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Due to the ongoing situation with Covid-19, we are closed to the public and all visitors for the rest of 2020. Sadly, this includes the popular Christmas and Halloween events. 

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A Great Railway Journey for Portillo

Michael Portillo with engine driver Jeff Spencer and fireman Robert Edwards, examining what Bradshaw has to say about Downpatrick

Michael Portillo with engine driver Jeff Spencer and fireman Robert Edwards, examining what Bradshaw has to say about Downpatrick

The former Conservative politician and train enthusiast – turned TV presenter – Michael Portillo visited the Downpatrick and County Down Railway to film an episode of the third series of the BBC2 programme Great British Railway Journeys.

During the series Mr Portillo uses a copy of the Bradshaw Railway Guide from the 1860s to travel the parts of the original railway network that still remain today.

It was compiled by the Victorian cartographer George Bradshaw, who was best known for developing the most successful and longest published series of combined railway timetables.

The latest television series took the presenter to Ireland, where he travelled by train from Dublin, making stops in Drogheda and Newry before stopping in Downpatrick.

On his visit to the railway museum Mr Portillo had a chat on camera with its founder Gerry Cochrane and marketing manager Robert Gardiner. He also enjoyed a train journey in from Inch Abbey to the old station in Downpatrick where he visited the Down Cathedral and St Patrick’s Grave, the former is mentioned in the Bradshaw Railway Guide.

The programme is due to be aired on BBC2 sometime in February 2012.

Below is what Bradshaw has to say about Downpatrick, although brief, it is a more substantial account than other towns on the BCDR network attract:

Bradshaw’s Handbook for Tourists in Great Britain & Ireland 1866

DOWNPATRICK
A telegraph station.

MARKET DAY – Saturday FAIRS – First Saturday in each month

Situated on the river Quoile, in a valley, at the south-west corner of Strangford Lough, has a population of about 5,000, and returns one member to parliament. The Cathedral contains the tomb of Lord Kehany; the window at the east end is worth notice.

The Signal Box Now Arriving at Platform 1

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

If you were travelling between Enniskillen and Belfast yesterday on the M1 you may have seen a very unusual sight – a signal cabin perched on top of a low-loader lorry on its way to its new home at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway.

The cabin used to control the north end of Bundoran Junction in Kilskeery, County Tyrone, which used to be a major junction for the Great Northern Railway (Ireland), where trains diverged to travel to places like Omagh, Enniskillen, Fintona Junction, and of course Bundoran itself, before the entire line was closed by the Stormont government on 1st October 1957.

There were once three cabins controlling the triangular junction in the remote location – one at the three points – North, South and West Cabins.

While Bundoran Junction Station survives as a private dwelling, none of the small signal cabins were thought to still survive – until a chance discussion between a DCDR member with a Fermanagh local on boat in the middle of Lough Erne revealed the location of the former Bundoran Junction (North) cabin – it had been saved to be used as a garden shed in a Ballinamallard home.

The DCDR Signalling team had just recently completed their signalling plan for Downpatrick Station, and had recommended that part of the run-round loop should be controlled by a ground frame or small signal cabin, especially if the proposed St. Patrick’s Centre link was built.

Bundoran Junction (North) signal cabin passes the former Clougher Valley Railway station at Augher on its way to Downpatrick

Bundoran Junction (North) signal cabin passes the former Clougher Valley Railway station at Augher on its way to Downpatrick

As a result, a new-build structure was proposed, but after learning of the existence of this cabin, a recce party earlier in the year, working with Selwyn Johnston of Headhunter’s Railway Museum in Enniskillen, identified the location and approached the owners, who were very keen to see the cabin preserved. Initial inspection revealed that although the base had considerable rot, the vast majority of the structure was sound.

Selywn said “Local railway enthusiasts have always known the location of the cabin, although in the interests of protecting it against vandalisim, its existence and location has remained almost secret. In 2002, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the closure of railways in Fermanagh, a nostalgic bus trip was organised to retrace the route of the GNRI from Enniskillen to Bundoran and in particular to allow former railway employees the unique opportunity to see the North Cabin, which resided under a sprawling apple tree in a Ballinmallard garden.”

He continues, “At that time former railway employees and local enthusiasts expressed a wish to protect the cabin for future generations, however no suitable location was ever identified, until DCDR made an approach in 2011. Former railway employees, such as Billy Hawthorne (GNRI Fireman) who worked on the Bundoran branch and now resides in Bolton, were absolutely delighted when he heard that the signal box was going to be moved to Downpatrick and once again become part of a working railway.

“Indeed several former GNRI employees who worked on the Bundoran Branch line are looking forward to visiting Downpatrick whenever the signal box is in position. Headhunters Railway Museum are delighted that the DCDR are committed to protecting the signal box and that a unique part of the GNRI Bundoran Branch is now in Downpatrick. ”

The Signalling team worked on creating a cradle for the delicate structure after the recce, and went down to Ballinamallard early morning on Saturday 6th August. A hiab lorry from Tempo-based hauliers M-Tranz, abnormal load specialists, was used to load and transport the cabin to Downpatrick.

The cabin arrived around 9pm in Downpatrick, and was successfully offloaded – although the rotten base was giving cause for concern if it would survive the lift! However all was well, and the cabin is now safe and sound in Downpatrick yard, where the team will work to restore it to its former glory, before it is moved to its permanent home at the east end of Downpatrick platform.

Bundoran Junction North is gingerly lifted from its hiding place in a garden underneath an apple tree to head for its new home

Bundoran Junction North is gingerly lifted from its hiding place in a garden underneath an apple tree to head for its new home

This cabin which is a good example of a GNR(I) small cabin enhances an original plan for a ground frame at the St Patrick’s end of the station to control the engine run around and shed exit at that end of the station. A 20 lever frame will enable a working cabin to be commissioned in due course sited at the rear of the platform next to the ramp. A key feature of this cabin will be that it will be at platform height with an entrance directly off the platform.

The sitting of the current main cabin between the tracks at the country end of the station unfortunately means that public access will not be possible during running days and the operating floor steps precludes any form of disabled access. Having a small cabin with its low level windows and easy access will enable visitors to see the signal levers, wires, and controls work. They will be able to have this explained by the porter signalman who will operate the run around and accompanying signals which will be an important part of the museums interperative display of artifacts which can be seen working as intended by their original victorian designers.

Once the cabin is fully restored and resited we would like to include one or two photographs of the cabin in its original context at Bundoran Junction. The restoration team would be particularly keen to locate an old familly photograph of one or more of the original signalmen, preferably either at the Junction or in the cabin for future display as part of the Cabin’s story.

Gallery Project on Schedule

With the rails laid, the concrete is poured over the Gallery floor

With the rails laid, the concrete is poured over the Gallery floor

Progress in the HLF/NTB funded Carriage Gallery has been largely internal and away from the dramatic scenes of the superstructure being erected to internal fitting out of electrics and the construction of the internal platforms.

Wednesday 6th July saw another milestone with the start of the rails for the three roads being moved in and fitted to the concrete floor.

DCDR volunteers assisted the contractors, Glasgiven, in this area due to our specialised expertise.

This involves setting the correct gauges – both the track gauge, and the distances away from the internal platform edges.

Two types of rail have been used – 95lb flatbottom rail has been used to join up the two shed roads into the old workshed, while 85lb flatbottom rail from Wellington Bridge in Co. Wexford has been used in the “dead road” at the Gallery entrance. It was decided to use this lighter rail here as the gallery curves at this point, and that it would be easier to bend than the heavier rail – given the lack of purchase points on a pre-cast concrete floor. It also will not be joining up with the workshed, which uses the heavier rail. The lighter rail was first used in the “New Tin Shed”.

Work on reassembly of the Adelaide turnout to connect the Gallery to the main line

Work on reassembly of the Adelaide turnout to connect the Gallery to the main line

A problem to overcome was the difference in height between the new gallery floor and the existing workshed – this was due to settlement of the old workshop, which created a slight tilt in the floor. Rather than replicate this in a brand new building, it was agreed that the Gallery would be built on the level, and the rails made to fit the tilt. This can be seen on some of the photos on Facebook where wedges have been used to make up the difference in heights – only a few inches at the highest point.

With the rails laid throughout the gallery, the Glasgiven contractors secured the rails to the floor, and today the new concrete floor has been poured to rail height – completing the floor.

Outside, work continues on preparing to connect the gallery to the main line. This has seen the reassembly of the first turnout, acquired earlier from the year from NIR’s Adelaide depot, which will be moved to the correct location when the contractors have prepared the trackbed.

We are also indebted to Clive Bradberry and the team at NIR who have released a quantity of concrete sleepers from their Portadown depot to help connect the different types of rail used in this project, and to Andy Irwin of Northern Excavators Rail who organised transport of them to Downpatrick, and once again to Walter Watson for the transport of rail fitting to Downpatrick. These sleepers will be laid in the coming days.

Work on Gallery Construction Complete

Liam Murphy of Glasgiven Contracts hands over the keys to the new Carriage Gallery to DCDR Project Manager John Wilson

Liam Murphy of Glasgiven Contracts hands over the keys to the new Carriage Gallery to DCDR Project Manager John Wilson

The Downpatrick & County Down Railway marked the completion of construction work of the new £550,000 “Carriage Gallery”, as the keys were officially presented to the society by the contractors, Glasgiven Contracts.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and NITB, as well as the railway society’s own funds, the new public display area has been delivered on time and under budget.

John Wilson, project manager for the DCDR, explained, “”It has been a lot of work for a lot of people over the last nine months, however we have made it, and under budget.”

Mr Wilson continued, “Our focus now shifts to the implementation of the Interpretation plan which is really the whole point behind the exercise. This is to ensure that we have a variety of attractive exhibits to catch the imagination of our visitors, and even more important is the intention to increase the number of our visitors.”

“Initial feedback already suggests that the Gallery will be well received. It is a bright, airy and welcoming place to display our exhibits, something which was so desperately needed over the previous years of our existence.”

“We also have a lot of track-work to connect the Gallery to our lines, but we have received great assistance from both Northern Ireland Railways and Irish Rail in acquiring the specialised track materials.”

Visitors will be able to get to see a sneak preview of the Carriage Gallery this coming weekend, as part of the European Heritage Open Days. Entrance to the new Gallery is free, and the steam train will be running from 2pm till 5pm at a charge, with tickets cost £5.50 adults, £4.50 children or senior citizens, and children aged three years old or below go free. There’s no need to book and a ticket lasts all day.