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The Tamper being craned on to the track at Downpatrick

The Tamper being craned on to the track at Downpatrick

The Downpatrick and County Down Railway gave a “lift” to an unusual train today.

The machine, known as a ‘tamper’ was acquired from Northern Ireland Railways and was delivered to Downpatrick after being craned onto a lorry at NIR’s Adelaide Depot in South Belfast.

Andy Cook, Infrastructure Manager with the DCDR, explains that this is an essential piece of maintenance equipment designed to pack stones underneath railway track.

“Over time trains moving over railway track cause gaps, known as ‘voids’, to form in the ballast that holds the line in position. On any railway where this has happened you can clearly see sleepers bouncing up and down as the wheels pass over them. When this happens passengers notice a distinct bounce.”

“From a technical viewpoint this movement wears out the track quicker, which may mean having to relay sections. So voids need to be filled in to give a firm base for each sleeper.”

He adds, “This machine will help prevent any such voids developing on our line, and stop the track from going out of alignment, as well as meaning a smoother ride for our passengers.”

Mr. Cook explained that the Downpatrick &Co. Down Railway is Ireland’s only full-size heritage line, and has laid and maintains nearly three miles of track by hand.

“It’s back-breaking work, as we’re using picks and shovels to do this work at the moment,” he says, “We’ve done an amazing job but if we’re to keep the line in shape or extend it at some stage our handful of volunteers would face a daunting task. While we’re a heritage railway committed to preserving our Victorian and Edwardian railway past, I don’t think we should rely on 19th Century track laying and maintenance techniques!” jokes Mr. Cook.

So the DCDR jumped at the chance when a mechanical tamping machine became available. An older type of machine had been withdrawn from service by NIR, and was lying in storage at their depot at Adelaide.

The Tamper is prepared for lifting at Adelaide Yard. One of the newly refurbished NIR 80 Class railcars can be seen on the right hand side.

The Tamper is prepared for lifting at Adelaide Yard. One of the newly refurbished NIR 80 Class railcars can be seen on the right hand side.

Eugene O’Brien, Infrastructure Engineer with Translink said, “This piece of equipment which was used to maintain the track is now obsolete. As we no longer have any requirement for it we are pleased to be able to let the Downpatrick &Co. Down Railway have it.”

He explained that this machine packs ballast under an old type of old jointed track known as bull-head rail, which NIR no longer uses on any of its lines, but that the DCDR’s line is made entirely from this type of track.

It is expected to take around a year to refurbish and overhaul the tamper, and any diesel engine buffs or anyone with an interest in getting it going or helping out with the track at the DCDR should get in touch with us, or come and see us at the railway on any Wednesday or Saturday.