New South Down MP Chris Hazzard and MLA Emma Rogan visited the Downpatrick & County Down Railway last Saturday to see for themselves the exciting extension plans for the local heritage railway.
The elected representatives were taken out on a light engine as far is currently possible to go on the Ballydugan Extension of the railway, seeing the investment that the railway has put in to this line to get it shovel ready for when remaining land issues are resolved.
Pictured beside our steam engine – Emma Rogan MLA, Robert Gardiner (DCDR Chairman), Albert Hamilton (DCDR Board member), Chris Hazzard MP.
DCDR Chairman Robert Gardiner said, “We were delighted to host our new local representatives and to show them the behind-the-scenes work at the railway.”
“Mr Hazzard was of course Minister of Infrastructure at Stormont before his election as MP, in charge of both mainline and heritage railways, and was very interested in the potential of heritage railways as a tourism driver in the area,” Mr Gardiner adds.
When the railway was proposed in 1982 the intention was to restore the entire former Belfast & Co. Down Railway (BCDR) branch from Downpatrick to Ardglass in phases. However, in 1992 consultants from Down District Council visited the railway and made a series of recommendations that shaped the direction the railway would (literally) take. They recommended extending the line along the former Newcastle alignment to Ballydugan to encourage visitors to the Mill and the lake. They also recommended that the line should cross the Quoile River and Inch Abbey.
At the end of the line, the party inspects the existing track, which ends approx 1km from the destination of Ballydugan.
The Inch Abbey line was started in 1999 with the installation of the replacement Quoile Bridge and the completion of land negotiations for the necessary trackbed north of the Quoile, with the first passenger train ran to Inch Abbey in September 2004.
On the south side work had seen the line extended from the Loop Platform (which had been reached in 1987) to the grave of the Viking King Magnus Barefoot in 1995 and was continuing along the Newcastle line. However the DCDR only had access to about half of the line between the Loop and Ballydugan, but due to land acquisition issues has lain in semi-mothballed condition until these can be resolved.
Albert Hamilton, DCDR director with special responsibility for the Ballydugan Extension, also welcomed the visit.
The Irish Traction Group’s G class loco G617 sits at the end of the South Line, amid the beautiful County Down countryside.
“As a trackbed landowner myself along this route, it’s great to see such interest in our plans from the public and elected representative alike.”
He continues “Extension of the Downpatrick & County Down Railway south is I believe a core element in the future tourism offering of this part of Co Down”
Mr Gardiner adds, “Knowing Mr Hazzard’s interest in the development of Greenways we explained that many of the issues we’ve encountered as a pioneer in using former railway beds are common to developing these.”
“This is a very scenic stretch of the railway and we look forward to seeing it open to passenger trains in the not-too-distant future.”
In the cab of the locomotive, Robert Gardiner (DCDR Chairman) explains the expansion plans to Emma Rogan MLA, Chris Hazzard MP, while DCDR Board Member Albert Hamilton looks on.
Heritage diesel traction has its turn in the limelight this August Bank Holiday weekend, as the Downpatrick & County Down Railway turns over its passenger trains to the Americans on Sunday 27th August.
Railway Chairman, Robert Gardiner said, “This is your only chance to experience classic Irish 1960s diesel locomotives in action on a passenger train this year!”
Mr Gardiner adds, “We are delighted to announce that our yankee engine, ‘Baby GM’ 141 class locomotive No. 146, built by General Motors at their premises at La Grange, Illinois, will be providing a fantastic rumble on this Bank Holiday special service”
The distinctive black and orange locomotive entered traffic with Coras Iompair Éireann (CIÉ), the Irish state-owned transport company in on 14th December 1962 and withdrawn on 5th March 2010 and saw widespread service across Ireland, including on cross-border Enterprise services to Belfast and lines now closed to Omagh.
Mr Gardiner says “This American baby boomer is one of the last remaining examples of a class that saw service all over Ireland, including the Great Northern Railway’s famous ‘Derry Road’ from Portadown to Dungannon, Omagh and Strabane, giving that line a short-lived taste of the future before it controversially and prematurely closure in 1965.”
A limited number of cab ride passes are available for the day, priced £20 for one return journey. These are only available on application at the ticket office. Visitors must have a reasonable level of fitness to climb into the cab of a diesel locomotive.
Tickets are available to purchase online or available from the ticket office on the day. You can travel up and down on as many passenger trains as you want with your tickets. Adults: £6, Under 18s £4.50, concession £5.50, Family (2 adults, 2 children) £18. Children 3 and under travel free.
Steam trains too!
Steam services also run on Saturday 26th August as well as Bank Holiday Monday, 28th August.
Mr. Gardiner says “A trip to the station is also much more than boarding the train, with our museum and Carriage Gallery visitor centre we bring the golden age of the railway vividly to life and you can find out what impact the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from the smallest such as a ticket in the upstairs exhibition, or the largest such as lovingly restored railway carriages in the Carriage Gallery and the stark contrast of the wrecks these vehicles once were when rescued.
For the younger train fans, children can enjoy their own “Kids’ Station” in the Gallery, and dress up as a train driver or guard, or can get to drive Thomas the Tank Engine on a model railway – or will the big kids want a go too?”
Also open to the public for the first time this year is the lovingly restored Bundoran Junction signal cabin, now taking pride of place at Downpatrick Station rechristened ‘Downpatrick East’, where you can imagine yourself as the signalman controlling the trains and learning about the vital role signalling had on our railways.
The new signal cabin is easy to get to, at the end of the main platform in Downpatrick – and is the only genuine vintage signal cabin that is also wheelchair accessible.
The Downpatrick & County Down Railway’s ‘Summer Steam’ season also continues every weekend throughout August and the first two September weekends.
It’s never too early to think about Christmas….!
Our Lapland Express tickets are now on sale via our online ticket office. Book early to be sure of getting your preferred date and time.
See our dedicated Lapland Express page for more details, or go straight to the online ticket office!