessary trackbed north of the Quoile, with the first passenger train ran to Inch Abbey in September 2004.
On the south side work had seen the line extended from the Loop Platform (which had been reached in 1987) to the grave of the Viking King Magnus Barefoot in 1995 and was continuing along the Newcastle line. However the DCDR only had access to about half of the line between the Loop and Ballydugan, but due to land acquisition issues has lain in semi-mothballed condition until these can be resolved.
Albert Hamilton, DCDR director with special responsibility for the Ballydugan Extension, also welcomed the visit.
“As a trackbed landowner myself along this route, it’s great to see such interest in our plans from the public and elected representative alike.”
He continues “Extension of the Downpatrick & County Down Railway south is I believe a core element in the future tourism offering of this part of Co Down”
Mr Gardiner adds, “Knowing Mr Hazzard’s interest in the development of Greenways we explained that many of the issues we’ve encountered as a pioneer in using former railway beds are common to developing these.”
“This is a very scenic stretch of the railway and we look forward to seeing it open to passenger trains in the not-too-distant future.”