St Patrick’s Day 2019

St Patrick’s Day 2019

St Patrick’s Day is the first chance you have in 2019 to travel in style on one of our heritage trains – and this year we are rolling out a real treat and using our beautiful vintage carriages for you to enjoy.

Advance ticketing is available for these events – visit our secure online ticket office now to buy your tickets!

The town is hosting the usual St Patrick’s Day parade, which starts around 1pm in the town centre – note the earlier start this year! There’s a load of activities going on around the town as well, making it a great day out for everyone. We’ll be running steam and diesel trains throughout the afternoon, and our museum, carriage gallery and other attractions will be open as usual.

We will be running trains from Inch Abbey to Downpatrick from around 11:30am, with the last return train departing from Downpatrick at 4pm. Inch Abbey can be a very useful park & ride facility to get you into the town without having to struggle with the road closures.

You can buy your tickets in advance to avoid the queues, and travel on any train you like. You can also buy your tickets when you arrive at our Inch Abbey and Downpatrick stations.

Our standard fares will apply to both these days:
Adults: £7.50
Children 4+: £5.50
Children under 4: Free
Concessions: £6.50
Family (2 adults + up to 3 kids): £22

As usual, you can take more than one train trip if you wish, and you are welcome to spend as long as you want exploring the railway, station and museum.

For more information:
How to find our station in Downpatrick

Events for 2019 confirmed – buy tickets and gift vouchers now!

Events for 2019 confirmed – buy tickets and gift vouchers now!

For those of you who like to plan ahead, we’ve confirmed our running days for 2019, and they are now all available to see on the Events Page of our website.

If you’re even more organised than that, you can even book tickets for most of our 2019 events now if you use our online ticket office. Bookings are now open for:

  • St Patrick’s Day
  • Easter Eggspress
  • May Public Holidays
  • Summer Steam trains, including the Bank Holiday weekend in August
  • New Year Mince Pie trains

You can also add Footplate Experiences to any booking (except Halloween and Christmas trains) for the whole year, so you can pick the date closest to a loved one’s birthday right now, for that special treat. Or treat yourself!

Bookings for Halloween and Christmas are not yet available, as we haven’t received confirmation from Merlin the Wizard and Santa Claus yet. If you want to be sure not to miss out on those, then join our mailing list today.

There may be one or two extra events and special days that get added later in the year, so keep an eye on our website and Facebook page.

Gift Vouchers

By popular demand, we have also added gift vouchers to our ticketing system this year. You can purchase a gift voucher for any of our events all year – including Halloween and Christmas, as well as footplate rides, add your own special message and have it emailed directly to your recipient.

They can then use the gift code and apply it to their own order for tickets for events any time in 2019.

General gift vouchers can be purchased for our ‘regular’ events throughout the year (including the footplate experiences), and you can also purchase specific vouchers for the Easter Eggspress, Halloween Spooky Trains and Lapland Express right now as well.

All you need to do is choose the value of gift voucher you want to buy, fill in the name and email address of your recipient, and add your own message. Check out as usual and pay for the tickets, and your friend or loved one will receive a lovely surprise in their email!

If you need any help with this, then please contact us.

New Year Trains at Downpatrick Railway Offer Turkey-free day out

New Year Trains at Downpatrick Railway Offer Turkey-free day out

Fed up with turkey and ham leftovers?  Selection boxes all empty? Nothing to do after Christmas, knowing that the kids will be bored rigid before going back to school?

Well on Saturday 29th December the Downpatrick & County Down Railway is offering something a little bit different to keep the Holiday Blues away, with their New Year Diesel Specials.

You can pay for your tickets in advance online or pay on arrival at the station.

Railway chairman Robert Gardiner says, “Although Santa is gone, mums and dads everywhere are still looking for something to do with the kids instead of watching endless repeats on the television.”

“Downpatrick & County Down Railway is your guaranteed sanctuary from turkey sandwiches,” jokes Mr. Gardiner.

The locomotive gracing the rails will be ‘Baby GM’ 141 class locomotive No. 146, a Yankee engine built by General Motors in Illinois in 1962.

Mr Gardiner says “This American baby boomer is one of the last remaining examples of a class that saw service all over Ireland, including the famous ‘Derry Road’ line from Portadown to Dungannon, Omagh and Strabane, giving that line a short-lived taste of the future before its controversial and premature closure in 1965.

“We also offering Footplate Passes for £20 a trip on board this locomotive that typified Irish branch line trains for decades,” he adds.

Doors open at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway 12:30pm on Saturday, 29th December, and normal train fares apply at £7.00 adults, £5.00 children, and senior citizens/other concessions are £6.00.

With New Year just around the corner, it’s also the perfect time to make a New Year’s resolution, get active, and join Ireland’s only full-size heritage railway. With the appropriate training you could end up as a train driver or guard, or work on the platforms looking after the public. If that’s not your cup of tea, then you could try a hand at carriage restoration, or working on the tracks to repair and improve the railway.

If you want to volunteer, then check out the website or just go along and talk to any railway volunteer during your visit and they’ll point you in the right direction.

Now on sale! Santa Steam Train tickets for the Lapland Express

Now on sale! Santa Steam Train tickets for the Lapland Express

Tickets for our annual Santa trains, The Lapland Express, are on sale – and are selling fast, so hurry if you want to make sure you don’t miss out. This year’s Lapland Express Santa trains are running on the following dates:

  • Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd December
  • Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th December
  • Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th December
  • Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd December

For full details, see our special Lapland Express webpage here. or go straight to our online ticket office and buy your tickets right now.

DCDR Recognised At Museum Accreditation Awards

DCDR Recognised At Museum Accreditation Awards

The Downpatrick and County Down Railway was one of 17 local museums including that have been recognised at an awards ceremony for museums who have successfully maintained their Full Accreditation status.

The Accreditation Scheme is the UK standard for museums and sets nationally agreed standards for good practice and a baseline quality standard that helps guide museums to be the best they can be.

Group photo of local museum representatives and NIMC members, including staff and volunteers from museums awarded Full Accreditation in 2018.

Group photo of local museum representatives and NIMC members, including staff and volunteers from museums awarded Full Accreditation in 2018.

Neil Hamilton, Curator at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway said “Accreditation is extremely important as it assures potential donors of artefacts that they will be conserved to universal bench marked standards and made available for future generations to appreciate.”

He added,  “It is also a conspicuous high quality standard that all the volunteers have worked so hard to achieve and they should be extremely proud of their achievement.”

Tríona White Hamilton, Accreditation Adviser and Assessor at Northern Ireland Museums Council said “We are delighted that our local museums’ commitment to governance, collections care and visitor experience has ensured their maintenance of the Accreditation Standard.  We hope that this will enable the continued development of these museums as valued resources for both visitors and the local community. Accreditation is a national standard which gives confidence to all stakeholders.”

Museums are required to submit their Accreditation return applications every 3 years to ensure they are continuing to maintain the standard.

The Awards ceremony was held on Tuesday 18th September at the Naughton Gallery at Queen’s University. It was attended by the local museum sector and NIMC members. Allison Cosgrove, Head of Museums and Libraries at Department of Communities and Sinéad McCartan, Director of Northern Ireland Museums Council presented the museums with their Accreditation certificates on the day.

Although Accreditation is a national standard, it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ model. The expectations vary for museums of different types, sizes and scopes. There are currently just under 1,800 museums participating in the scheme across the UK. In Northern Ireland there are 43 Accredited Museums; 20 Local Authority Museums; 13 Independent Museums; 7 National Trust museums; 3 National Museums.

European Heritage Open Days 2018 – Step Back to the Rail Victorian Time!

European Heritage Open Days 2018 – Step Back to the Rail Victorian Time!

There’s still time to catch the train this weekend at the Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway before the last summer train pulls out of the station.

The Railway is running its last trips to Inch Abbey this weekend, Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th September, as part of the European Heritage Open Days, and in the spirit of Province-wide scheme there will be guided tours on request of the lesser seen parts of the railway site not normally accessible to the public, as well as the chance to sample the atmosphere of rail travel at its most traditional.

After this weekend the next time the train will be out will be for the Halloween Ghost Trains at the end of the October, so this will be the last opportunity people will have to let the train take the strain before it is infested with ghosts and ghouls at that spooky time of the year.

Railway chairman Robert Gardiner says that this year passengers are in for a real Victorian treat.

“As part of the spirit of the European Heritage Open Days, where you get access to lesser known parts of our heritage, we are running three beautifully restored Victorian and Edwardian carriages normally kept on display in our Carriage Gallery.

The BCDR Railmotor carriage (No. 72) will be in public service for the first time, along with BCDR composite carriage No. 148

The three railway carriages operating all have a special history, as well as a connection to the ill-fated liner – Titanic. Two come from the Belfast & County Down Railway, which used to operate between Belfast and Newcastle via Downpatrick, and the Great Southern & Western Railway – and all three have been restored from wrecks – two of which were found in fields being used as hen houses.

Mr Gardiner explains, “The Belfast & County Down Railway were neighbours and had a very close working relationship.

“Not only was Thomas Andrews’ father chairman of the Belfast & County Down Railway, but the busy commuter trains of the BCDR brought in thousands of shipyard workers everyday to work on Olympic and Titanic, as well as all the other ships,” he says.

He continues, “We have preserved some of those carriages and people will be able to get up close to see how shipyard workers would have travelled to Harland & Wolff, and sit in their seats.”

Mr Gardiner goes on to say, “The Titanic connection doesn’t end there, visitors will be able to board a 1902-vintage third-class carriage from the Great Southern & Western Railway, and see one of their engines, which served the port of Queenstown.

Ride in the cab of a G class diesel locomotive – free of charge!

“So not only do you get the experience of the shipyard worker, you will also be able to experience how an emigrant travelled to meet the doomed liner

“And as part of the European Heritage Open Days experience, we’re offering you the chance to travel in the cab of a diesel locomotive with the driver, for a short trip down our South Line, for a unique view of our railway. Places on this will be limited, so be sure to ask our volunteers when you arrive.”

And if this wasn’t enough of a draw, the recently arrived 80 Class “Thumper” railcar will be going on public display inside the DCDR’s Carriage Gallery for the first time, where visitors can see the internal work that has been ongoing to restore the vehicle to operational condition.

80 class power car No. 69 in the Carriage Gallery at DCDR

80 class power car No. 69 in the Carriage Gallery at DCDR

Mr. Gardiner says “A trip to the station is also much more than boarding the train, with our museum and Carriage Gallery visitor centre we bring the golden age of the railway vividly to life and you can find out what impact the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from the smallest such as a ticket in the upstairs exhibition, or the largest such as lovingly restored railway carriages in the Carriage Gallery and the stark contrast of the wrecks these vehicles once were when rescued.

For the younger train fans, children can enjoy their own “Kids’ Station” in the Gallery, and dress up as a train driver or guard, or can get to control a model railway layout.

From 1pm to 4pm, the steam train will run to Inch Abbey, and visitors can disembark and take a short walk up to Inch Abbey. These extensive remains are of a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1180 by John de Courcy, who led the 1177 Anglo-Norman invasion of East Ulster, and are the reputed site for where the story of St Patrick chasing the snakes out of Ireland was first recorded by the monks.  And on Saturday 8th there is a guided walk of the ruins with Cistercian Brother Robert as he marks the Hours in the tranquil beauty of this serene Medieval abbey.

Behind the scenes tours of our workshop

Mr Gardiner continues “You can also visit the museum in the station building which looks at the impact that the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from tickets to signals, and a gift shop you can visit before you leave.”

Also open to the public is the lovingly restored Bundoran Junction signal cabin, now taking pride of place at Downpatrick Station rechristened ‘Downpatrick East’, where you can imagine yourself as the signalman controlling the trains and learning about the vital role signalling had on our railways – and is the only genuine vintage signal cabin that is also wheelchair accessible.

Refreshments are also served in the newly entered-service 1980s “Cafe Carriage” parked at Inch Abbey Station where you can wait to make the return journey to Downpatrick, which is fully accessible for wheelchair users.

Train fares, which are separate to free access to the station and museum, cost £7.00 adults, children £5.00, and £6.00 senior citizens, whilst a family ticket costs £20 and children aged three years old or below go free. Tickets provide all-day access to the steam trains, the museum, signal cabin and model railway. You can buy tickets on the day, or purchase in advance at our online ticket office.

Steam & Diesel Delight at Downpatrick & County Down Railway

Steam & Diesel Delight at Downpatrick & County Down Railway

Heritage diesel traction has its turn in the limelight this August Bank Holiday weekend, as the Downpatrick & County Down Railway turns over its passenger trains to the Americans on Sunday 26th August, with the steam trains charging into the holiday spirit on Saturday 25th and Monday 27th August.

Railway Chairman, Robert Gardiner said, “This is a chance to experience classic Irish 1930s and 1960s steam and diesel locomotives in action on a passenger train this year!”

Mr Gardiner adds, “We are delighted to announce that our yankee engine, ‘Baby GM’ 141 class locomotive No. 146, built by General Motors in Illinois, will be providing a fantastic rumble on this Bank Holiday special service”

The distinctive black and orange locomotive entered traffic with Coras Iompair Éireann (CIÉ), the Irish state-owned transport company in on 14th December 1962 and withdrawn on 5th March 2010 and saw widespread service across Ireland, including on cross-border Enterprise services to Belfast and lines now closed to Omagh.

Mr Gardiner says “This American baby boomer is one of the last remaining examples of a class that saw service all over Ireland, including the Great Northern Railway’s famous ‘Derry Road’ from Portadown to Dungannon, Omagh and Strabane, giving that line a short-lived taste of the future before it controversially and prematurely closure in 1965.”

A limited number of cab ride passes are available for the day, priced £20 for one return journey. These are now available online as well as at the ticket office. Visitors must have a reasonable level of fitness to climb into the cab of a diesel locomotive.

Tickets are available to purchase online, or available from the ticket office on the day. You can travel up and down on as many passenger trains as you want with your tickets. Adults cost £7.00, with under 18s costing £5.00 and concessions at £6.00, with a family for two adults and up to three children at only £20. Children aged three and under travel free.

Mr. Gardiner says “A trip to the station is also much more than boarding the train, with our museum and Carriage Gallery visitor centre we bring the golden age of the railway vividly to life and you can find out what impact the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from the smallest such as a ticket in the upstairs exhibition, or the largest such as lovingly restored railway carriages in the Carriage Gallery and the stark contrast of the wrecks these vehicles once were when rescued.

For the younger train fans, children can enjoy their own “Kids’ Station” in the Gallery, and dress up as a train driver or guard, or can get to drive Thomas the Tank Engine on a model railway – or will the big kids want a go too?”

Also open to the public at the station is the lovingly restored Bundoran Junction signal cabin, taking pride of place at Downpatrick Station rechristened ‘Downpatrick East’, where you can imagine yourself as the signalman controlling the trains and learning about the vital role signalling had on the railways and is the only genuine vintage signal cabin that is also wheelchair accessible.

The Downpatrick & County Down Railway’s ‘Summer Steam’ season also continues every weekend throughout August and the first two September weekends.

Fire risk means diesel stands in for steam!

Fire risk means diesel stands in for steam!

Like many heritage railway operators across the UK & Ireland, due to the continued fire risk caused by the very hot and dry weather, we have to run diesel trains instead of steam to reduce the risk of us starting fires.

The weather has been so dry and hot, there’s a high risk of any spark from a steam locomotive setting the grass alight and causing a serious fire, so we have swapped the steam engine for a diesel one this weekend again, for Sunday 8th July.

Remember to check our opening dates before you travel to Downpatrick – we aren’t open this Saturday, but we are open every Saturday and Sunday from the 14th of July through to the end of our summer season. You can see the dates here.

As well as the fun of a 1960s diesel locomotive at the front of your train, all the usual attractions will be open – you can read more about this here.  And a cab ride in the diesel loco is a great treat for the Big Kid in all of us. You can now book cab experiences online right now via our ticket office.

Summer Steam pulls into Downpatrick

Summer Steam pulls into Downpatrick

See our opening dates here – please check before you travel to Downpatrick!

This summer, visitors to County Down can relive the elegance of by-gone railway travel as a season of ‘Summer Steam’ steam trains chuffing their way through the picturesque County Down countryside, along nearly two miles of restored track, begins this July.

And over the last thirty years a small group of volunteers in Downpatrick have painstakingly rebuilt two miles of the line as Ireland’s only full-size working heritage railway, running from the town centre out through St. Patrick’s Country to the ruins of the 12th Century Cistercian Inch Abbey, and every weekend visitors will be able to travel back in time to the golden age of trains.

Railway Chairman Robert Gardiner said that Inch Abbey is a popular destination with train passengers.

“People who have lived in Downpatrick all their lives have travelled on our trains and told us that they were sorry that they’d never been to the Abbey and didn’t realise how beautiful it and this area of the Quoile River was,” he says, “So if the sun’s back out, hop on board and bring a picnic with you and catch one of the later trains back?”

Mr. Gardiner added, “Or if the rainclouds linger, you’re always undercover inside a railway carriage – and hop about our buffet carriage to stop the sarnies getting soggy!”

Hauling the trains will be the “Sugarpuff” engine, or Orenstein & Koppel built steam locomotive No. 1, which used to haul wagons of sugarbeet during her working life for Cómhlucht Siúicre Éireann, the Irish Sugar Company. Her sister locomotive No. 3 is coming back into service this year after a long restoration, so you might get lucky and see her too!

You could also see a classic 1960s diesel locomotive helping out, with ex-Irish Rail diesel locomotive No. 146 providing a fantastic rumble at the start and end of each day, as well as hauling all trains on Sunday, August 26th, our now traditional annual summer diesel day. Kids need to be sure to wave at the driver, and get him to blow the horn for you!

Teas, coffees, cool drinks, buns, biccies and chocolate bars are served all day onboard a 1950s buffet carriage parked at Inch Abbey station.

Mr. Gardiner says “A trip to the station is also much more than boarding the train, with our museum and ‘Carriage Gallery’ visitor centre we bring the golden age of the railway vividly to life and you can find out what impact the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from the smallest such as a ticket in the upstairs exhibition, or the largest such as lovingly restored railway carriages in the Carriage Gallery and the stark contrast of the wrecks these vehicles once were when rescued. You can explore the inside of some of the lovingly restored carriages, or climb into the cab of a big diesel locomotive and imagine the life of a drive in the 1950s and 60s.

For the younger train fans, children can enjoy their own “Kids’ Station” in the Gallery, and dress up as a train driver or guard, or have a go driving Thomas the Tank Engine on our model railway – or will the ‘big kids’ want to have a go too?”

You can also visit the lovingly restored Bundoran Junction signal cabin, now taking pride of place at Downpatrick Station rechristened ‘Downpatrick East’, where you can imagine yourself as the signalman controlling the trains and learning about the vital role signalling had on our railways.

For those a little more adventurous, and perhaps live out a childhood dream, you can buy a Footplate Pass for just £20 and get to travel up in the locomotive cab with the driver – you can now book these in advance for a special birthday treat.

Doors open to the public at 1pm each open day, with final trains departing at 4pm and doors closing at 5pm. Tickets cost adults £7.00 return, £5 for children, and £5.50 for senior citizens and other concessions. Children aged three years old or younger can travel free of charge. A family ticket costs £20 for two adults and up to three kids. You can book all tickets online for convenience, including the footplate passes.

You cold also take out membership and join the DCDR Society and get free travel for the entire year, as well as get regular updates on what’s happening at Northern Ireland’s steam centre – or maybe you’d like to volunteer, and one day you could be driving the trains, being a station master, or laying the tracks yourself!

Summer trains start running on Sunday 1st and Sunday 8th July, and then run every Saturday and Sunday from July 14th through to 9th September. The railway also opens on the Bank Holiday Monday, August 27th. Please check the dates carefully before you travel.

Race for the Train at the DownTime Festival

Race for the Train at the DownTime Festival

Steam trains are running at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway on the weekend of 16th and 17th June as part of the new DownTime festival of horse racing, music and culture being held across the Downpatrick area.

To enter into the spirit of fun, there’s a special offer for kids to get in free too. “We want kids to get in the saddle and gallop on down,” says DCDR Chairman Robert Gardiner, “so if they bring something ‘horsey’ with them – it doesn’t matter what, it can be clothing with pictures on it, some actual horse riding gear, a stuffed toy, or even a My Little Pony – they get free admission!”

The train is being hauled by the railway’s own stallion of the rails, a ‘Black Beauty’ of the steam variety. Orenstein & Koppel steam locomotive No. 1, is a German-built locomotive that hauled wagons filled with that staple favourite of horses, sugar beet, during her working life in factories across Ireland.

For a cultural connection, you can visit the historic 12th Century Cistercian monastery at Inch Abbey – perhaps taking a picnic out with you to enjoy some chilled time on the banks of the River Quoile.

Teas, coffees, cold drinks, biccies and buns at highly competitive rates will also be served all afternoon onboard the DCDR’s buffet carriage parked at Inch Abbey station; you can also drive to our Inch Abbey station and catch the train from there if you wish.

“A trip to the station museum and the Carriage Gallery visitor centre brings the golden age of the railway vividly to life,and celebrate the relationship between the railways and racing,” says Mr Gardiner.

He explains this relationship, “The Chief Executive of the Irish National Stud, John Osborne, noted in an episode of ‘Great British Railway Journeys Goes to Ireland’, that “the train would have been the artery of horse racing. A lot of the Irish racecourses not coincidentally evolved close to mainline railways. We take for granted today how easy it is to ship horses twice around the globe now, but back then the racehorses travelled by train as well.”

Whilst racing at Downpatrick predated the coming of the railways, the arrival of the railway in the town in 1858 meant a similar relationship soon developed. Originally horses would have been carried to Downpatrick station in special railway horseboxes, and horses and racegoers would then walk out along the Ballydugan Road to the racecourse.

The opening of the BCDR’s branch line to Ardglass in 1892 meant that a halt closer to the racecourse could be built. The BCDR printed special tickets for racedays, and special trains being laid on to connect with Dublin trains in Belfast. It was a massive logistical undertaking for the BCDR. This all ended, of course, when the line closed in 1950.

Mr Gardiner adds, “You can look at the impact that the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from the smallest such as a ticket in the upstairs exhibition, or the largest such as lovingly restored railway carriages in the Carriage Gallery and the stark contrast of the wrecks these vehicles once were when rescued.

“For the younger train fans, children can enjoy their own ‘Kids’ Station’ in the Gallery, and dress up as a train driver or guard and climb on board the cab of a locomotive or carriage for their photograph to be taken, or can get to drive Thomas the Tank Engine on a model railway – ‘big kids’ might even get a go too.”

For those a little more adventurous, and perhaps live out a childhood dream, you can buy a ‘Footplate Pass’ for just £20 and get to travel up in the locomotive cab with the driver – this would be a great Father’s Day treat for the Sunday! A reasonable level of fitness is required for this experience, and you need to be aged 18 or older.

Trains run at the from 1pm to 4pm, with all-day access tickets costing: adults £7.00, £5.00 children and £6.00 senior citizens. Kids aged 3 or under travel free, as does any other child up to age 16 who can bring a horsey item with them! A family ticket costs £20, which covers 2 adults and up to three kids.

Mr Gardiner adds, “While you’re there, you can join the DCDR Society and get free travel all year, as well as get regular updates on what’s happening at Northern Ireland’s steam centre and have the opportunity to volunteer – who knows, you might end up driving the steam trains yourself in a few years’ time!”

You can purchase your tickets when you arrive, or beat the queues and buy them online at our online ticket office now.