Railway improvements back on track despite ‘challenging’ time

Railway improvements back on track despite ‘challenging’ time

12 January 2022

DOWNPATRICK and County Down Railway has marked several “significant improvements” despite describing last year as “extremely challenging” due to the Covid lockdown.

The railway welcomed back passengers for the first time in two years when the Lapland Express rolled out in December.

Chairman Robert Gardiner said: “Even though it sometimes seemed impossible to pull off, we’re extremely proud to have been able to bring smiles to hundreds of peoples’ faces in a safe, socially-distanced way. We hope that we have many more passengers and just as much fun with more trains in the not-so-distant future.”

In his review of 2021, Mr Gardiner also reported that volunteers 

dedicated themselves to carrying out maintenance on carriages and the track.

He described how the railway’s 80 Class train project — which aims to transform two railcars back to their original condition — reached a major milestone when driving trailer 749 was released from the workshop after three years of restoration work. 

“The coach’s interior now looks almost exactly as it did in the 1970s, complete with orange vestibules, blue vinyl, and teak formica. 

“Even though it sometimes felt like every step of progress revealed yet another new problem, a small team spent much of 2021 repairing broken doors, cutting out and replacing corroded bulkheads, and designing replica stickers to get us up to this point.”

He predicted that the 80 Class would be up and running in the future now after roofing work on the Power Car 69 is completed.

Mr Gardiner praised the work that the railway’s track team which made the most of the lockdown to carry out much needed work.

He said: “The lack of passenger trains provided a perfect window of opportunity to complete several major projects – countless hours have been spent examining and repairing sleepers, fishplates, and rails, the South Line has received much-needed weed-spraying attention, and our Inch Abbey platform underwent an almost entire rebuild to repair woodwork problems which have accumulated over the last fifteen years. 

“Although these are all unglamorous and often thankless tasks, they are all absolutely essential to the safe running of the line.”

Other work carried out including the overhaul of a Wickham railcar, continued maintenance and training on our locomotives and carriages and tidying up the yard.

Mr Gardiner appealed for more volunteers to help with the ongoing maintenance and other tasks involved in ensuring the continued operation of the railway.

He also paid tribute to all the volunteers and supporters of the railway, adding: “We are extremely grateful to all of our friends for providing continued help and encouragement throughout yet another difficult year – all the effort and worry is worthwhile to see the positive impact that the railway 

has on the community in so many ways.”

He continued: “We continue to be blown away by the loyal audience and engagement that we have, a privilege that not many railway societies can say they enjoy to our extent. To all of our supporters, whether you’re a member, volunteer, donor, passenger, or social media follower, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”