Downpatrick Railway Welcomes Masterplan

The Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway has welcomed the publication of the final draft of the Masterplan for the regeneration of the town.

Railway Chairman, Michael Collins, described the document as “extremely encouraging” and welcomed its endorsement of the heritage railway’s role in the town’s regeneration.

Mr. Collins continues, “The Masterplan has fully endorsed our strategy and with their support we are confident that we can make the railway proposals a reality.”

He says, “When we met with the Consultants preparing this report we were confident that we could make a significant contribution to both the tourism appeal of the town and help offer other transport options. “The Downpatrick Masterplan now includes recommendations for the completion of the railway’s currently ‘mothballed’ southern line to Ballydugan, and to restore the bridge over the A25 to connect with the Racecourse,” adding, “It has also endorsed our plan to move our engineering activities to a new site at the Business Park and allow our Downpatrick base to be totally given over to public space.”

The local tourist attraction had initially expressed concerns back in February about the plan when the first draft was launched, as one proposal featured a new road or busway along the railway’s Inch Abbey line. He says, “We are pleased that the Masterplan now recognises that some form of public transport to and from the Business Park or potential Velodrome development along this route doesn’t need to involve tarmac, but rather can use the existing rail infrastructure.”

Mr. Collins states, “While we note that the option of a dedicated busway is still on the table, we agree that both a road or rail scheme would need to stand on its own economic feet, but we are relieved that we could agree on common ground and stand ready to help assist with the development of any future proposals for such a scheme.”Mr. Collins adds that the credit for this endorsement of the proposed extensions to the Downpatrick railway rests largely with the public.

“Throughout the consultation process many people got in touch with us and the consultants to express their support for our plans – we are absolutely grateful for this vote of confidence from the community and we pledge that we will deliver the schemes you have told us that you want us to build.”

Former Cork-Cobh Signals Now at Downpatrick

A signal takes to the air for loading for its transport to Downpatrick

A signal takes to the air for loading for its transport to Downpatrick

This week saw the culmination of a much anticipated project, with the DCDR taking delivery of some much-needed mechanical signalling material from the Cork-Cobh railway line. The material had been removed from the Irish Rail (Iarnród Éireann) network as part of the investment into the Cobh line, which has seen the virtual elimination of old semaphore signalling in this area bar Cork Station itself.

Having recced the locations, the S&T team knew that the material was spread out over three sites, which made for interesting logistics! Two of the sites were adjacent to the Cobh and Middleton lines, and so would require Irish Rail lineside protection for the work, while the third site was at the North Esk freight yard.

A train from Cobh passes the loading work, under the watchful eye of an Irish Rail lookout

A train from Cobh passes the loading work, under the watchful eye of an Irish Rail lookout

On Monday 12th July, a team from the DCDR arrived roughly at 12.30 and, in order to maximise the potential load on the lorry that would take the material home, began to strip the signal poles of everything that could prevent them from being stacked neatly and waste space. One by one the poles were fished out of the pile using crowbars and the ladders, lamps, weights and semaphore spectacles removed.

The following day, Tuesday 13th, the team travelled to Marino Point, between Cork and Cobh and in a very scenic spot near Fota Island. This had the vast majority of items, and was extremely close to the running line. Having completed most of the dismantling, bar the signals, the team moved to the third site just east of Glounthane on the Middleton line. However time was running out, and there was little chance to do more than establish a plan of action for the following day.

Some of the material at North Esk that was dismantled prior to transport

Some of the material at North Esk that was dismantled prior to transport

Wednesday 14th was loading day. The team met the haulier, Murphy Transport, a local Cork firm at North Esk, before travelling to the two other sites. The plan was simple, in order to maximise the load, an ordinary 40ft lorry trailer was used, rather than one with an integral hiab which would reduce a lorry’s overall load capacity. However, rather than hire a separate crane, Murphy’s offered to use their 28ft rigid lorry with hiab to load the 40fter. This would allow for quick movement and setup between the sites.

Loading went smoothly, and offloading took place in early morning Thursday 15th. On the way home, the team called off at Louth village for one final signalling flourish, to pick up a Great Northern rotating shunt signal from Ardee, which has been donated by Tom and Leonard Hatrick. Our thanks to them for this little gem.

In all, although a very intensive couple of days, it was made up by the fact that much needed vital equipment has now been secured, which will make the operations of our trains much easier, allowing more options for visitor’s journeys, as well as adding something more to see at Downpatrick.

Our thanks to Irish Rail heritage officer, Gregg Ryan, and all the Signals and Telegraph personnel from Irish Rail for their help in this project, and to everyone on the DCDR side who helped make this mission a success!