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Railbus to Drive out of Retirement in Downpatrick

Railbus ArrivingThe Downpatrick Railway Museum is poised to expand its timetable thanks to a new arrival on site last Saturday, March 30th, 2001. The newcomer is a 'Railbus', on loan from Northern Ireland Railways, that will allow the Museum to run train services mid-week during the summer running season.

This unusual rail vehicle is essentially what its name suggests - a bus that can run on railway tracks. The Museum's Company Secretary, Mike Collins, states that not only will this vehicle be an extremely useful asset to the railway, it is also an important piece of railway heritage, as it has seen service in both Northern Ireland and England.

"The Railbus was one of four prototypes built in 1981 by British Rail Engineering at Derby as a possible solution to operating lightly-trafficked branch lines," states Mr. Collins. "It operated in England for a year in the Bristol-Temple Meads area before being purchased by N.I.R., when it was regauged to operate on Irish standard gauge track (5ft 3), as the vehicle was originally built to the English gauge of 4ft. 8 and a half ins. Once delivered the vehicle entered service on the Coleraine-Portrush branch."

However, the Railbus's tenure on the line was short. "It wasn't long before it was discovered that the Railbus did not have sufficient capacity to handle the volume of traffic on the Portrush line, and since 1990 it has been on display in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra," says Mr. Collins.

Hopes that the Railbus would run again came about last year when the Downpatrick Railway Museum entered discussions with Translink about bringing the Railbus out of retirement to operate midweek train services. Mr. Collins states that "as the railway is run wholly by volunteers, we don't have the resources necessary to operate a full train service during the week, a situation that the arrival of the Railbus will go a long way to resolving." Translink looked favourably on the idea, and the Railbus was soon moved out of Cultra in a joint N.I.R.-D.R.M. operation and was taken to N.I.R.'s goods yard at Adelaide.

The Railbus almost returned to service quicker than had been expected. At a meeting between Translink and D.R.M. management, the suggestion was made that the Railbus could help save the Lisburn-Antrim line from closure, which suggestion was readily accepted by the D.R.M. As Mr. Collins states, "N.I.R.'s need was greater than our own for extra trains." He continues, "Unfortunately for N.I.R., the same problem that befell the Railbus on the Portrush branch re-emerged, as its capacity is not sufficient for a line with the patronage generated on the Lisburn-Antrim line."

Mr. Collins added, "However, the Railbus is exactly what we're looking for to operate our planned midweek services, and we're extremely happy to see the Railbus drive back into service."

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