Trains this weekend – 9-10 December – SNOWMAGEDDON!

Trains this weekend – 9-10 December – SNOWMAGEDDON!

We’re getting a lot of queries about our Lapland Express Santa train operations this weekend – Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th December.

Rest assured that we intend to run all trains this weekend, our crews are used to the cold and it takes more than a bit of snow to put them off. We can’t promise that everything will run perfectly to the exact minute, but we do intend to run all trains.

Depending on how far you are travelling, you may want to leave a little extra time for your journey – and be sure to wrap up extra warm, as this is an outdoor event.

Please watch our Facebook page for any updates. If the situation changes we will post there.

Special Delivery for the Downpatrick & County Down Railway

Special Delivery for the Downpatrick & County Down Railway

The Downpatrick & County Down Railway has signed for a large consignment with a former Travelling Post Office, or TPO, being delivered to the heritage railway.

The vehicle has been moved into the DCDR workshops where some remedial work will take place to prepare it for display in the DCDR’s Carriage Gallery for visitors to explore and learn the history of the postal service and its connection to the railways.

Museum curator, Neil Hamilton, explained what a TPO is:

Inside the TPO, before cleaning and repairs are carried out.

Inside the TPO, before cleaning and repairs are carried out.

“A TPO is essentially what the name says – it’s a specialised railway vehicle where mail is sorted en route to its destination. The DCDR is delighted to be able to display this unique piece of railway heritage in our viewing gallery.”

The first train to carry post was in 1830 when the General Post Office (GPO) signed an agreement with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and soon the Post Office was quick to see that railways would be very useful for transporting mail, with Westminster passing the Railways (Conveyance of Mails) Act of 1838 which required railway companies to carry mail, by ordinary or special trains, as required by the Postmaster General.

By 1855, the Post Office started to use special sorting carriages or Travelling Post Offices on trains. Post Office staff would work on sorting the letters as the train travelled on its way and mail bags were dropped off and collected as the trains sped to their destinations.

TPO 2977 in the work shed at Downpatrick

TPO 2977 in the work shed at Downpatrick

Trains had a special net for catching mail bags that were hung out for collection on the route and a similar net would catch the sorted bags for the different towns and villages on the way. The Travelling Post Office was a great system and served the country for nearly one hundred and fifty years delivering many millions of letters. It helped to speed up the mail and also to develop rural towns as business owners were able to send and receive correspondence and packages more easily.

Ireland’s railway companies operated their own Travelling Post Offices, and with the creation of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State nearly a hundred year ago, responsibility for the TPOs passed to the new Department of Posts and Telegraphs in the south, later becoming An Post in 1983.

Neil Hamilton, DCDR Curator (left) with Stephen Ferguson from An Post (right)

Neil Hamilton, DCDR Curator (left) with Stephen Ferguson from An Post (right), testing out the letter box on TPO 2977

Neil Hamilton pointed out that “Irish TPOs were equipped with letter boxes on either side of the carriage so that mail could be posted whilst the train was stopped at a station on route. A notice under the post boxes declared that an additional half pence stamp was required for availing of this privilage! Today, the post-marks from TPOs are highly valued by stamp collectors”.

The infamous Great Train Robbery of 1963 in England took place with the hijacking of a TPO.

While TPO use in Great Britain continued until 2004, by the 1990s only two TPO routes were still operated in Ireland by Irish Rail and An Post, to Galway and Cork, which were finally axed in 1994 with mail being moved solely by road.

Stephen Ferguson, Assistant Secretary Museum Curator of An Post, said, “I am delighted that our Travelling Post Office carriage, number 2977, has found a new home in the ancient town of Downpatrick.

DCDR volunteer Innis Mennie starts work on cleaning and polishing the outside of the TPO.

DCDR volunteer Innis Mennie starts work on cleaning and polishing the outside of the TPO.

“Since we moved mail transport to road back in 1994, we have been trying to find a suitable place where our carriage might be publicly displayed and appreciated. Various ideas were explored over the years but it was only when I got in touch with Neil Hamilton and his colleagues at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway that I felt we were on the right track.”

He adds “By way of this long-term loan, An Post and the D&CDR will have the opportunity to bring before a wider audience the historic connections that have existed between the Post Office and the railways for well over a century and half.

Mr Ferguson continues, “At a time when both the postal and railway services face huge competitive challenges, it is important to recognise the vital contribution made over many generations by postal workers and railwaymen to the development and maintenance of communications in Ireland.

“There is a wealth of service, tradition and pride in these great institutions and I am happy that our TPO will be cherished by the committed people involved with the D&CDR. I am grateful for the help we have received from Irish Rail in organising the move from Dublin to Downpatrick and look forward now to working with Neil Hamilton and the team here to tell what is the fascinating story of the links between mails and rails.”

 

Clean and shiny! One side of the TPO after a day of cleaning in the workshed at Downpatrick.

Clean and shiny! One side of the TPO after a day of cleaning in the work shed at Downpatrick.

Halloween Scream Trains 2017- tickets are now on sale!

Halloween Scream Trains 2017- tickets are now on sale!

Saturday 28th, Sunday 29th and Tuesday 31st October, 4pm-7pm

Book your Halloween tickets now – go to our online ticket office!

Travel on our Scream Train to the haunted graveyard to meet the wicked witch and her friends, then onward to visit Merlin in his haunted cavern. Gift bags for the kids and face painting are included!

Trains depart at: 16:00, 16:45, 17:30, 18:15 and 19:00 from our station in Downpatrick.

Advanced booking is recommended! Some tickets will be on sale on the night, but priority will be given to people who have booked in advance to beat the queues.

Want to know more about our Halloween Trains? Read on…

Dress up for your visit to the haunted graveyard

Dress up for your visit to the haunted graveyard

There’s something strange happening at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway this Halloween. There’s ghosts on the platforms and ghouls on the train, it can only be the return of the Phantom Flyer for the railway’s Halloween Ghost Trains!

“Anyone who visits on Halloween weekend is in for a double treat,” says Railway spooksperson, Robert Gardiner.

He explains, “As well as travelling on a ghostly steam train, children who dare to alight at the Forbidden Platform, as well as any brave grown-ups, will be granted an audience with the Great Wizard in his own haunted Grotto train.

“If those who dare to enter Merlin’s domain pass his tests, then the children will receive a mystical gift.”

Mr. Gardiner adds, “And of course, why not try to turn the tables and scare Merlin by coming in ghostly fancy dress yourself?”

Spooky goings-on at the haunted graveyard

Spooky goings-on at the haunted graveyard

To add a really scary touch visitors could turn evil with some ghoulish facepainting as well.

So are you brave enough to visit a Haunted Viking Graveyard on Halloween night?  The train will be stopping at the grave of King Magnus Barefoot on its travels and be warned as ghoulish things rise out of the ground before your eyes!

The Phantom Flyer will be dearly departing on Halloween weekend – Saturday 28th, Sunday 29th and Tuesday 31st October at the Witching Hour from 4pm-7pm for all Three Knights (or nights). Refreshments will be served on board a buffet carriage at the Loop Platform, and car parking is free.

On Halloween Night there will also be a fireworks display after the last train in Downpatrick Town Centre just down from the station.

Mr. Gardiner also reminds people about autumn weather, “Don’t forget that this is an outdoor event, so please remember to wrap up well.”

Ticket prices

Beware the evil guard!

Beware the evil guard!

Tickets can be booked now via our online ticket office and cost £8.50 for Ghoulish Grownups and Little Monsters (children aged 4-15), £5.50 for Tiny Terrors (children aged 0-3) and Spooky Seniors (children’s ticket includes visit to Merlin and a gift bag as well as the train fare). Infants who do not require a goody bag can travel free of charge.

Tickets will also be available at the station on the night, but priority is given to people with advanced bookings. Book yours now to avoid disappointment!

10% discount is available to groups of 10 or more paying visitors. To take advantage of this, add Group Adult, Group Child or Group Concession tickets to your order instead of the ordinary ones.

And also keep an eye out for Santa’s visit to the railway Christmas – tickets are available at our online ticket office now.

 

European Heritage Open Days – 9th & 10th September

European Heritage Open Days – 9th & 10th September

LAST CHANCE TO CATCH THE TRAIN

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.

Dress up and explore vintage trains in our gallery - free of charge this weekend!

Dress up and explore vintage trains in our gallery – free of charge this weekend!

The Railway is running its last trips to Inch Abbey this weekend, Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th 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 ghouls and ghosts at that spooky time of the year.

Railway chairman Robert Gardiner says “As part of the European Heritage Open Days, we’re offering free access to our Carriage Gallery and workshop viewing area, where you can view vintage rolling stock under restoration and explore our unique collection of old railway carriages and locomotives.

The cab of a G class locomotive

Experience the driver’s life in the cab of a locomotive on our South Line.

You can even climb into the cab of an old locomotive and imagine the world of the driver, or explore inside some of the old carriages like passengers of old.”

He adds “As an extra special treat, 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.”

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.”

Explore the ruins of Inch Abbey

Explore the ruins of Inch Abbey

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.

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.”

The new Downpatrick East signal cabin

The new Downpatrick East signal cabin

Also open to the public for the first time this year 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 a 1950s ‘buffet carriage’ parked at Inch Abbey Station where you can wait to make the return journey to Downpatrick.

Train fares, which are separate to the free access to the station and museum, cost £6.00 adults, children £4.50, and £5.50 senior citizens, whilst a family ticket costs £18 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.

New MP and MLA Visit DCDR

New MP and MLA Visit DCDR

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.

Pictured beside our steam engine - Emma Rogan MLA, Robert Gardiner (DCDR Chairman), Albert Hamilton (DCDR Board member), Chris Hazzard MP.

Pictured beside our steam engine – Emma Rogan MLA, Robert Gardiner (DCDR Chairman), Albert Hamilton (DCDR Board member), Chris Hazzard MP.

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.

At the end of the line, the party inspects the existing track, which ends approx 1km from the destination of Ballydugan.

At the end of the line, the party inspects the existing track, which ends approx 1km from the destination of Ballydugan.

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.

The Irish Traction Group's G class loco G617 sits at the end of the South Line, amid the beautiful County Down countryside.

The Irish Traction Group’s G class loco G617 sits at the end of the South Line, amid the beautiful County Down countryside.

“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.”

 

In the cab of the locomotive, Robert Gardiner (DCDR Chairman) explains the expansion plans to Emma Rogan MLA, Chris Hazzard MP, while DCDR Board Member Albert Hamilton looks on.

In the cab of the locomotive, Robert Gardiner (DCDR Chairman) explains the expansion plans to Emma Rogan MLA, Chris Hazzard MP, while DCDR Board Member Albert Hamilton looks on.

Bank Holiday Weekend Steam & Diesel Trains

Bank Holiday Weekend Steam & Diesel Trains

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 27th August.

Railway Chairman, Robert Gardiner said, “This is your only chance to experience classic Irish 1960s 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 at their premises at La Grange, 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 only available on application 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: £6, Under 18s £4.50, concession £5.50, Family (2 adults, 2 children) £18. Children 3 and under travel free.

Steam trains too!

Steam services also run on Saturday 26th August as well as Bank Holiday Monday, 28th August.

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 for the first time this year 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.

The new signal cabin is easy to get to, at the end of the main platform in Downpatrick – 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.

A Summer of Steam

A Summer of Steam

If you’ve ever taken a walk or a cycle along the Comber Greenway or Dundrum Coastal path, you might know it was a former railway line – but have you ever wondered where it went to? It was, in fact the main line from Belfast to Newcastle via Downpatrick.

And over the last thirty years a small group of volunteers in Downpatrick have painstakingly rebuilt two miles of the line as Northern 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 Saturday and Sunday till 9th September 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 out, hop on board and bring a picnic with you and catch one of the later trains back.”

Andrew and Barry waiting to serve food & drinks in the buffet at Inch Abbey Station

Andrew and Barry waiting to serve food & drinks in the buffet at Inch Abbey Station

Mr. Gardiner added, “Or if the rainclouds linger as they’ve done over most of May, 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, as well as American built ‘Baby Boomer’ diesel locomotive No. 146 providing a fantastic rumble on selected June and July Sundays.

Passengers will also be able to taste the elegance of by-gone railway travel on fifty to one hundred year old carriages through the picturesque County Down countryside along nearly two miles of restored track.

Doors open to the public on both Saturdays and Sundays at 1 o’clock and doors closing at 4 o’clock.

George Legge welcomes you to our carriage gallery

George Legge welcomes you to our carriage gallery

Teas, coffees and cool drinks as well as lots of buns, at highly competitive rates, will be served all day onboard a buffet carriage parked at Inch Abbey station; if travelling in

to the town from Inch Abbey the return journey can be made on any of the services.

 

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?”

Downpatrick East Signal Cabin

Downpatrick East Signal Cabin

Also opening to the public for the first time this year 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.

The new signal cabin is easy to get to, at the end of the main platform in Downpatrick – and is the only genuine vintage signal cabin that is also wheelchair accessible.

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.

Tickets prices:

Adults £6.00 return, £4.50 for children and £5.50 for senior citizens. Children aged three years old or below go free.  A family ticket costs £18 for 2 adults + 2 kids. Tickets provide all-day access to travel on trains and visit all of the attractions at the railway – stay as long as you like.

You can now book your tickets online!

Or you can take out membership and join the DCDR Society and get free travel for the entire summer months, as well as get regular updates on what’s happening at Northern Ireland’s only full size heritage railway.

 

Summer Steam and Diesel Trains

Summer Steam and Diesel Trains

Online booking is now available – visit our online ticket office here!

 

Downpatrick & County Down Railway’s summer season starts on Saturday 17th June this year, and runs every Saturday and Sunday through to September 10th. With a choice of steam or diesel trains depending on which date you visit, there’s something for everyone from the die-hard enthusiast to the family looking for a fun day out.

Most of our running days are steam, but please check before you travel to be sure.  Diesel trains operate on Sundays 18th & 25th June, 2nd & 9th July and 27th August. 

Trains depart from 1pm-4pm on every running day this summer. Our opening times have changed this year, so please check out the details here.

Our trains will run from Downpatrick station to Inch Abbey each day to our standard timetable, which you can view here.

The new Downpatrick East signal cabin at our station in Downpatrick.

The new Downpatrick East signal cabin at our station in Downpatrick.

Our newest attraction this year is Downpatrick East Signal Cabin, which has just been officially opened after a long restoration project; you can also visit the museum, carriage gallery, model railway and buffet as usual, and enjoy a walk to Inch Abbey itself if the weather is nice. (Good luck, you know what summer is like here!)

We are also running a steam service on Bank Holiday Monday, 28th August, and look out for details of our European Heritage Open Days events on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th September.

The railway is open on Wednesdays as well for access to the carriage gallery and museum. If you are travelling a long distance, please check to make sure before travelling.

If you have any questions, please get in touch with us here.