At a glance:
Builder: Bedford (Dunstable Plant, Bedfordshire)
Build date: 1986
Original company: Northern Ireland Railways
Withdrawal date: 2014
Final company: Northern Ireland Railways
Arrived at DCDR: 2015
Current status: Operational
Current owner: DCDR

Recovery vehicle No. 20, better known as ‘The Bruff’, was built for NIR by Bedford of Dunstable in 1986. It is equipped for road and rail usage, with two rail axles that can be dropped down beneath the tyres to enable the vehicle to move along the tracks.

The Bruff’s purpose was to transport workers and equipment to wherever they were required on the NIR network without the hassle of providing a works train or conventional road lorry which mightn’t always be able to get right up to the trackside. The silver ‘plant pot’ on its roof is a 360º telescopic floodlight, allowing work to continue long into the night.

As the term ‘recovery vehicle’ might suggest, it was also used in the rerailing of rolling stock which had came off the rails. In its spacious equipment store it held heavy-duty jacks, packing, and slings, whilst there were hoses on the front for air and hydraulic connections. The Bruff can also be used as a mobile workshop – it’s been equipped with onboard generator and has a transluscent plastic roof to allow light into the rear compartment. It would speed off to the sight of a derailment at a breakneck 40mph, assist in the recovery of the derailed vehicle, and return back to base at York Road depot.

The Bruff’s party trick is that it can turn itself around on the spot. A small turntable can be lowered from the vehicle that sits on the railheads, lifting it up and allowing for a team of men to push it around 180 degrees. This saves the poor driver from having to return home in reverse, and allows the Bruff to gain access to the rails at any level crossing by turning 90 degrees from the road.

The Bruff was replaced by a Mitsubishi Fuso CANTER in 2009, but NIR continued to tax and MOT it until 2014 when it was finally SORN-ed. It lay in York Road for another year until coming to Downpatrick in 2015. Other commitments meant the Bruff could not be worked on straight away however, and it was stored behind the locomotive sheds until November 2018 when it was moved into the Workshop for attention. By the first weekend of 2019, it was ready to go. We’ve been continually improving it since then – for example, we’ve replaced its broken windshield and have carried out work on the engine and electrics.

Today, the Bruff is an indispensable part of the Permanent Way fleet, allowing the team to carry out work anywhere on the DCDR network without having to manhandle heavy equipment to and from the site. They’ve even installed a kettle and microwave inside so they can take their tea breaks out the line, and rumours are that a toilet and jacuzzi are soon to follow!