The volunteers of the Downpatrick & County Down Railway are celebrating after a little piece of local railway heritage comes home nearly 70 years after the original line closed. But what is that metal disc that our Chief Civil Engineer David Crone is holding?
DCDR curator Neil Hamilton explained “We managed to win this original BCDR single line tablet from the recent auction in Birr of the late John O’Meara’s huge collection of Irish railway artefacts. This tablet covered the section of the old Belfast and County Down Railway from Downpatrick South Junction, near our Loop Platform, to the next major station at Dundrum.”
Downpatrick was a rare example in Ireland’s railways with a triangular layout that required three signal cabins to control it.
Mr Hamilton explained the purpose of this tablet, “Train drivers needed to be in possession of this tablet in order so that their trains could enter the single line of railway track.”
He adds that this Victorian piece of safety engineering had a long self life, “Travellers on the Coleraine-Londonderry rail line may have seen signalmen handing ‘hoop’ type carriers to drivers up until last year – well, a tablet similar to this would have been inside the hoop pouch.
“Tablets were issued by the signalmen at either end of the section. Only one tablet could be withdrawn at a time, which provided protection against a head on collision as no two trains could be on the same section of track.”
Mr Hamilton adds, “This tablet will take pride of place in our display alongside another tablet in our collection that controlled the north end of the Downpatrick Triangle from the North Junction to Crossgar”.
He continues, “We’re delighted that we were able to save this for people to see in our museum for years to come. It would be a real shame to lose such gems as this from the museum sector into private collections.”
If you have an item of railway memorabilia that you would like to donate to the DCDR, or help with any project at the DCDR and you are thinking about joining as a volunteer, then please get in touch today!
We’re running steam trains on Monday, 29th May for the Late Spring Bank Holiday. If you’re looking for a great way to spend the afternoon, come rain or shine our steam train will be running and can give you and the kids the experience of train travel as it used to be.
All our usual facilities will be available, as well as your train trip to and from Inch Abbey and a visit to the buffet carriage. Find out what to do on your visit here.
Note that our trains are now departing from 1pm to 4pm from Downpatrick. See our Timetable & Fares for details.
For railway buffs of all ages looking for a day out, there’s another chance to catch the steam train at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway on this year’s May Days, Monday 1st May and 29th May.
Coming straight after the popular ‘Easter Eggspress’ trains, railway chairman Robert Gardiner says the May Day bank holiday is the perfect chance to take another trip to Inch Abbey or to see the delights of a real steam train for anyone who did not get the chance at Easter, or those who just couldn’t wait to come back!
“As well as fun for the children, mums and dads also get the chance to experience rail travel at its most traditional, as passengers will 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.
“Refreshments from teas and coffees, 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 museum and the ‘Carriage Gallery’ visitor centre brings the golden age of the railway vividly to life and looks 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.”
Children can enjoy their own “Kids’ Station” in the Gallery, climb into a vintage locomotive cab and dress up as a train driver or guard, or can get to drive Thomas the Tank Engine on a model railway – or will they let the ‘big kids’ 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 (you need to be 18+ to do this).
Tickets cost £6.00 adults, £4.50 children and senior citizens, whilst children aged below three years old go free! A family ticket is £18. Online booking is not available for this event.
Dogs are welcome on our trains, provided they are kept under control.
Parking is available at both Inch Abbey and Downpatrick Stations.
Last admissions are at 4:15pm. Trains depart from 1:30pm-4:30pm, the station is open until 5:30pm.
See our Timetable & Fares webpage for further information.
There’ll be eggs-travagant fun at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway with eggs galore on this year’s Easter Eggspress, running over the Easter weekend.
The bunnies are already hopping the rails at the local heritage railway, and the Easter Eggspress is a unique and special treat for kids and a great way to say ‘Happy Easter!’ for all the family. The train will be used for excursions from the town centre from 1.30pm till 4.30pm on Saturday 16th April, Easter Sunday 17th April, & Easter Monday 18th April. Railway Chairman Robert Gardiner says that young passengers receive a treat from a special guest, “The Easter Bunny has bounced into the station for this weekend who’ll be hopping with joy to give them their Easter Eggs.”
And this year, the Easter Bunny wants to play a game and is creating an Egg Trail Hunt for wannabe eggsperts, as DCDR tour guide Frank Dick explains, “The Easter Bunny has brought down some of her friends, small teddies and bunnies, but they’re very shy and it’s the job of visitors to track them down. Families will receive a guide to their hunt with their tickets to help ‘eggsplore’ the railway and gather up the info on the card. Each bunny has a large letter which together make up a two word message.”
He continues, “They then have to reveal this secret phrase to the Easter Bunny who, if they get it right, will reward them of an Easter Egg of their choice.”
And as well as fun for the children, mums and dads also get the chance to experience rail travel at its most traditional, as passengers will 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. Teas and coffees, as well as lots of buns, at highly competitive rates, will be served all day on board a vintage 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 also commented, “A trip to the station museum and the Carriage Gallery visitor centre brings the golden age of the railway vividly to life and looks 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 for a family selfie using some of the Victorian props and costumes provided in the dressing up area, in a carriage or beside the 1875 steam engine.
“On the station they can get to drive Thomas the Tank Engine on a model railway – or will they let the big kids get a go too?”
“For those a little more adventurous, and perhaps to fulfil a childhood dream, you can buy a Footplate Pass for just £20 and get to travel up in the locomotive cab with the driver.” A reasonable level of fitness and mobility is required to take part in a footplate experience.”
Tickets cost £7 for all ages, and can be booked on the DCDR’s website.
We were delighted to be offered this gem recently – the original headboard carried on the named UTA Express Train “The Festival”, which ran between Belfast & Derry~Londonderry.
The Festival of Britain was a national exhibition held throughout the United Kingdom in the summer of 1951, organised to give the post-war country a feeling of recovery in the aftermath of the Second World War and to promote the UK’s contribution to science, technology, industrial design, architecture and the arts.
Although it looks a bit out of place on our tank engine compared to the Moguls it was originally carried on back in the day, there is a very real DCDR link to this train in the form of our carriage No. 728, which started life as a carriage on the named train – before becoming an MPD driving trailer, and finally an NIR 70 class intermediate trailer.
This new rake of carriages was built at the UTA’s Duncrue Street workshops in Belfast, based on older pre-war standard LMS (London Midland & Scottish Railway) designs and were used as one of Ireland’s few named trains.
The headboard was bought by a private consortium and was donated to the DCDR museum, after it was discovered by a signage collector in an attic!
Our cheeky CME posed this photo of the headboard on an unlikely locomotive next to carriage No. 728:
With car parking at a premium in the St. Patrick’s Carnival, the Downpatrick & County Down Railway will be offering a ‘rail’ alternative to carnival goers with some St. Patrick’s Day ‘Shamrock Steam.’
In conjunction with Newry, Mourne & Down District Council, the railway will be offering a Park’n’Ride service on the north side of the town from their station on the Belfast Road directly into the heart of the carnival between noon and 5pm on St. Patrick’s Day, Friday 17th March, eliminating the need to navigate the town centre.
Railway Chairman, Robert Gardiner, says that this St. Patrick’s Day boarding at the Inch Abbey terminus is a sure way of beating the traffic and letting you steam into the town for the festival celebrations.
“We know that many people in from the Belfast and Killyleagh roads end up parking far from the town and end up having to walk a fair distance into the town centre,” he says, “So when you park at our Inch Abbey Station you can walk onto a vintage train that will take you into the heart of the carnival!”
Inch Abbey Station will be signposted with AA yellow signage, and stewards will be on hand to help manage traffic and parking at both the Abbey carpark and the station carpark.
But as well as providing a means of getting from A to B on St. Patrick’s Day, Mr. Gardiner suggests a visit to Inch Abbey itself, a ruined 12th Century Cistercian Abbey.
He says, “Alternatively if you’re already in the town, you can climb onboard at Downpatrick and travel out and visit this glorious Christian heritage site while celebrating Ireland’s Patron Saint.”
He adds, “You also get the best view of Down Cathedral, the site of St. Patrick’s Grave, from on board the train.”
Tickets will be available on the day at Inch Abbey and Downpatrick stations, Park and Ride return tickets cost £6.00 adult, £4.50 children, £5.50 senior citizens, while children aged three years old or below go free.
Refreshments will be served onboard a buffet carriage while you wait for the train at Inch Abbey. The railway museum exhibition and Carriage Gallery visitor centre will also be open, as well as an interpretative display actually inside the carriage workshop allowing you to see the work that goes on behind the scenes.
Newry Mourne and Down District Council are pushing the boat out – literally – for St Patrick’s Day this year, with a whole series of exciting events that run from 3rd to 19th March.
We are taking part in two of these events.
St Patrick’s Landing, Sunday, 12th March:
There is a host of interactive activities taking place at Inch Abbey from 12:30pm to 5pm, including boats on the Quoile (weather permitting).
You can arrive in style on one of our heritage trains, as we are running services departing from our Downpatrick Station from 12pm.
St Patrick’s Day, Friday 17th March
The town is hosting the usual St Patrick’s Day parade, which kicks off from about 2:30pm in the town centre. There’s a load of activities going on around the town as well, making it a great day out for everyone.
The main carnival’s finishing point is right in front of our station, so we literally take you right to the heart of the action.
We will be running trains from Downpatrick to Inch Abbey from around 12pm, with the last one departing from Downpatrick at 5pm. Inch Abbey can be a very useful park & ride facility to get you into the town without having to struggle with the road closures.
Our standard fares will apply to both these days:
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
We’re delighted that our Belfast & County Down Railway carriage No. 72 (a.k.a. the Holywood Railmotor) is among nearly 20 carriages nominated for the Heritage Railway Association Carriage and Wagon awards.
As a wee treat to celebrate and wish the carriage good luck, here’s a film of the vehicle taking to the rails for the first time since the 1950s following a ten year restoration. The run was a proving run as part of the certification process for approving restored vehicles entering service. We hope to launch the Railmotor into passenger service for special events later in the year.
Three of these were built, two in 1905 and one in 1906, to combat the potential expansion of the Belfast Corporation Tramways network to Holywood and were used for rapid and frequent services between Holywood and later Dundonald.
Essentially the grandfathers of modern trains, which can be controlled from either end unlike the trains of the day where engines had to uncouple from their rake of carriages and run-round them to the other end, they had a small steam locomotive actually built into the end of a carriage.
They were numbered separately from both the main locomotive and carriage stock as Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Ours was positively identified as No. 2 (later No. 72) by a former BCDR fireman through repair works unique to this vehicle (which can also be seen on vintage photographs).
The locomotives were constructed by Kitsons of Leeds and the bodies by the Metropolitian Carriage & Wagon company.
All three railmotors were used extensively and by the time World War One came about the locomotives were wearing out, and the locomotives were removed and the carriages rebuilt with another set of wheels, but the control gear was retained and they were operated as ‘autotrains’ with normal locomotives refitted to be remote controlled.
Railmotor No. 3 was involved in serious accident at Ballymacarrett on the Bangor branch, which led to the operation of autotrains being halted, and the carriages renumbered and used as conventional loco-hauled carriages.
We’ve now put all of our running dates for 2017 online – see Our Running Days for details.
Out next train running days are for St Patrick’s Day in March. We’re running trains from Downpatrick to Inch Abbey on Sunday 12th March to take people to the St Patrick’s Landing event at Inch Abbey.
We’re also running our usual shuttle service to get visitors from Inch Abbey into the St Patrick’s Day parades in Downpatrick town centre on Friday 17th March. Trains will also be available for people arriving at Downpatrick who just want to experience a heritage train journey as part of their day out in the town.
Online ticketing will be available later in the year.
If you don’t want to miss out on the latest info for all of our events, you can sign up to our mailing list and we’ll send you an email well before each event so you don’t miss out.
The Downpatrick & County Down Railway has achieved another first for railway preservation in Ireland, with the passing out of the railway’s first woman Train Guard.
Twenty year old Rebecca Dougan from Comber in County Down is not only the youngest guard on the local heritage railway, but also believed to the first female Guard on any heritage railway operation on the island of Ireland.
Railway Chairman Robert Gardiner, himself a guard on the DCDR, offered his congratulations, “We’re delighted to announce that volunteer Rebecca Dougan was finally passed out as a shunter and guard during Saturday’s diesel running day.”
He continues, “She’s put in a lot of hard work to get this far, with practical training, building logs of hours of training runs, rules & regulations and eventually the nerve-wracking exam day with practical, written and verbal exams. But she did it! We knew she would, of course.”
Rebecca described how the passion was in the genes, “I have been coming down to the DCDR since I was born as my parents, Margaret and Raymond Dougan and my Uncle Paul McMullan are also volunteers there. As I grew older I started lending a hand by doing small things such as brushing out the passenger carriages and assisting passengers on and off the trains.”
“My dad and Uncle were both DCDR Guards and when I came into my early teen years I started to take an interest in their work as shunter/guards and so when I became old enough I was allowed to start training as a shunter/guard last year.”
A guard is the crew member responsible for operational and safety duties of the train, however she says there’s more to it than just blowing a whistle and flying a green flag at the driver.
“You have to learn how to safely shunt a train first before learning the Guard duties, but I stuck at it but it seemed to take a long time but despite that I never gave up and eventually last Saturday the date of my passing out exam arrived. I was rather nervous but was also keen to get it done with!”
Rebecca continues, “The exam entailed a shunting/guard exam both written and practical, which included for my first time taking out a passenger service on my own without anyone assisting me.”
However the nerves need not have worried her, “It was with great relief when my chief assessor Ian Cross informed me at the very end of the day that I had passed out as an official DCDR Guard/Shunter! My thanks to my two assessors Mike Beckett and Ian Cross and also all of my fellow DCDR volunteers who have been great in giving me the encouragement to do it.”
Rebecca’s father Raymond was of course there on the platform to watch his daughter pass out.
He said, “When Rebecca passed out as a DCDR Shunter/Guard on 7th January I was a very happy and proud father! I have been a DCDR volunteer and Shunter/Guard for about 25 years. Her mother and uncle
are also pleased and proud of Rebecca’s achievement – that now makes three guards from our family at the DCDR.”
Raymond continues, “Being guards ourselves, Paul and I know only too well that it can be extremely hard physical work especially in bad weather and to her great credit Rebecca has stuck to it and that has made me so proud of what she has done”
He adds, “Rebecca can now walk tall and go on to achieve her next DCDR goal.”
So what is that goal? Rebecca has of course already has that in her sights, “As for the future? In time I hope to go on and try to become a Diesel Locomotive driver.”
There’s little doubt that passengers will see her behind the controls of a diesel train in the not-too-distant future.