Diesel Delight at Downpatrick

Diesel Delight at Downpatrick

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 diesel locomotives for one day only, Sunday 28th August.

Railway Chairman, Robert Gardiner said, “This is your only chance to experience classic 1950s and 60s Irish diesel locomotives in action on a passenger train this year!”

The day will mark the public debut of “A” class locomotive A39R, following a complete repaint into an attractive heritage livery.

Mr Gardiner adds, “We delighted to say that this is A39R’s first outing on passenger trains since the Irish Traction Group completed a full repaint into the highly distinctive 1970s black & orange colour scheme, more commonly referred to as ‘Black and Tan’ by railwaymen.”

This locomotive entered traffic with Coras Iompair Éireann (CIÉ), the Irish state-owned transport company in May 1956 and saw widespread service across Ireland, including on cross-border Enterprise services to Belfast.  Originally fitted with an English Crossley diesel engine, due to poor reliability they were re-engined with American General Motors engines in the late 1960s.

Also joining A39 will be ‘Baby GM’ 141 class locomotive No. 146, a yankee engine built by General Motors at their premises at La Grange, Illinois, USA 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 it controversial and premature 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.

Ordinary admission fares apply for 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 services also run on Saturday 27th August as well as Bank Holiday Monday, 29th August. As usual, our museum, carriage gallery, gift shop, model railway and buffet carriage will be open all afternoon, so there’s plenty to see and do in between the train trips.

Keep an eye on this website and our Facebook page for more details: www.facebook.com/downrail

Steam into Summer at Downpatrick

Steam into Summer at Downpatrick

With County Down catching the summer sun, the steam train is once again about to head out along the Downpatrick Marshes to Inch Abbey at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway.

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.

Every weekend until 11th September, visitors will be able to travel back in time to the golden age of rail travel, on vintage carriages through the picturesque County Down countryside along nearly two miles of restored track.

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 still out, why not hop on board and bring a picnic with you and catch one of the later trains back?”

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

Doors are open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays, with the first train leaving at 2 o’clock and the last train returning from Inch Abbey at 5 o’clock.

Teas and coffees, as well as lots of buns, at highly competitive rates, will be served all day on board 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 our Carriage Gallery visitor centre brings the golden age of the railway vividly to life and looks at the impact that the railways had on peoples 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 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.”

Trains run 2pm to 5pm, with ticket costing: adults £6.00 return, £4.50 children and £5.50 senior citizens, and don’t forget that children aged three years old or below go free.  A family ticket costs £18, or if you join the DCDR Society you get free travel for the entire summer months, as well as get regular updates on what’s happening at Northern Ireland’s steam centre.

Mr Gardiner also expressed his thanks to everyone who has donated money towards the restoration of ‘Sugarpuff’ or Orenstein & Koppel steam locomotive No. 3 in their ‘Steamed Up’ appeal, and remember donations are still needed to get it back up and running – you can donate online too.

For further information on events – or if you are thinking about joining as a volunteer contact the Downpatrick Tourist Information Centre on 028 4461 2233, log on to our website, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

DCDR Features in New BBC Documentary

DCDR Features in New BBC Documentary

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:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b071x3fd

Or download the programme as a podcast here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b041jvr9/episodes/downloads

“On the Right Track” for New Rails!

“On the Right Track” for New Rails!

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?

No. 3’s restoration is under way!

No. 3’s restoration is under way!

It’s a big day for our steam fans today – as it’s not just Flying Scotsman that needed a big overhaul, its baby Irish cousin with German parentage also needs some TLC. Our locomotive O&K No. 3’s overhaul has taken a big step forward today – as its boiler has been shipped off for major work to Heritage Engineering Ireland Ltd, based at the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland in Whitehead.

No. 3’s frames and boiler were shunted out of its resting place in the Maghera Shed on Sunday 3rd January, and stored temporarily in the Carriage Gallery until they could be moved onto a truck for its onward journey.

No. 3 was built by the German firm Orenstein & Koppel in the 1930s, and spent most of her working life shunting beat wagons in the sugar beet factory in Mallow before being withdrawn, and after being restored from scrap condition gave over a decade of service on our line between 2000 and 2012.

But steam locomotives, being giant kettles, need major work carried out to keep them running roughly every ten years.

Our aim is that both O&Ks will be in service in time for the 30th anniversary of our first ever passengers trains, which were run in December 1987.

The cost is liable to be around £25,000, and our “Steamed Up” Appeal has raised nearly £2000 towards that – but we still need to raise more and welcome your donations to get her going again (hint hint) – see our donations page for details!

Bundoran Jct Progress

Bundoran Jct Progress

Work continues apace on the Bundoran Jct Signal Cabin – or Downpatrick East, as we should maybe call it! The barge boards have gone on recently, and don’t they look well? Look our for more updates on this soon. Thanks to our friends in Heritage Lottery Fund (NI) for funding this work.

Can You Help Find This Stolen BCDR Clock?

Can You Help Find This Stolen BCDR Clock?

A new appeal has been launched to find an original booking office clock stolen from the railway museum in the 1990s.

When reported to the police there were no photographs of it to circulate before, however old camcorder footage at the end of a tape has now emerged of the clock and a new appeal has been launched.

In an appeal, Downpatrick and County Down Railway said, “This Belfast & County Down Railway – the original company that operated the railway before it closed in 1950 – booking office clock would have originally hung in one of the stations on the old BCDR network between Newcastle and Belfast.

“It was spotted in an antique shop and bought by a number of volunteers who chipped in together to buy it for the museum in 1990 for public display. The railway was only a couple of years old and it was one of our earliest artefacts.

“But only a few years later burglars stole it from the station. Since then our security has been significantly improved throughout the site and museum, with the railway recently being awarded over £3,000 in grant aid from the Northern Ireland Museums Council for further improvements.

“As you can imagine this theft was a terrible blow to the volunteers who’d chipped in to save it for the museum.

“It’s not a particularly rare design, it’s a relatively standard design from the makers Ansonia. It has an octagon shaped face, and a pointed case, but what makes it special is that it had the initials “BCDR” handwritten on the dial, presumably done by one of the old BCDR staff members, as shown in the closeup in the video – it’s that provenance that was important to us.

“In the 20 years that have passed it’s never been recovered, either privately or by the police. And until this footage recently turned up no one had a photo of it.

“Given its provenance there’s a very high chance it’s still out there, maybe with a collector who innocently purchased it not knowing it was stolen, possibly locally, possibly outside Northern Ireland.”

Maybe we’ll be lucky and it will be recovered and put back on public display in the museum where you can come and see it. Contact the local police at PSNI Down or on the non-emergency number 101.

Your railway needs YOU!

Your railway needs YOU!

Made any New Years Resolutions for 2016? How about a resolution to pick up a new hobby?

The Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway is maintained and operated entirely by volunteers and we’re always on the look-out for more help.

You don’t even need to be a real ‘rail-buff’ either, but if you’ve a passion for restoration work or helping run a business there there’s bound to be something that’ll interest you – whatever your background or skills. It also looks great on your CV.

We are also very keen to recruit people interested in joinery and woodwork who can join our carriage team – with a bit more help we could get all three carriages currently in the restoration workshops completed *this year*, and that would be a fantastic achievement.

But there’s also trackwork, mechanical engineering, fundraising, all sorts of disciplines.

Our volunteering days are usually Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, there’s no set hours or minimum days requirement.

Classic Carriage is Welcomed Back on Track at Heritage Railway

St. Patrick’s Day not only saw the return of Ireland’s patron saint to the town, but also saw a welcome return of a classic carriage back into service at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway.

Carriage No. 728 sits at the platform

Carriage No. 728 sits at the platform

A team of 10 volunteers of all ages have taken nearly two years and 10,000 hours of work to restore a carriage originally built in 1951 by the Ulster Transport Authority as part of a new train commissioned by the Northern Ireland government as part of their contribution to the Festival of Britain celebrations.

The Festival was a national exhibition held throughout the United Kingdom in the summer of that year, 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.

The interior of Carriage No. 728

The interior of Carriage No. 728

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 “Festival Express”, which ran between Londonderry and Belfast, and the new stock helped make the 8.25am from Belfast look a little more modern – for the time.

By 1958 the “Festival” coaches had all been converted to be used as diesel railcars, and it is believed No. 728 is the sole survivor of this special train.

It was preserved by the Downpatrick & County Down Railway in September 1991 after withdrawal from Northern Ireland Railways, and had been used solely as a waiting carriage for the local heritage railway’s popular Halloween Ghost Trains and Lapland Express, as well as luckily just surviving an arson attack on the station in December 2002.

728 as originally preserved

728 as originally preserved

However that all changed when the vehicle began full restoration in July 2012 back to passenger service, which included refitting the interior with as-original comfortable moquette seating, wooden panelling, coupled with major mechanical work which saw the reinstatement of brakes which had been removed prior to preservation. The vehicle has also been fitted out with four wheelchair bays for disability access.
Painted in the Ulster Transport Authority’s green livery and sporting their distinctive logo bearing the Red Hand of Ulster, No. 728 formed part of the park and ride service during the St. Patrick’s weekend with the public able to enjoy its charming 1950s atmosphere.

DCDR chairman John Wilson said the restoration work was a ‘marvellous job’, adding, “this ‘Festival’ carriage is an important part of our railway heritage, and I am delighted that passengers can once again travel in it for the first time in over 30 years, and fifty-six years since it was last hauled by a steam locomotive.”

Bright Future for Signal Box Found in Orchard

Bundoran Junction North is gingerly lifted from it hiding place in a garden underneath an apple tree to head for its new home

Bundoran Junction North is gingerly lifted from it hiding place in a garden underneath an apple tree to head for its new home

An historic railway signal cabin that lay in an orchard for nearly 60 years is to be restored to its former glory by the Downpatrick and County Down Railway (DCDR) after securing a grant of nearly £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The grant has been awarded as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s new small grants programme “Sharing Heritage”. The project will restore the former Bundoran Junction North signal cabin and create a mechanical signalling demonstration to add to the existing attractions at the Downpatrick heritage railway. Visitors will be able to see the signals in operation when the trains are running and during museum open days.

The view from the signal cabin out into the orchard

The view from the signal cabin out into the orchard

In its working life, the cabin used to control the north end of Bundoran Junction in Kilskeery, County Tyrone, formerly a major junction for the Great Northern Railway (Ireland), where trains diverged to travel to places like Omagh, Enniskillen, Fintona Junction (where the famous horse tram operated), and Bundoran itself, before the entire line was closed on 1st October 1957.
Railway Chief Civil Engineer, David Crone, said, “Very little of the railway infrastructure from the west of the province survives so we are delighted to have secured this significant piece of railway heritage.”

Paul Mullan, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund NI added their support “We were pleased to support this modest but important heritage project. Over our 20 years we have supported a range of projects with the DCDR to enable them to protect our railway heritage and share it with everyone. This project will help them demonstrate and explain another aspect of our railways’ heritage.”
David Crone continued the story of the cabin, “While Bundoran Junction Station survives as a private dwelling, we didn’t think any of the small signal cabins still survived until a chance discussion with one of our members and a Fermanagh local on boat in the middle of Lough Erne!

The former Bundoran Junction (North) signal cabin is offloaded late night at Downpatrick Station

The former Bundoran Junction (North) signal cabin is offloaded late night at Downpatrick Station

“He told us that the former Bundoran Junction North cabin had been saved to be used as a garden shed in a Ballinamallard home.”

Mr Crone explains the scene that they found, “The top half of the signal cabin had lain for over 50 years in an orchard in Ballinamallard Co Fermanagh where it had been put to use as a very superior summerhouse but had suffered somewhat in later years due to age and the orchard becoming a bit overgrown.

“The location was known to a few ex-Great Northern Railway veterans in the area who kept the cabin’s survival and details of the exact location a well-guarded secret. When the site came due for re-development the owners were very keen to see the cabin saved, and our friends from the Headhunters Railway Museum in Enniskillen helped us recover it in 2011.

Whilst initial inspection revealed that although the base was rotten, the vast majority of the structure was sound and would be suitable for restoration and a new use.

Bundoran Junction (North) signal cabin in its original position (c) Bluebell Railway Museum

Bundoran Junction (North) signal cabin in its original position
(c) Bluebell Railway Museum

To add to the restoration project and working signal exhibition, the project team are keen to obtain any information relating to its former use. They are seeking photographs of signalmen who would have operated it in GNRI days or anyone who worked at Bundoran Junction so they can include this in an interpretative display in the restored cabin.

Mr Crone adds, “We are also interested in contacting anyone who has recollections of life at the Junction as these memories are as much part of the cabin as the wood that makes up its fabric. If anyone has anything they could share we would be grateful if they contact either ourselves or Headhunters Museum in Enniskillen.”