“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.”

DCDR Founder Named in New Years Honours

Gerry Cochrane (left) with Bill Gillespie at the launch of Gerry's book "Back in Steam" in June 2009

Gerry Cochrane (left) with Bill Gillespie at the launch of Gerry’s book “Back in Steam” in June 2009

The founder of Northern Ireland’s only full-size heritage railway, the Downpatrick & County Down Railway, has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours for service to railway preservation and tourism in County Down.

Gerry Cochrane was born in 1935 within sight and sound of the old Belfast & County Down Railway. Since early childhood, he has had a strong interest in railways. His final thesis in architecture was based on the study of Working Railway Museums, researched in both Great Britain and Europe as there were none in Northern Ireland.

He joined the South Eastern Education and Library Board and became their Senior Architect and in 1982 he began a process which has resulted in the return of steam to Downpatrick.

Gerry getting his hands dirty helping to cut a rail on site

Gerry getting his hands dirty helping to cut a rail on site

During this time, health reasons brought his professional career to a premature end in 1991, but Gerry battled on and continued with the development of the heritage railway and museum from a derelict brown field site to the vibrant living museum it is today.

Whilst he retired from management in 2004, he continues to have an active role in vintage carriage restoration.

Railway Honorary Vice President WF Gillespie said, “When a few of us met in Denvir’s Hotel on a bleak winter night 30 years ago to discuss the possibility of a preserved railway scheme at Downpatrick, it was somewhat unreal, and perhaps none of us – except Gerry Cochrane – really expected that our dreams would ever be realised.”

Gerry Cochrane (left) with Santa Claus and Cyril Leathers on a Lapland Express train

Gerry Cochrane (left) with Santa Claus and Cyril Leathers on a Lapland Express train

He continues, “Many obstacles were encountered and there were times when most of us – except Gerry Cochrane – were prepared to give up. However, he is made of sterner stuff, and always sought and found a way through the difficulties.

It was my pleasure and privilege to help clear some of the obstacles, particularly in the early days, and in the process, I came to admire the tenacity and determination of Gerry and other colleagues who joined in the enterprise over the years.

“I am delighted to know of Gerry’s recognition in the New Year’s Honours List. It is richly deserved. I congratulate him and wish him many years of continuing interest in the Railway which he founded.”

Gerry Cochrane (right) with Michael Portillo and Michael Collins during the filming of Great British Railway Journeys

Gerry Cochrane (right) with Michael Portillo and Michael Collins during the filming of Great British Railway Journeys

DCDR chairman John Wilson said: “We are absolutely delighted that Gerry has received this well-deserved acknowledgment of all his efforts over so many years. He was the founder member of the Society and it is thanks in large measure to his determination that the Railway continues to bring pleasure to the thousands of people who travel on and watch our trains every year.

“Gerry, in his own unique way, has inspired many people to give freely of their time to the community, creating an attraction unique in Northern Ireland and richly deserves this award.”

He continues, “I extend to him and his wife Róisín our heartiest congratulations from all the members of the railway”.

Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway Pays Tribute to McGrady

Eddie McGrady is pictured here in July 2000 at an event at the Loop Platform to launch the twinning of Downpatrick and Listowel towns

Eddie McGrady is pictured here in July 2000 at an event at the Loop Platform to launch the twinning of Downpatrick and Listowel towns

The Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway has expressed its “deep sadness” on learning of the passing of Eddie McGrady on Monday evening. As a prominent figure in the area, it was Eddie McGrady that the railway’s founder, Gerry Cochrane turned to for advice and support in regards the idea of establishing a heritage railway in the town.

Mr Cochrane said, “I first met Eddie in 1982 when he agreed to meet me to discuss my proposals for the restoration of the railway. At that time he was Chairman of Down District Council and his reaction to the proposal would, therefore, be essential.

“In the event, his enthusiasm surprised me and from that day his encouragement was instrumental in getting the project off the ground.”

He continues, “Indeed, throughout the development he was always ready to help on the numerous occasions when difficulties arose and in the early days; as a chartered accountant he acted as our auditor in a voluntary capacity when we were struggling to establish a sound financial footing in those fledgling days.

Mr. Cochrane added, “His contribution to the success of our railway cannot be overstated and he will be sadly missed by all of us who have had the honour of his acquaintance.”

His views were echoed by fellow founder, and DCDR vice-president, Mr. WF Gillespie, “Eddie was at the very first meeting with Gerry and I to discuss getting the Railway off the ground. He was a great help to us in the early stages, especially in establishing our relationship with the Council.”

He added, “In some of my other activities I also had reason to contact Eddie and I always found him to be a real gentlemen giving freely of his time to address the issues brought to him. A man who will be sadly missed by all who were privileged to know him.”

DCDR chairman, John Wilson, added his tribute, “Whilst the Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway has always been apolitical in its ethos and outlook, it is fair to say that without Eddie McGrady’s vital support at the inception of the project, there would be no railway in the town today. Eddie remained a friend of the DCDR throughout the years, and we deeply regret that he will not see our 30th Anniversary in 2015.”

Rare Belfast & County Down Railway Wagon “Comes Home”

The wagon is loaded from its resting place in Dromore

The wagon is loaded from its resting place in Dromore

A rare link back to the days when farmers loaded their produce at the local railway station to be sent to Belfast and beyond has been saved by the Downpatrick & County Down Railway.

A century-old wooden railway wagon built in 1911 for the old Belfast & County Down Railway, which is thought to be the sole surviving example of nearly two-hundred built for the local railway line, was recovered from a field near Dromara where it has lain for nearly 60 years.

DCDR museum curator, Neil Hamilton said, “The wagon is a BCDR closed van and has been used as a store, and the roof is covered in tin which has protected the body quite effectively over the years. This wagon is, as far as I know, the only BCDR wagon that is around and in a condition that would be restorable.

He continues, “The condition of the wagon is quite remarkable for its age. The main body roof and panelling are very sound, and the main under frame is very sound apart from some rot on the lower edge areas of the side longitudinal members but in general the frame is very strong which allowed us to lift it.”

The wagon is lifted on to the temporary underframe

The wagon is lifted on to the temporary underframe

“The owner was going to break the wagon up but is a friend of one of our volunteers, so he asked us if we had any interest before he did so – and we are delighted that he did!”

The wagon was lifted from its resting place last Saturday and towed by tractor and trailer from Dromara to Downpatrick, in a move that surely turned some heads on the main road.

Neil added, “Historically it’s a very significant find and fits in with our museums acquisition policy, we set it on a spare metal under frame so we could move it into the Carriage Gallery for storage and display, where it would dry out and a more detailed examination and assessment would be undertaken prior to restoration.”

The wagon can be seen in the Carriage Gallery from this weekend onwards, which marks the start of the Downpatrick & County Down Railway’s “Summer Steam” season, and the DCDR is always looking for people to join its ranks to help restore vehicles such as this wagon, find out more about volunteering at the railway via their website at www.downrail.co.uk or facebook.com/downrail or on twitter @downrail