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Our railway is closed

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. 

It is not possible to book any tickets at this time.

Please see our Covid-19 appeal page for more details.

 

Summer Steam pulls into Downpatrick

Summer Steam pulls into Downpatrick

See our opening dates here – please check before you travel to Downpatrick!

This summer, visitors to County Down can relive the elegance of by-gone railway travel as a season of ‘Summer Steam’ steam trains chuffing their way through the picturesque County Down countryside, along nearly two miles of restored track, begins this July.

And over the last thirty years a small group of volunteers in Downpatrick have painstakingly rebuilt two miles of the line as Ireland’s only full-size working heritage railway, running from the town centre out through St. Patrick’s Country to the ruins of the 12th Century Cistercian Inch Abbey, and every weekend visitors will be able to travel back in time to the golden age of trains.

Railway Chairman Robert Gardiner said that Inch Abbey is a popular destination with train passengers.

“People who have lived in Downpatrick all their lives have travelled on our trains and told us that they were sorry that they’d never been to the Abbey and didn’t realise how beautiful it and this area of the Quoile River was,” he says, “So if the sun’s back out, hop on board and bring a picnic with you and catch one of the later trains back?”

Mr. Gardiner added, “Or if the rainclouds linger, you’re always undercover inside a railway carriage – and hop about our buffet carriage to stop the sarnies getting soggy!”

Hauling the trains will be the “Sugarpuff” engine, or Orenstein & Koppel built steam locomotive No. 1, which used to haul wagons of sugarbeet during her working life for Cómhlucht Siúicre Éireann, the Irish Sugar Company. Her sister locomotive No. 3 is coming back into service this year after a long restoration, so you might get lucky and see her too!

You could also see a classic 1960s diesel locomotive helping out, with ex-Irish Rail diesel locomotive No. 146 providing a fantastic rumble at the start and end of each day, as well as hauling all trains on Sunday, August 26th, our now traditional annual summer diesel day. Kids need to be sure to wave at the driver, and get him to blow the horn for you!

Teas, coffees, cool drinks, buns, biccies and chocolate bars are served all day onboard a 1950s buffet carriage parked at Inch Abbey station.

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. You can explore the inside of some of the lovingly restored carriages, or climb into the cab of a big diesel locomotive and imagine the life of a drive in the 1950s and 60s.

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 have a go driving Thomas the Tank Engine on our model railway – or will the ‘big kids’ want to have a go too?”

You can also visit 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.

For those a little more adventurous, and perhaps live out a childhood dream, you can buy a Footplate Pass for just £20 and get to travel up in the locomotive cab with the driver – you can now book these in advance for a special birthday treat.

Doors open to the public at 1pm each open day, with final trains departing at 4pm and doors closing at 5pm. Tickets cost adults £7.00 return, £5 for children, and £5.50 for senior citizens and other concessions. Children aged three years old or younger can travel free of charge. A family ticket costs £20 for two adults and up to three kids. You can book all tickets online for convenience, including the footplate passes.

You cold also take out membership and join the DCDR Society and get free travel for the entire year, as well as get regular updates on what’s happening at Northern Ireland’s steam centre – or maybe you’d like to volunteer, and one day you could be driving the trains, being a station master, or laying the tracks yourself!

Summer trains start running on Sunday 1st and Sunday 8th July, and then run every Saturday and Sunday from July 14th through to 9th September. The railway also opens on the Bank Holiday Monday, August 27th. Please check the dates carefully before you travel.

Race for the Train at the DownTime Festival

Race for the Train at the DownTime Festival

Steam trains are running at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway on the weekend of 16th and 17th June as part of the new DownTime festival of horse racing, music and culture being held across the Downpatrick area.

To enter into the spirit of fun, there’s a special offer for kids to get in free too. “We want kids to get in the saddle and gallop on down,” says DCDR Chairman Robert Gardiner, “so if they bring something ‘horsey’ with them – it doesn’t matter what, it can be clothing with pictures on it, some actual horse riding gear, a stuffed toy, or even a My Little Pony – they get free admission!”

The train is being hauled by the railway’s own stallion of the rails, a ‘Black Beauty’ of the steam variety. Orenstein & Koppel steam locomotive No. 1, is a German-built locomotive that hauled wagons filled with that staple favourite of horses, sugar beet, during her working life in factories across Ireland.

For a cultural connection, you can visit the historic 12th Century Cistercian monastery at Inch Abbey – perhaps taking a picnic out with you to enjoy some chilled time on the banks of the River Quoile.

Teas, coffees, cold drinks, biccies and buns at highly competitive rates will also be served all afternoon onboard the DCDR’s buffet carriage parked at Inch Abbey station; you can also drive to our Inch Abbey station and catch the train from there if you wish.

“A trip to the station museum and the Carriage Gallery visitor centre brings the golden age of the railway vividly to life,and celebrate the relationship between the railways and racing,” says Mr Gardiner.

He explains this relationship, “The Chief Executive of the Irish National Stud, John Osborne, noted in an episode of ‘Great British Railway Journeys Goes to Ireland’, that “the train would have been the artery of horse racing. A lot of the Irish racecourses not coincidentally evolved close to mainline railways. We take for granted today how easy it is to ship horses twice around the globe now, but back then the racehorses travelled by train as well.”

Whilst racing at Downpatrick predated the coming of the railways, the arrival of the railway in the town in 1858 meant a similar relationship soon developed. Originally horses would have been carried to Downpatrick station in special railway horseboxes, and horses and racegoers would then walk out along the Ballydugan Road to the racecourse.

The opening of the BCDR’s branch line to Ardglass in 1892 meant that a halt closer to the racecourse could be built. The BCDR printed special tickets for racedays, and special trains being laid on to connect with Dublin trains in Belfast. It was a massive logistical undertaking for the BCDR. This all ended, of course, when the line closed in 1950.

Mr Gardiner adds, “You can look at the impact that 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 and climb on board the cab of a locomotive or carriage for their photograph to be taken, or can get to drive Thomas the Tank Engine on a model railway – ‘big kids’ might even get a go too.”

For those a little more adventurous, and perhaps live out a childhood dream, you can buy a ‘Footplate Pass’ for just £20 and get to travel up in the locomotive cab with the driver – this would be a great Father’s Day treat for the Sunday! A reasonable level of fitness is required for this experience, and you need to be aged 18 or older.

Trains run at the from 1pm to 4pm, with all-day access tickets costing: adults £7.00, £5.00 children and £6.00 senior citizens. Kids aged 3 or under travel free, as does any other child up to age 16 who can bring a horsey item with them! A family ticket costs £20, which covers 2 adults and up to three kids.

Mr Gardiner adds, “While you’re there, you can join the DCDR Society and get free travel all year, as well as get regular updates on what’s happening at Northern Ireland’s steam centre and have the opportunity to volunteer – who knows, you might end up driving the steam trains yourself in a few years’ time!”

You can purchase your tickets when you arrive, or beat the queues and buy them online at our online ticket office now.