There’s still time to catch the train this weekend at the Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway before the last summer train pulls out of the station.
The Railway is running its last trips to Inch Abbey this weekend, Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th September, as part of the European Heritage Open Days, and in the spirit of Province-wide scheme there will be guided tours on request of the lesser seen parts of the railway site not normally accessible to the public, as well as the chance to sample the atmosphere of rail travel at its most traditional.
After this weekend the next time the train will be out will be for the Halloween Ghost Trains at the end of the October, so this will be the last opportunity people will have to let the train take the strain before it is infested with ghosts and ghouls at that spooky time of the year.
Railway chairman Robert Gardiner says that this year passengers are in for a real Victorian treat.
“As part of the spirit of the European Heritage Open Days, where you get access to lesser known parts of our heritage, we are running three beautifully restored Victorian and Edwardian carriages normally kept on display in our Carriage Gallery.
The three railway carriages operating all have a special history, as well as a connection to the ill-fated liner – Titanic. Two come from the Belfast & County Down Railway, which used to operate between Belfast and Newcastle via Downpatrick, and the Great Southern & Western Railway – and all three have been restored from wrecks – two of which were found in fields being used as hen houses.
Mr Gardiner explains, “The Belfast & County Down Railway were neighbours and had a very close working relationship.
“Not only was Thomas Andrews’ father chairman of the Belfast & County Down Railway, but the busy commuter trains of the BCDR brought in thousands of shipyard workers everyday to work on Olympic and Titanic, as well as all the other ships,” he says.
He continues, “We have preserved some of those carriages and people will be able to get up close to see how shipyard workers would have travelled to Harland & Wolff, and sit in their seats.”
Mr Gardiner goes on to say, “The Titanic connection doesn’t end there, visitors will be able to board a 1902-vintage third-class carriage from the Great Southern & Western Railway, and see one of their engines, which served the port of Queenstown.
“So not only do you get the experience of the shipyard worker, you will also be able to experience how an emigrant travelled to meet the doomed liner
“And as part of the European Heritage Open Days experience, we’re offering you the chance to travel in the cab of a diesel locomotive with the driver, for a short trip down our South Line, for a unique view of our railway. Places on this will be limited, so be sure to ask our volunteers when you arrive.”
And if this wasn’t enough of a draw, the recently arrived 80 Class “Thumper” railcar will be going on public display inside the DCDR’s Carriage Gallery for the first time, where visitors can see the internal work that has been ongoing to restore the vehicle to operational condition.
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 control a model railway layout.
From 1pm to 4pm, the steam train will run to Inch Abbey, and visitors can disembark and take a short walk up to Inch Abbey. These extensive remains are of a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1180 by John de Courcy, who led the 1177 Anglo-Norman invasion of East Ulster, and are the reputed site for where the story of St Patrick chasing the snakes out of Ireland was first recorded by the monks. And on Saturday 8th there is a guided walk of the ruins with Cistercian Brother Robert as he marks the Hours in the tranquil beauty of this serene Medieval abbey.
Mr Gardiner continues “You can also visit the museum in the station building which looks at the impact that the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from tickets to signals, and a gift shop you can visit before you leave.”
Also open to the public 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 – and is the only genuine vintage signal cabin that is also wheelchair accessible.
Refreshments are also served in the newly entered-service 1980s “Cafe Carriage” parked at Inch Abbey Station where you can wait to make the return journey to Downpatrick, which is fully accessible for wheelchair users.
Train fares, which are separate to free access to the station and museum, cost £7.00 adults, children £5.00, and £6.00 senior citizens, whilst a family ticket costs £20 and children aged three years old or below go free. Tickets provide all-day access to the steam trains, the museum, signal cabin and model railway. You can buy tickets on the day, or purchase in advance at our online ticket office.