Hope for the Ballydugan Extension?

Ballydugan Mill, just one of the attractions at the end of the proposed extension

Ballydugan Mill, just one of the attractions at the end of the proposed extension

The DCDR’s long held ambition to complete its extension to Ballydugan could finally have received some welcome news.

Down District Council is considering vesting land so that the heritage railway line can be extended, linking the town with the hamlet of Ballydugan.

The extension of the Downpatrick and Co Down Railway (DCDR) has been in the pipeline for 20 years, first announced in 1992, following a recommendation from consultants working for Down District Council on proposals for regeneration projects for the town, but attempts by the DCDR to broker a deal with those who own part of the former trackbed have failed to reach any agreement.

In 2010 the council agreed to open discussions with two landowners in a bid to reach a deal to secure the land, but also decided that if it was unable to do a deal, it would exercise its vesting powers to acquire the land, subject to a suitable valuation and all necessary legal formalities being completed. One of the landowners has refused to sell, while the other has not responded to any council correspondence on the issue.

Ballydugan Lake at the end of the proposed extension

Ballydugan Lake at the end of the proposed extension

At the meeting, councillor Colin McGrath said Down Council supports the railway and has previously approved the plan to extend the railway lines.

“This particular request is about vesting the land they require and passing this issue to the Rates Working Party given the spend that’s involved,” he explained.“Down Council can vest land, but the railway cannot.“

Councillor Robert Burgess praised the work of railway officials and said he was in no doubt that the facility would continue to grow in popularity and produce an economic benefit for Downpatrick and the surrounding area.

Councillors John Doris, Garth Craig and Mickey Coogan also agreed to refer the request to vest the land to the Rates Working Party, with committee members informed the issue will be dealt with a Lands Tribunal hearing.

DCDR spokesman Robert Gardiner said: “Twenty years is a long time to try and bring a project to fruition, but the reason we haven’t given up on it is because our passengers keep telling us they want it and asking when it’s going to happen,” he said.

Some young Ballydugan residents enjoying the delights of the area

Some young Ballydugan residents enjoying the delights of the area

“We really hoped an amicable solution could’ve and indeed still hope it can be found to bring the railway back to Ballydugan”, he says.

The land was sold off in the 1950s by the Ulster Transport Authority after much of the railway system was dismantled. In recent years DCDR’s volunteers have started rebuilding the line on the land that the group access to.

“Railway trackbeds can’t be used for anything else other than cycleways and walkways,” Mr Gardiner said. In the meantime, DCDR has extended a spur to Inch Abbey but say it has reached the “end of the line” there, as it has veered off the original line to Crossgar.

“But at Ballydugan,” he says, “there’s a fantastic lake down there, coupled with Holymount Forest, plus the Lakeside Inn and Ballydugan Mill, and we are very keen to work with these local businesses and the local residents”

Ballydugan Mill owner Noel Killen said the extension would be to everybody’s benefit.

He said: “The land is totally derelict and is overgrown and steep and it’s absolutely of no value to anybody.”

Steaming Again After 50 Years!

O&K No. 1 in running in trials, passing over the Quoile River

O&K No. 1 in running in trials, passing over the Quoile River

It’s not everyday that Traffic reports tell drivers to watch out for the railway engine travelling down the M1 and M2 motorways, but that’s the sight that motorists saw last Sunday as a steam locomotive “travelled home” to the Downpatrick & County Down Railway, Northern Ireland’s volunteer run full-size heritage railway.

Steam locomotive No. 1, built by the German firm Orenstein & Koppel, was being taken from the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland’s workshops at Whitehead, after going up there in 2004.

It’s taken two decades of work and funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (for a new boiler, as the old one had corroded so badly it had to be scrapped) Interreg, as well a substantial amount from the DCDR’s own funds. Work on its restoration was undertaken in a joint effort by the DCDR and the RPSI over that twenty years, such a long period as the locomotive was in an incredibly poor condition after it was saved from lying in a County Down field in the 1980s.

O&K No.1 on the back of a Mar-Train low-loader on the M1

O&K No.1 on the back of a Mar-Train low-loader on the M1

No. 1 is one two sister engines at the DCDR, and was built in the mid 1930s by Berlin-based Orenstein and Koppel for the Irish Sugar Company (Comlucht Suicre Eireann) for use in their factories at Mallow, Thurles and Tuam. There were a total of nine of these engines built (three for each factory) and they were used to transfer sugar beet wagons from the main line sidings in the factory complexes for processing.

Even though German built, they are also a legacy of early post-partition Ireland, as normally Irish firms would have ordered new locomotives from Great Britain, but de Valera’s Irish Free State was engaged in an “economic war” with the UK and so the order went to Germany instead, leading to these very continental looking locomotives appearing on the Emerald Isle.

It is believed that the last time No. 1 was steamed was in 1958.

After withdrawal from service, in 1960 the engines were sent to Dalkey Station, south of Dublin, for storage with a view to being moved to England for preservation. This project did not work out (due to the key players finding out that the width between the rails in Ireland is different to that in England!) and the locomotives were moved to Ballynahinch Junction for storage in 1978, as part of an attempt to resurrect this branch line as a heritage line. When this scheme failed to get off the ground the locomotives were purchased from their owner and moved to Downpatrick a decade later in the late 1980s.

The move also saw us say farewell to "RH Smyth", aka Harvey, who was returned to the RPSI depot at Whitehead

The move also saw us say farewell to “RH Smyth”, aka Harvey, who was returned to the RPSI depot at Whitehead

After a period of storage in Downpatrick, work began on rebuilding No. 1 while No. 3 was restored at the RPSI’s workshop in Whitehead. No. 3 was returned to service on Saturday 2nd October 2000, and is currently dismantled for a full ten-year boiler inspection, and it is hoped to return No. 3 to traffic as well ASAP.

A new boiler was fabricated by Woolf Engineering, and No. 1 was moved to Whitehead in 2004 for completion of its restoration. While No. 1 will be “chuffed” to see Santa this December, running all four weekends of the DCDR’s Lapland Express services (subject to running in trails), it is hoped when the loco is fully painted that it will be given a “proper” homecoming celebration some time early next year.

It will also be the first time in No.1’s life that it will have hauled passengers, instead of wagons full of sugar beet.

Our thanks to everyone who donated money for the restoration of this locomotive for our “Steamed Up” appeal, and remember donations are still needed to get No. 3 back up and running – see our donations webpage.

A PAGE THREE GIRL?

No. 1 made her Page 3 debut in the News Letter.

Downpatrick Railway Lifts Honours at Pride of Place Awards

Awards ceremony

Presentation of the award. From L to R Tom Dowling, Chairman Pride of Place Committee, Robert Gardiner, vice-chair DCDR, Ronan Foley, Chief Executive IPB Insurance, Neil Hamilton, Curator DCDR, Christopher Moran, Chairman Co-operation Ireland, Cllr Jerome Scanlon, Cathaoirleach Limerick County Council, Gerry McLoughlin, Mayor of Limerick

The Downpatrick and County Down Railway is celebrating after collecting a very prestigous trophy last weekend. It was praised for its community involvement and work in towards creating a tourism attraction unique in Ireland.

On Saturday 3 November, representatives from the DCDR and Down District Council traveled to Limerick to attend the 2012 AllIsland IPB Pride of Place Awards at a gala awards ceremony at Thomond Park. where the new sponsor IPB, joined Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, Minister of State at the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government to congratulate all the successful groups from across the island.

From the many entries, the DCDR won through to being runners-up in the Cultural Tourism section. Railway vice-chairman Robert Gardiner said: “This was the first time we have been entered in a competition like this and the competition was very tough. The winners in our category, Cavan Fleadh Cheoile, are along the lines of the West Belfast festival and deserved winners. It was a fantastic experience for our organisation.

“We are the only fully working heritage railway in Ireland and are quite unique in that respect. It was a real pleasure to be up there competing with the best across Ireland. With our new railway museum centre, our visitor numbers have increased well and there is a constant footfall from mid-week visits to families coming at the weekend.

“I would like to thank Damien Brannigan, Community Relations Officer with Down District Council, for all his help for his nomination and in making this happen for us.

“Our thoughts today are for our late Chairman, Michael Collins, who gave so much to the DCDR. It was much his efforts that brought the railway society forward to what it is today and all of our members wish to dedicate this award to his memory. Mike would have been so proud to have been able to collect this award. It is a tremendous accolade and the first of only a few that were won by Northern Ireland groups that night.”

The Category 6 Cultural Tourism winner was the Fleadh Cheoil, Cavan Town Comhaltas, with runners up Mulranney Tourism Group, Co Mayo and the Downpatrick and County Down Railway.

Down District Council Chairperson Councillor Mickey Coogan has expressed his delight at the recognition bestowed upon the Downpatrick and County Down Railway at the Pride of Place Awards 2012.

Councillor Coogan extended his congratulations to all the volunteers of the DCDR adding: “It is a fantastic achievement for the members and volunteers who have given up so much of their time for almost 30 years, not only to preserve our railway heritage, but also to promote one of Ireland’s only remaining operational railway attractions.

“The Pride of Place awards are a unique opportunity to recognise and reward the efforts of hardworking members of the community, and it is particularly important that the achievements of those who make a difference to Down district is celebrated.”

Down District Council Vice Chairperson who attended the ceremony, said: “This annual competition recognises and celebrates invaluable contributions that community partnerships make. Unlike other competitions, the Pride of Place Awards specifically acknowledge community involvement, the promotion of heritage and local people who shape their area.

Awards Ceremony

John Wilson, Chairman DCDR, Cllr Maria McCarthy vice-chair Down District Council, Robert Gardiner, vice-chair DCDR, and Neil Hamilton, DCDR curator, show off the award

“The Downpatrick and Co Down Railway perfectly fulfill the criteria for this. They are a group of dedicated volunteers who have worked painstakingly to rebuild the railway and continue to work tirelessly to promote this wonderful tourist facility. I am so pleased the Railway has been acknowledged with this prestigious honour, particularly given some very stiff competition on the night.

“This recognition will allow for the further promotion of the tourist potential of the Railway and the resulting employment and business opportunities that this brings.

“It is also very fitting that the Railway should be acknowledged in such a way given the untimely and sudden death of their former Chairman Michael Collins. There is no doubt that this huge loss is felt by each of the volunteers. I am certain however, that Michael’s legacy will live on and his uncompleted works and goals will provide a pathway for the future of the railway in Down District,” added Councillor McCarthy.

More that 400 representatives from practically every county in Ireland were treated to music from Crystal Swing before the winners of the tenth consecutive annual competition were revealed. They were announced by Will Leahy, 2FM Presenter who acted as compere for the evening.
Minister O’Sullivan along with Co-operation Ireland Chairman Christopher Moran, Pride of Place Committee Chairman Tom Dowling and IPB Chief Executive Ronan Foley, presented the groups with their awards.

The All-Island Pride of Place Competition recognises and celebrates the vital contributions that community partnerships make to society. The focus is on people coming together to shape, change and enjoy all that is good about their local area. It differs from other similar projects in that they specifically recognise the involvement of the local community in all aspects of rural and urban regeneration including, promoting social cohesion, involvement in planning, the promotion of heritage and environmental awareness.

Christopher Moran, Chairman of Co-operation Ireland said, “I congratulate all the winners of this year’s Pride of Place Awards. The fact that we have reached this 10-year milestone is testament to the esteem in which the competition is held, celebrating as it does the achievements and contribution that community groups make to local society. It is important to highlight the wonderful, selfless work that is going on in your communities.”

Tom Dowling, Chairman of Pride of Place congratulated all the participants and he acknowledged that this year’s competition attracted the highest number of nominations since the competition commenced. He said: “The reason the communities are here tonight is because their local authority believes in them and recognises that they have huge pride in their place”.

Courtesy of Jim Masson, Down News
Original article can be found here

DRD Minister Hosts EU Transport Chair at DCDR

Herbie Bodel, Brian Simpson MEP and DRD Minister Danny Kennedy MLA, pictured in the new Carriage Gallery

Herbie Bodel, Brian Simpson MEP and DRD Minister Danny Kennedy MLA, pictured in the new Carriage Gallery

Transport Minister Danny Kennedy has hosted Brian Simpson, Chair of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee, on a visit to Northern Ireland – and took him on a trip on Northern Ireland’s only full-size heritage line!

Brian Simpson is also the Vice President of the Heritage Railway Association.

Danny Kennedy said: “European Transport policy needs to take account of regional variances in terms of transport needs and existing infrastructure. For example, unlike most parts of Europe, freight is transported entirely by road in Northern Ireland and it would not be economically viable to upgrade our rail network to transport freight.”

The European Parliament’s Transport Committee is currently considering a new Trans-European Transport Network Regulation (TEN-T) , and its funding instrument, the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) Regulation.

Danny Kennedy MLA (Minister for Regional Development), Brian Simpson MEP, Herbie Bodel (DCDR) and Robert Gardiner (DCDR).

Danny Kennedy MLA (Minister for Regional Development), Brian Simpson MEP, Herbie Bodel (DCDR) and Robert Gardiner (DCDR).

The Minister added: “The TEN-T and CEF regulations will determine how people and goods move throughout the EU for many years to come. It is important that we continue to work to ensure our transport infrastructure meets our future needs and supports economic growth by facilitating investment from other member states and beyond.”

The visit was organised after the Minister made a recent visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where Danny Kennedy invited the EU Transport Chair to learn more about transport need and networks in Northern Ireland.

However heavy flooding nearly scuppered the day, as heavy rains had flooded our north line! Undaunted the Downpatrick Duck (nearly literally) paddled away and took the Minister and Mr Simpson out to Inch Abbey via the south line in the Railbus, hauled by the tamper. Not exactly as planned, but it did the trick!

Obituary – Michael Collins

Michael Collins, who passed away yesterday

Michael Collins, who passed away yesterday

It is with deep regret that we have to announce the death of Michael Collins, who served as our Chairman for the best part of the last decade. He was a true gentleman, whose friendship and contribution to the railway will never be forgotten.

Mike was taken ill on Monday and despite emergency heart surgery, he passed away in hospital on Wednesday, 3rd October.

Michael Collins was born in 1949 and came from a transport background. His grandfather joined Belfast Corporation as a tram conductor before World War I and retired as an inspector in 1947. In the same year his father joined the Northern Ireland Road Transport Board as a driver, became a conductor and later an inspector under the Ulster Transport Authority and Ulsterbus.

In 1967, whilst a student, Michael’s father arranged for him to join the newly formed Ulsterbus as a conductor attached to Smithfield depot in Belfast. Michael returned to this holiday job each summer until 1972.

He graduated from Queen’s University Belfast in that year with a BA in Geography and Political Science and a post-graduate Diploma in Business Administration, later upgraded to an MBA. On graduation he was offered the post of Personal Assistant to Werner Heubeck, Ulsterbus’s charismatic Managing Director.

After two years in this job, he moved to a management post in the Health Service before eventually taking up a lecturing position in business and management at the College of Business Studies in Belfast, finally retiring as a Principal Lecturer at the Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education.

Since his Ulsterbus days, he retained his interest in transport and was involved with the fledgling railway in Downpatrick from the late 1980s, serving on its board for many years before taking up the position of chairman in 2003, which he held until his death bar one year in 2007/2008. He was hoping to continue in the role for one more year to help see that the two extensions planned for the DCDR came about.

He was also the Company Secretary of Irish Transport Heritage, which is dedicated to bus preservation, and had recently become involved in the Charles Shiels Charity Houses in Killough.

On hearing of this sad news, the newly elected board (following last Saturday’s AGM) held a minute’s silence at the Wednesday night meeting, which Mike was hoping to chair, and then adjourned the meeting as a mark of respect.

To all who wish to pay their respects, his funeral will be held at 9.30am on Saturday 6th October in St. Gerard’s Church on the Antrim Road, this will be followed by the cremation at Roselawn Crematorium at 11.30am on the same day.

Our deepest sympathies to his daughter Aoife, sons Michael and Aodhan and all the family circle, Mike was a valued friend and his vast experience and wise council will be sadly missed by us all.

Obituary – Desmond Coakham

Desmond Coakham, who passed away earlier today

Desmond Coakham, who passed away earlier today

We regret to have to announce as well the death of Desmond Coakham, aged 91, who passed away today, Thursday 4th October.

Desmond was a well-known authority on the old Belfast & County Down Railway, completing his life’s ambition of a comprehensive history of the BCDR last year, amongst his other photographic books, but always incredibly modest about the fantastic wealth of photographic archive he took of the old railway.

Desmond was an honorary life member of the DCDR and was as regular a visitor as he could be given his age, and was always on hand to assist advise on historical details to help with the restoration of the two BCDR carriages, even up to very recently, with livery details for the BCDR Railmotor.

He was a retired architect who was also a life-long railway enthusiast. His professional career led him to becoming a regular commuter on the Belfast & County Down Railway in the 1940s, and developed an intimate knowledge of the BCDR as a living entity.

He was a respected and long-standing member of the Irish Railway Record Society, to whose Journal he contributed many articles.

For those who wish to pay their respects to Desmond Coakham, his funeral will take place at 2pm this Monday, 8th October, at St. Patrick’s Church in Ballymoney.

Our deepest sympathy to his circle of friends.

New Visitor Centre Unveiled at Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway

George Legge, Margaret Ritchie MP, Bob Brown, Michael Collins, Stephen Bil, John Wilson and Mickey Coogan at the launch of their new £700,000 '"Carriage Gallery" Picture by Bernie Brown

George Legge, Margaret Ritchie MP, Bob Brown, Michael Collins, Stephen Bil, John Wilson and Mickey Coogan at the launch of their new £700,000 ‘”Carriage Gallery” Picture by Bernie Brown

It’s Ireland’s only full-size heritage railway, and now the Downpatrick & County Down Railway has one thing it’s always been missing: a modern visitors’ centre.

Housed in a spectacular building, which harks back to the great Victorian termini, the “Carriage Gallery” is Ireland’s only dedicated carriage museum which tells the story of the development of railways in Northern Ireland from the 19th century to today, and was unveiled at a special “completion” ceremony on Friday 17th August.

The ‘Gallery’, costing £700,000, displays not artworks but vintage vehicles from all over Ireland, as well as carriages unique to the old railway which used to run between Belfast and Downpatrick, Newcastle, Ardglass and Bangor, as well as artefacts and an audio-visual exhibition.

The crowd at the completion launch. Picture by Bernie Brown

The crowd at the completion launch. Picture by Bernie Brown

Railway Chairman, Michael Collins, said, “This is the only centre in Ireland that gives the limelight to carriages, not the engines, as it was the carriages which carried the people that used the railways and it is through them that we can tell the social history of the areas and the people the railways served.”

The ‘completion ceremony’ saw over a hundred people, including local MP Margaret Ritchie and representatives from Heritage Lottery Fund and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, as well as Down District Council, marking the end of a project that, Mr. Collins says, started “on the back of an envelope” in 2005 before the process of applying for £450,000 and £200,000 from the HLF and NITB respectively began.

George Legge a volunteer with Downpatrick & County Down Railway at the launch of their new £700,000 '"Carriage Gallery" Ireland’s only dedicated carriage museum now open to the public.

George Legge a volunteer with Downpatrick & County Down Railway at the launch of their new £700,000 ‘”Carriage Gallery” Ireland’s only dedicated carriage museum now open to the public.

The gallery boasts six vintage passenger carriages, the second oldest surviving steam locomotive in Ireland, one 1980s prototype Railbus and four goods wagons, including the former Belfast & County Down Railway’s “Royal Saloon”, which carried the future Kings George V and VI, as well as King Edward VII and their consorts.

Already causing a stir are two ancient six-wheeled carriages from the Midland Great Western Railway, from the 1890s which operated from Dublin to Galway, and the same type that starred in the 1952 John Wayne classic ‘The Quiet Man’. Hidden from view under tarpaulins since they were donated by Irish Rail in 2007, their dilapidated condition creates a direct contrast to the three fully restored vintage carriages on display.

The Gallery is an expansion of the already popular Downpatrick and County Down Railway attraction which has been opened since 1987 – painstakingly rebuilt by volunteers from the remains of a line abandoned in the 1950s – and runs vintage trains through the Downpatrick marshes to Inch Abbey on its own railway tracks every weekend of the summer and during special annual events throughout the year such as Halloween, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Coralie, Florence and Ruby Noble talking to George Legge at the launch of the new £700,000 '"Carriage Gallery"

Coralie, Florence and Ruby Noble talking to George Legge at the launch of the new £700,000 ‘”Carriage Gallery”

Mr. Collins says, “In this year we have seen the opening of the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre, and the Titanic Belfast centre, and the new Gallery represents a significant enhancement of the tourist offering in Co. Down”.

He adds, “And like the Causeway Centre is not aimed at ‘Geology Enthusiasts’ nor is Titanic Belfast aimed at ‘Boat Enthusiasts’, our Gallery, museum, and trains are not aimed at just ‘Railway Enthusiasts’ or ‘train buffs’, but the entire family from mums, dads, kiddies, to granny and granddad, and we know that the Gallery will prove incredibly popular with our visitors”.

Trains are running every weekend at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway and tickets cost £5.50 adults and £4.50 children/senior citizens, including entry to the new Gallery, and the DCDR is always looking for new volunteers to join.

Pride of Place Judges Visit Downpatrick Railway

The Pride of Place judges pictured with railway volunteers, local support groups and Councillors outside Downpatrick Railway Station. Photo (c) Down News

The Pride of Place judges pictured with railway volunteers, local support groups and Councillors outside Downpatrick Railway Station. Photo (c) Down News

It was all full steam ahead as judges from the prestigious all-Ireland Pride of Place competition recently visited Downpatrick and County Down Railway (DCDR) to hear first hand about the inspiring voluntary work it does to preserve our railway heritage and promote cultural tourism in Down district.

On Thursday 9 August the local voluntary railway charity group was given the opportunity to show judges why they should win a Pride of Place Award in this year’s all-Ireland competition. Down District Council nominated the group for the annual competition.

Pride of Place is an all-Ireland competition aimed at recognising and celebrating the vital contributions that voluntary organisations make to the life of their area. The competition focus is on people coming together to shape, enhance and enjoy all that is good about where they live. Pride of Place also enables entrants to look at other voluntary organisations’ undertakings and to learn from their experiences.

Michael Collins, DCDR Chairman said: “We have around 200 members and 50 of those are very active members from all walks of life pooling their expertise and enthusiasm to help develop Ireland’s biggest voluntary railway project.

Alison McGrenaghan, Magnus Vikings Association, Una Savage, Down Tourist Officer, and Lesley Simpson, Keeper of Collections at Down County Museum get set to board a train for Inch. Photo (c) Down News

Alison McGrenaghan, Magnus Vikings Association, Una Savage, Down Tourist Officer, and Lesley Simpson, Keeper of Collections at Down County Museum get set to board a train for Inch. Photo (c) Down News

“The volunteers come from a range of backgrounds in management, engineering, public services and general trades have literally driven the railway body to be a major player in local tourism and heritage in Down District.”

The Pride of Place judges, Mr Declan Nelson and Mr John Quinlivan, were welcomed to Downpatrick by the Chairman of Down District Council, Councillor Michael Coogan, and Mr Michael Collins, Chairman of Downpatrick and County Down Railway, and received a presentation in the St Patrick Centre prior to a tour of the railway centre.

The judges were fully briefed on the extent of the voluntary effort by the BCDR and their tremendous contribution to cultural tourism and environmental improvement was not hidden under a bushel.

As part of the tour, the judges were introduced to the Railway’s management committee, its volunteers and representatives of organisations the Railway works with, and with whom the judges were keen to discuss the valuable contribution the Railway makes.

In assessing entrants, the judges award marks for: Impact on Community; Innovation; Sustainability; Local Leadership; Management; and Overall Impression.

Railway volunteer Herbie Bodel with Anne Rowney and Marisa Murphy of Fashion Forum arrive at Downpatrick Railway Station in their Singer Vogue 1964 and Singer Super 1947. Photo (c) Down News Looking over the new £700,000 visitors' centre at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway are Patricia McGrath, secretary of the Downpatrick and County Down railway, Philip Campbell, Magnus Vikings Association, Sally Shields and Down District Councillor Patsy Toman. Photo (c) Down News

Railway volunteer Herbie Bodel with Anne Rowney and Marisa Murphy of Fashion Forum arrive at Downpatrick Railway Station in their Singer Vogue 1964 and Singer Super 1947. Photo (c) Down News
Looking over the new £700,000 visitors’ centre at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway are Patricia McGrath, secretary of the Downpatrick and County Down railway, Philip Campbell, Magnus Vikings Association, Sally Shields and Down District Councillor Patsy Toman. Photo (c) Down News

Now in its tenth year, the Pride of Place competition is growing in terms of its prestige and popularity. The competition is run by Co-operation Ireland in partnership with the All-Island Local Authority Steering Forum, a forum which encourages strategic and sustainable approaches to cross-border co-operation by local authorities.

Mr Collins added: “The DCDR is Northern Ireland’s only standard gauge heritage railway and a popular visitor attraction based in Downpatrick. It was founded in 1985 to preserve our railway heritage for future generations to enjoy. The Railway is a not-for-profit society, a registered charity and museum which has rebuilt part of the former BCDR Belfast to Newcastle main line.

“The society has a membership of around 300 people some from across the world and earns its revenue from the fares it charges visitors, donations and membership subscriptions.

“It has been successful in obtaining substantial funding for its major restoration projects – mostly recently towards its new £700,000 Carriage Display Gallery which the judges visited today. We also run special culturally themed days are a regular feature of the visitor experience at the Railway such as the Magnus Barelegs Viking weekend, Halloween, Christmas and St Patrick’s Day trips and they are very popular.

Looking over the new £700,000 visitors' centre at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway are Patricia McGrath, secretary of the Downpatrick and County Down railway, Philip Campbell, Magnus Vikings Association, Sally Shields and Down District Councillor Patsy Toman. Photo (c) Down News

Looking over the new £700,000 visitors’ centre at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway are Patricia McGrath, secretary of the Downpatrick and County Down railway, Philip Campbell, Magnus Vikings Association, Sally Shields and Down District Councillor Patsy Toman. Photo (c) Down News

“The DCDR Iis staffed entirely by volunteers, with the railway being painstakingly rebuilt from nothing by people giving their time, knowledge, skills and enthusiasm for railway heritage and culture. Volunteers are at the heart of our organisation.,” said Mr Collins.

The winning entrants will be announced at a gala awards ceremony which will be hosted later in the year by Co-operation Ireland. (Irish Public Bodies Mutual Insurances Ltd is the major sponsor of the 2012 Pride of Place Competition in association with Co-operation Ireland.

This article originally appeared on Down News

Work on £700,000 visitor centre at Railway now largely complete

No. 90 greets visitors on entrance to the new Carriage Gallery

No. 90 greets visitors on entrance to the new Carriage Gallery

Over the Twelfth holidays the new three-quarter of a million pounds “Carriage Gallery” at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway, co-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Northern Ireland Tourist Board took a massive step forward with the completion of the railways lines into it.

This allowed a mammoth shunting operation to take place, which saw carriages which had been stored across all part of the lower Market Street complex to be moved into the new building.

Railway Chairman Michael Collins explains, “While the superstructure of the building has been complete for a number of months, it was only through the hard work of the track team – all volunteers – creating an intricate track layout into the building that allowed us to put the building to it intended use.”

He says, “This was no easy feat, it’s a layout Translink would be proud to have!”

Mr Collins continues, “Over the 12th and 13th we carried out a carefully planned shunting exercise, with three diesel locomotives moving carriages all around the site to where we could get them into the Gallery to put on public display”.

Volunteer Richard Convery shows vistors around the exhibits

Volunteer Richard Convery shows vistors around the exhibits

He adds, “Logistically this was very intricate, as due to the relatively small size of the yard in Downpatrick Station; carriages had to be stored on every piece of track we had while the Gallery was being built, some not easily got at, but our Operations people did a sterling job and the two days went very smoothly and efficiently.”

In total, six passenger carriages, one steam locomotive, one diesel prototype Railbus and four goods wagons were moved into the Gallery. This includes the former Belfast & County Down Railway’s “Royal Saloon”, which carried the future Kings George V and VI, as well as King Edward VII and their consorts.

It is planned to mark the “completion of the gallery” in mid-August, but with the shunt complete doors are now open and the new visitor attraction is already having passengers talking.

Already causing a stir are two ancient six-wheeled carriages from the Midland Great Western Railway which operated from Dublin to Galway.

Beauty and the beast - restored and unrestored vehicles provide a unique "before and after" shot

Beauty and the beast – restored and unrestored vehicles provide a unique “before and after” shot

Hidden from view to the public under tarpaulins since they were donated by Irish Rail in 2007, their dilapidated condition creates a direct contrast to the three fully restored vintage carriages also on display.

Mr Collins says, “People have been saying to me ‘You’ll never restore them’, and I say ‘look behind you, those three were worse’ and you can see the jaws drop!”

He continues, “It was always our intention to juxtapose the unrestored with the restored, to show the scale of the restoration work carried out here by our volunteers, and we’re delighted it’s already having the desired effect, there really is a “wow” factor to the place”.

Outstanding work on the Gallery project includes developing a small interpretative space in the railway’s workshop to allow visitors to safely see restoration work being carried out, and new front gates to improve the station frontage, which are due to be completed by March 2013.

Metal Theft at Heritage Railway

Volunteer Johnny Bridle and Down Councillor Cadogan Enright inspect one of the sawn off buffers

Volunteer Johnny Bridle and Down Councillor Cadogan Enright inspect one of the sawn off buffers

In the week where four people in the Downpatrick area were arrested for metal thefts, the Downpatrick & County Down Railway discovered it too had been targetted again by metal thieves.

A volunteer spotted people in orange high-visibility clothing out by some of the engineering vehicles stored off-site and raised the alarm, knowing that none of his colleagues were working on that section of line.

Railway Chairman Michael Collins said, “Our volunteers then went out and discovered that the buffers – basically the shock-absorbers – had been cut off an engineering flat wagon we use to transport sleepers around our line to where they are needed”.

He continues, “Not only does this render the vehicle useless, as it prevents us coupling it up into a train, but it’s also incredibly risky as these buffers are sprung and can be under tension, and to released that tension not knowing what you’re doing could’ve caused serious injury.

“It is also very difficult, if not impossible, to source replacements”.

Mr. Collins adds, “We suspect that the culprits thought that if they disguised themselves in high-visibility clothing, any members of the public would have assumed them to be railway volunteers”.

The criminals also attempted to take a length of steel cabling from a steam crane currently stored out the line while a new track layout is being laid in Downpatrick Station yard, but were unsuccessful.

Mr. Collins goes on, “We immediately contacted the police, who have been down to take forensics, and they have also notified local scrap dealers to be aware of persons trying to sell items that are quite clearly of railway origin – there would be no doubt what these came off.”

Local Downpatrick Cllr Cadogan Enright was also disgusted by this theft, and met PSNI officers on-site and later took a team of CSI officers to the scene for a thorough investigation of the site where tyre tracks and other evidence was gathered.

Cllr Enright said “The side entrance to this site has now been secured, the local landowners have promised to keep a look-out and the details of vehicles using the lane are being reported to the police. The PSNI are now including the security of this entrance in their routine patrols.”

“PSNI officers have told me that they have notified all local and regional waste metal processing plants including those at Mallusk in Belfast to watch out for railway-related metal being handed in, and have confirmed to me that all waste sites now have mandatory CCTV in place for eventualities like this.”

“The people of Downpatrick have a real affection for the teams volunteers who are restoring our railway legacy, and are hugely supportive of the amazing work the railway society have done over the years. The recent expansion on the railway project and the re-laying of tracks to reopened stations is widely supported across the community, and I would ask anyone with information to pass it on to the PSNI.” concluded Cllr Cadogan Enright.

The Downpatrick & County Down Railway is calling on people who may have seen suspicious activity near the Downpatrick Racecourse area of the Ballydugan Road, or the actual incident itself, to contact Downpatrick Police or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.