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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.

Minister Inspects Work at Heritage Railway

First Class: DRD Minister Danny Kennedy, MLA, inspects carriage No. 148 in the new Carriage Gallery, with Herbie Bodel and Michael Collins

First Class: DRD Minister Danny Kennedy, MLA, inspects carriage No. 148 in the new Carriage Gallery, with Herbie Bodel and Michael Collins

The Minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy, visited restoration work being carried out by the Downpatrick & County Down Railway recently.

In the first visit by a government minister to the County Down heritage railway, the Minister met with volunteers and took a trip out on one of their vintage diesel trains out to their present terminus at Inch Abbey, about two miles north of Downpatrick.

Danny Kennedy said, “I am very impressed with the excellent facilities the Downpatrick & County Down Railway has developed. I congratulate and commend the work of the volunteers for their dedication in helping to preserve our railway heritage for future generations to enjoy.”

In the driving seat: DRD Minister Danny Kennedy, MLA, takes the controls of diesel locomotive A39, with Johnny Bridle and Norman Bodel

In the driving seat: DRD Minister Danny Kennedy, MLA, takes the controls of diesel locomotive A39, with Johnny Bridle and Norman Bodel

The Minister was also given a sneak preview of the Downpatrick & County Down Railway’s new £700,000 Carriage Display Gallery, which will open to the public in August.

The Minister continued: “This is a wholly fascinating project and the Carriage Display Gallery is a fitting home for the many unique exhibits that will soon be on show to the public.”

Mr. Collins, chairman of the Downpatrick & County Down Railway, said, “We’re delighted the minister could visit the DCDR, we have been working on restoring this railway for over twenty years, and it is terrific that he was impressed with our work.”

He continues, “We have a close working relationship the Department of Regional Development, as they have responsibility for regulating not only the Northern Ireland Railways network, but also the relatively small heritage railway sector here.”

The minister is presented with a copy of "Back in Steam" back at the platform in Downpatrick Station

The minister is presented with a copy of “Back in Steam” back at the platform in Downpatrick Station

“We were recently awarded our Safety Case Exemption certificate from the DRD, and on the back of that we offered an invitation to the Minister to come down to see what it is we actually do,” said the chairman.

“He was taken aback by the size of the railway and museum complex, and particularly impressed with the new Gallery. He especially liked that it allows you to see the different stages of carriage restoration”.

Before leaving, the Minister was presented with a memento of his visit, a signed copy of Gerry Cochrane’s book, “Back in Steam”, which chronicle’s Gerry’s personal story in setting up the DCDR, from its humble beginnings to what it is today.

Mr Collins added, “We look forward to welcoming the Minister back again at some point in the future for our next milestone.”