Diesel Gala Cancelled

Diesel Gala Cancelled

It is with deep regret that we have to cancel our planned diesel gala event planned for January 6th, 2024.

This is due to unprecedented levels of flooding in Downpatrick town and the surrounding countryside, which you may have seen on the TV and online news.

An overview of the station and wider railway area showing the extent of the flooding. [Lecale drone video/photos]

This is the worst flooding the railway and the town has ever experienced, and the damage is significant. All of our diesel locomotives and railcars have been submerged in water for some time. This means water may have entered axleboxes, traction motors and other aspects of the locomotives. It will take us many months to restore the locomotives, and we are braced for very bad news because it is possible that some may be beyond our ability to repair. We will not know until the waters fully subside and full inspections can take place. This all takes time.

Water level on the bogies of diesel loco 146, which rose above the axleboxes and traction motors

146, G617, A39R, 80 class power car 90, and the Wickham railcar have all been in deep water, and it is simply not possible for them to be ready in January. Additionally, power car 69 in the workshop, under restoration, has also been submerged. The steam locos are also partly submerged but are not as complex to recover as more ‘modern’ traction is.

The high water mark on loco G617

450 class railcar 458 has been luckier, and escaped water rising above the axleboxes everywhere except the driving trailer cab end, but we still need to inspect it and dry it out fully to prevent possible major damage.

On top of this, all of the track outside of the station area remains deeply submerged and we are unable to inspect it and ascertain what work is needed, or if any major damage has occurred. 

Tracks outside the station premises under deep floodwater

As if that wasn’t enough, the locomotive sheds, workshop and carriage gallery have also been under deep water, 4-5 feet at times. Spares, tools, and all manner of other things we need for the railway have been damaged or destroyed. Damage will run into tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds.

With all of the above in mind, we have no other option but to cancel the diesel gala. We are truly very sorry about this.

Please be patient, as the refund process takes time and we are very busy with the clean up and administration at this very difficult time.

Our volunteers are heartbroken at what can only be described as a disaster for the railway, and while we are determined to build back and open again, we have a massive task ahead of us and need all the support and understanding the wider community can offer.

 We have faced major hurdles before and have overcome these. With the hard work of our volunteers, hopefully we can do the same once again and in due course we will see a return to better times.

 Thank you for your understanding and support at this time.

The high water mark on the battery boxes of an 80 class power car

Major flooding in Downpatrick

Major flooding in Downpatrick

Our railway has been hit by major flooding at the end of October and start of November 2023.

The flood waters have totally overwhelmed the railway and much of the centre of Downpatrick, leaving the railway tracks, yard, buildings and rolling stock submerged in deep flood water and much damage has been incurred.

We understand that you may be concerned about ticket bookings for the Lapland Express and also the 6th January 2024 diesel gala. Please be assured that nobody will lose out on their bookings, but we must expect disruption in the coming weeks with some events impacted.

Our team is very small and run by volunteers in their spare time, so we please ask for your patience when waiting for any responses to queries. As it is likely that phone lines will be unavailable, the best way to contact us is via email: info@downrail.co.uk

You can follow this webpage for regular updates

Lapland Express tickets on sale

Lapland Express tickets on sale

Our Lapland Express trains are on sale now, with loads of interest so far you should definitely book your places early to avoid disappointment!

This year we have added an extra date, so Santa’s trains are running on NINE DAYS over five weekends, with Saturday 23rd December as well as the preceding four Saturdays and Sundays:

  • Saturday 25th & Sunday 26th November
  • Saturday 2nd & Sunday 3rd December
  • Saturday 9th & Sunday 10th December
  • Saturday 16th & Sunday 17th December
  • Saturday 23rd December

Trains depart Downpatrick at 12:00, 13:15, 14:30, 15:55 and 17:10 though do check because not all trains run on all days.

We have tweaked the age groups slightly this year to 0-5 and 6+ years, with a new range of gifts from Santa. Your tickets will get everyone in your group a hot chocolate and cookie, though alternatives are available and we do provide ‘free from’ options for adults and kids with food intolerances – contact us after booking to arrange this.

Book those tickets now – head over to our Santa page to find out more details.

Will you be running a ‘quiet train’ for kids with ASD?

Yes, we absolutely will be doing this. This will be by application only and we will announce this in due course via our mailing list and Facebook page. Sign up, and/or follow us!

 

SuperTrain FLASH SALE!

SuperTrain FLASH SALE!

⚡ FRIDAY FLASH SALE ALERT! ⚡

HOLY SUPERTRAIN, BATMAN! Calling all citizens of Gotham and beyond, we’re offering a FLASHtastic deal! Get a dazzling 25% off on all ticket prices for this weekend only!

Join us for an action-packed journey this August and as it’s Friday, the legendary superhero with lightning-fast speed and a heart of gold, The Flash has insisted on having a Flash Sale!

This August 12th, the devilish duo Clown Prince of Crime and the ever-unpredictable Harley Quinn, known for their terrifying brand of mayhem, are trying to make a clean getaway onboard the train and we have to stop them – as there’s no telling what chaos might unfold if they get their hands on the train’s controls! But there’s one thing the devious duo haven’t counted on: Gotham’s caped crusader and his friend are following them here, ready to put a stop to their fiendish plot. Help Batman, the Caped Crusader, and his Justice League allies Wonder Woman, the Amazonian Princess, and the Flash, the Scarlet Speedster, tackle the wily schemes of The Joker and Harley Quinn. Keep your eyes peeled for their devious traps as our heroes use their cunning skills to save the day.

This is going to be a tough mission, and we’re going to need all the help we can get. Join us in heart-pounding escapades as we battle villains and champions justice for all! Unleash your superhero spirit and hop aboard our fantastical Supertrain as we zip through the scenic landscapes of Gotham, County Down! Be a part of the action and witness the epic showdown between good and evil! Come dressed as your favourite superhero or supervillain! Will you be the hero Gotham deserves or the villain it fears?

It’s time to get your tickets and join our superhero brigade on the most action-packed train journey! Let’s unite to bring justice and excitement to the world of Supertrain Showdown! 💥

Visit the online ticket office here

Lapland Express tickets on sale

Extra Lapland Express tickets on sale now

Our Lapland Express trains have been selling out fast, and loads of you have been asking if there will be more tickets available. Well we have been working hard with Santa to add extra capacity to our trains, and we are pleased to offer additional seating on most of the trains on all four weekends.

On the December trains these bookings are currently only available for groups of up to four people at a time as we have to limit seating bays to one group each and all of the larger bays are sold out already.

If you want to book a larger group, you should make two separate bookings for the same date and time, and then let us know afterwards, so we can try our best to get you sitting together when we allocate the seats. Trains have been added at 16:40 on Saturday November 26th and Sunday November 27th which can accommodate larger groups as well.

Book those tickets now – head over to our Santa page to find out more details.

Update: Halloween 2022

Update: Halloween 2022

Unfortunately we will not be open for Halloween trains this year.

Our volunteers are working really hard behind the scenes to get ready for the Christmas trains, including getting the steam locomotives and carriages ready, and we simply don’t have the manpower or the time to set up and run a proper Halloween event this year. We hope to bring a much-improved Halloween offering in 2023.

Part of the problem this year is the loss of key volunteers during the pandemic, and the ever-increasing burden on the remaining few as we work hard to keep tracks and trains up to the high standards required for railways in the 2020s. If you feel you want to join the team to help out, it really is great fun when all your hard work pays off. See our volunteering page for more details.

European Heritage Open Days – update

European Heritage Open Days – update

Following Thursday’s sad announcement of the death of Her Majesty the Queen, the directors and volunteers of the Downpatrick and County Down Railway offer our condolences to the Royal Family at this difficult time, and share sympathies with all of those mourning her passing.

At present, our free trains for European Heritage Open Weekend will be proceeding as planned this Saturday and Sunday.

This situation may be reviewed in light of any changes in advice from the government, so please check our Facebook page before you travel, or sign up to our mailing list. If there are no further updates then you can safely assume we are still opening as planned.

New ballast wagons arrive from Irish Rail

New ballast wagons arrive from Irish Rail

It was a busy few days for DCDR, as we took delivery of a four new (to us) wagons from Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) on Monday and Tuesday, with shunting taking place before public trains even finished on Saturday and all day Sunday as well.

These wagons are destined to help our Permanent Way gang keep our track up to standard, as well as help rehabilitate the currently mothballed ‘south line’ beyond Magnus’s Grave. This acquisition demonstrates our commitment to maintaining our track to the best standard possible, as well as ultimately being used for the extension to Ballydugan by giving us better tools for maintenance.

The wagons are three ballast hoppers, which can hold up to 20 tonnes of stone (known as ballast) that is deposited on the railway line to hold the track in place and give a good smooth ride when tamped. The fourth wagon is a special brake van which has an underfloor plough fitted that then spreads this stone to where it’s needed. The wagons give much higher capacity than our trusty Daisy dumper or ballast regulator, though these still have their place for smaller and more precise jobs.

These particular hoppers were built by CIÉ and Parsons Ltd in the 1970s, and ran all across the Irish Rail network until their withdrawal in 2013. These wagons were parked up in Dublin’s North Wall yard where they remained for the last nine years until they were finally sanctioned for scrap. At that point the DCDR got in and asked if a number of the best ones could be kept aside for us.

Iarnród Éireann Chief Executive Jim Meade said:

As custodians of the railway, we are acutely aware of the importance of rail heritage.  We are fortunate on this island that we have a community of professional and dedicated organisations such as Downpatrick & County Down Railway who are committed to preserving our rail heritage.  It was a pleasure to work with D&CDR who have now taken ownership of three ballast wagons and a ballast plough from ourselves, and we look forward to seeing their use by the team in Downpatrick for many years to come.

They were delivered by Railway Support Services Ltd over the last two days, so if you were stuck behind the convoy and wondered what these were, now you know! They will be back again next week, with more secret new toys for us…

We are very impressed with the condition of these wagons and they will need little work to bring them into service – certainly the sight of ballast being ploughed will be pretty impressive. As well as being useful tools, we hope these might become interesting exhibits in their own right.

Our sincere thanks to the team at Irish Railway Models who have offered to support the cost of transport, as well as one of our volunteers who funded the purchase of them, and of course as Irish Rail and Railway Support Services as well.

Summer 2022 opening – we are back!

Summer 2022 opening – we are back!

The news you have all been waiting for – Downpatrick and County Down Railway is opening its doors to the public once again in summer 2022 after two-and-a-half years of closure.

Two years of Covid closures and a huge backlog of maintenance meant we could not open earlier this year, but now that summer is upon us, after a huge amount of work from our volunteers we are finally opening our doors to the public.

Initially we will be operating mainly on Saturdays only from mid July, and are using our 450 class diesel railcar for public trains as the steam locomotive overhauls have been delayed by the loss of key volunteers during the pandemic. We are working to get them back in action for the Lapland Express trains this Christmas. More details of Christmas trains will be announced very soon!

Starting on Saturday 16th July, we are running trains each Saturday through July, August and into September as part of our Summer trains programme. You can find out more about our summer trains here.

As well as this, our first two special events are confirmed. The first is the SuperTrain, a super hero experience that the kids will love, running on Saturday 23rd July. Full details of the SuperTrain can be found here.

We will also be running The Jurassic Express, a dinosaur adventure on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st August. More details of this will be added soon.

We are still facing ongoing issues with Newry, Mourne and Down Council with the main station buildings, so we apologise if some areas of the station are not available on your visit.

Covid and reopening update – August 2021

Covid and reopening update – August 2021

It has been quite a while since our last update, so here’s the latest update on what’s been happening at the railway and our plans to reopen to the public.

The past 18 months has been an incredibly tough time for the railway, with prolonged periods of closure and major loss of income. This has been offset somewhat by money obtained from various grant bodies and donations from the public and our members. We have been considering our plans for reopening and we feel that the time is right to share the latest news with our members.

The main reason we remain closed now is not actually Covid itself – it is the massive amount of ‘ordinary work’ that needs to be completed before we can open the doors again and allow members and the public to experience Ireland’s only full-size heritage railway again.

When will we reopen?

Two steam locomotives are parked outside the locomotive shed. A volunteer is on top of one of them making adjustments to valves. A second volunteer watches from the ground, wearing a white T shirt that is very grubby.

Both our operational steam locos are seen being tested to make sure everything is OK before the boiler inspection.

Following a review of the backlog of work the railway is facing, we are sorry to say that we will not be opening this summer at all.

Our current plans are to open fully for Christmas trains this year. We are also considering opening for limited trains over the school half term holidays, and perhaps opening the museum and carriage gallery as well for visitors, but these plans are not yet confirmed.

Why aren’t we opening sooner?

Most people expect all businesses to be operating more or less as normal again, subject to current public health restrictions. Unfortunately, DCDR is not a typical business, and we remain closed for three main reasons. 

Firstly, regulatory work required to reopen has been immense. The days of ‘just playing with trains’ are long gone – indeed such a mindset has been inappropriate for decades. We had our five-year inspection from HSENI/DFI to obtain our operators licence earlier this year. This was to full ORR standards and we passed the inspection with flying colours, albeit with the usual few extra jobs the inspector wanted. It was a huge task to get through this, especially our Compliance Director Ian Cross who deserves everyone’s thanks for his tireless efforts on this. Without this, we would be unable to operate at all.

A large road-rail excavator is working on the stone beside the track on our Loop Line. A supervisor is directing the work from a safe distance, and a third volunteer is watching from the foreground. The track is overgrown and disused.

Work getting underway on the Loop Line, with the Komatsu excavator clearing the trackside.

Secondly, there is a huge maintenance backlog to overcome. Our railway was effectively abandoned for a long time, and was subject to vandalism, trespass and general deterioration of our assets in the County Down weather. In some cases this was worse because things like locomotives are intended to move around, and water gathering in diesel locomotives, railcars and carriages has created a lot of work (see below)

Thirdly, unlike most tourist attractions and museums, we are entirely run and managed by volunteers. Everyone working in the Board, on track, locomotives, carriages and station improvements is a volunteer. Our wonderful part-time admin officer Kathryn has been on furlough since Spring 2020.

Being volunteer-run and volunteer-led, our already small workforce has been further reduced by people shielding from the virus, and those who wished to avoid contact with the public and other volunteers. Whilst the overall situation has improved massively, some volunteers are still staying away for their own safety, and we cannot compel them to return. We are literally doing more work with fewer people, and it’s a struggle.

Work completed during lockdown

It’s not all bad news. We have completed a lot of work during the lockdown period. This is some of the work that we have carried out:

  • A volunteer at work on the roof of an 80 class carriage. He is wearing a harness attached to a safety line in the workshop ceiling, and is painting the carriage roof grey with a roller.

    Robert at work on the roof of the 80 class driving trailer, applying a second layer of Noxyde paint.

    Rail joints have been adjusted and track inspected and overhauled all the way from Downpatrick to Inch Abbey. This includes dismantling, gap adjustment and oiling of every fishplate (track joiner) on the the rails, replacement of worn rails, repair or replacement of chairs and sleeper spacing improvements. The line is better now than the day it was laid!

  • Brand new speed limit and whistle signs have been installed all along the North Line
  • The Loop Line has had embankment repairs and track improvements, but more work is required to reconnect it to the North Line, and this is on hold while we focus our efforts elsewhere.
  • Ground frame installation, including complex point rodding installation, has made impressive progress
  • A painter in disposable overalls and mask is spray painting the dome end of the roof of the 80 class driving carriage. The carriage is sheeted off with plastic to protect the other paintwork. The new paint is a shiny maroon colour.

    Justin McConnell from NIR at work spraying the roof of the 80 class driving trailer.

    80 class restoration, maintenance and regular inspections continue. In particular, driving trailer 749 has been beautifully restored to be a 1970s time warp outside and inside.

  • Both our steam locos have had annual maintenance and boiler inspections, to get them ready for service.
  • The bay platform area had a major tidy up with discarded track materials and other rubbish dumped there removed, a vast improvement.
  • The giant mountain of old rotten sleepers and other rubbish dumped in the permanent way yard has been largely cleared, with useful components stored and scrap sleepers and other parts ready for disposal.
  • Inch Abbey car park. New white metal picket fencing is shown across the car park.

    New fencing in place at Inch Abbey car park.

    New fences and gates have been installed around the Downpatrick station site

  • We now have a brand new CCTV system and supporting wireless network around the site, complete with remote access and high definition evidential quality video.
  • New fences and gates have been installed at Inch Abbey station
  • Weed control work, including cutting back of trees (before nesting season, don’t panic), cutting vegetation and full weed spraying of both of our lines, including weed spraying to the very end of the South Line for the first time in many years.
  • We have ploughed through tonnes of paperwork to apply for grants and deal with awarding contracts for grant funded work.

The list of work above has been punishing, so thanks must go to the volunteers who have toiled so hard to make this happen. You may be surprised at how few working volunteers we have.

Remaining work

A group of volunteers pose with a new speed limit and whistle sign beside the track. The road-rail dumper truck is seen on the tracks.

A new combined 10mph + Whistle sign near Inch Abbey.

We’ve completed a huge amount of work during the past 12 months – but there is a lot more still to be completed.

Remaining work includes:

  • Repairs to diesel locomotives
  • Completion of the 80 class railcar restoration (mainly the roof on power car No. 69 which needs to be made watertight and repainted)
  • Annual inspection of locomotives and carriages, and any repairs carried out
  • Full, detailed inspection of all our permanent way and structures
  • A large yellow track machine with a weed spraying attachment drives slowly round a curve on our railway line. The track is overgrown with weeds and grass.

    The ballast regulator trundles round a curve near the ends of the South Line with weed sprayer deployed.

    Work is ongoing to repair our tamper so we can adjust the track to be more level and straight

  • Station cleaning and painting
  • Repairs and upgrades to pathways and fences
  • Inch Abbey platform is receiving major attention as the timber platform has not only aged but also vandalised, and needs to be repaired before use.
  • Improvements to level crossings at Downpatrick and the North Junction
  • General weeding and gardening
  • A new, modern, vandal-proof toilet at Inch Abbey (the horrid portaloo will be history!)
  • Groundskeeping works at Inch Abbey station to reclaim it from the jungle
  • A volunteer wearing face and eye protection operates a large petrol driving circular saw to cut a section off the end of a length of rail.

    Chris hard at work trimming the end of a length of rail to ensure the gap is correct.

    Crew training and related exams

  • Other Volunteer refreshers (station staff etc.)
  • Covid-safe measures to be put in place, such as hand sanitisers and screens (the equipment has been purchased already using grant funding)

There is more work than is listed above, but that shows you the major tasks we are trying to complete.

We need more help

Our small team of volunteers has been working flat out to get through all the jobs needed before we can reopen. In the middle of the heatwave, some came in before 6am to get track work completed before the heat became unbearable. At other times, the rain has poured through them while they toil.

The Bruff road-rail lorry is seen on the track near Inch Abbey. One of the rails in front of the truck has been removed to allow a new rail to be installed.

Track maintenance underway near Inch Abbey.

We need more help though. Even a few more people coming forward to volunteer would make a massive difference to us. Skilled painters, joiners, electricians, gardeners – we need you! If you don’t have a trade but have enthusiasm to help out, there is a place for you as well. The only current restrictions, on top of government health advice, are we are unable to train new drivers and firemen.

Please contact us if you think you can offer practical help. You can find details of how to contact us here.

Every pound helps!

Two road-rail excavators being used to clear rubble and old rails around tracks.

Rubble and scrap being removed in Downpatrick station.

Funding is also a major ongoing concern for us. We have lost 18 months of revenue, but careful financial management and grant funding success has kept us in a fairly healthy state. But grants are running out, and we don’t have ticket sales money coming in yet.

If you can make a donation, please consider doing so. To those who have already donated – thank you so much for your generosity. If you haven’t donated or you wish to donate again, then check out our donations page.

And finally…

While this all seems a little overwhelming and maybe depressing, we are actually very positive about our prospects. We have seen a close-knit, hard-working team of volunteers prove themselves to be heroes in this past year. The efforts put in have been impressive, be it toiling out on the track doing heavy manual labour, or toiling at a keyboard trying to keep the admin and finance on the straight and narrow.

We will be back just as soon as possible!

 

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