Work on £700,000 visitor centre at Railway now largely complete

No. 90 greets visitors on entrance to the new Carriage Gallery

No. 90 greets visitors on entrance to the new Carriage Gallery

Over the Twelfth holidays the new three-quarter of a million pounds “Carriage Gallery” at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway, co-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Northern Ireland Tourist Board took a massive step forward with the completion of the railways lines into it.

This allowed a mammoth shunting operation to take place, which saw carriages which had been stored across all part of the lower Market Street complex to be moved into the new building.

Railway Chairman Michael Collins explains, “While the superstructure of the building has been complete for a number of months, it was only through the hard work of the track team – all volunteers – creating an intricate track layout into the building that allowed us to put the building to it intended use.”

He says, “This was no easy feat, it’s a layout Translink would be proud to have!”

Mr Collins continues, “Over the 12th and 13th we carried out a carefully planned shunting exercise, with three diesel locomotives moving carriages all around the site to where we could get them into the Gallery to put on public display”.

Volunteer Richard Convery shows vistors around the exhibits

Volunteer Richard Convery shows vistors around the exhibits

He adds, “Logistically this was very intricate, as due to the relatively small size of the yard in Downpatrick Station; carriages had to be stored on every piece of track we had while the Gallery was being built, some not easily got at, but our Operations people did a sterling job and the two days went very smoothly and efficiently.”

In total, six passenger carriages, one steam locomotive, one diesel prototype Railbus and four goods wagons were moved into the Gallery. This includes the former Belfast & County Down Railway’s “Royal Saloon”, which carried the future Kings George V and VI, as well as King Edward VII and their consorts.

It is planned to mark the “completion of the gallery” in mid-August, but with the shunt complete doors are now open and the new visitor attraction is already having passengers talking.

Already causing a stir are two ancient six-wheeled carriages from the Midland Great Western Railway which operated from Dublin to Galway.

Beauty and the beast - restored and unrestored vehicles provide a unique "before and after" shot

Beauty and the beast – restored and unrestored vehicles provide a unique “before and after” shot

Hidden from view to the public under tarpaulins since they were donated by Irish Rail in 2007, their dilapidated condition creates a direct contrast to the three fully restored vintage carriages also on display.

Mr Collins says, “People have been saying to me ‘You’ll never restore them’, and I say ‘look behind you, those three were worse’ and you can see the jaws drop!”

He continues, “It was always our intention to juxtapose the unrestored with the restored, to show the scale of the restoration work carried out here by our volunteers, and we’re delighted it’s already having the desired effect, there really is a “wow” factor to the place”.

Outstanding work on the Gallery project includes developing a small interpretative space in the railway’s workshop to allow visitors to safely see restoration work being carried out, and new front gates to improve the station frontage, which are due to be completed by March 2013.