Scepticism over proposals for second steam railway

Scepticism over proposals for second steam railway

16 November 2011 - by DAVID TELFORD

QUESTIONS have been raised about the district’s ability to sustain two steam railways just miles apart.

The Belfast and Co. Down Railway Trust is holding a public meeting in Ballynahinch tomorrow night to discuss ambitious proposals for a new heritage steam railway.

The meeting at the town’s Market House will focus on plans for a new steam railway linking Saintfield, Crossgar and Ballynahinch. But a spokesman for the district’s existing steam railway — The Downpatrick and Co. Down Railway — is sceptical about the proposal.

He argues there is “nothing particularly new” about the proposals which he claimed have been published on a regular basis from as far back as the 1970s with promises that work on the project was “imminent.”

The Downpatrick and Co. Down Railway spokesman continued: “We would question whether or not the district needs or could sustain two steam railways within such close proximity of each other.

“We would secondly question the wisdom of choosing an English gauge, meaning there could never be any joined-up approach between the two railway ventures, as is the case with heritage railway lines in England.”

The spokesman said other proposals from the Belfast and Co. Down Railway Museum Trust over the years have included an appeal to buy an Irish Rail 141 Class diesel to be named after Northern Ireland’s top international goalscorer David Healy and naming a locomotive after legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings.

He explained the site of the former Ballynahinch station along the old Belfast and

Co. Down Railway line has now gone, as has the former Ballynahinch junction, with plans to develop a scrapyard at this particular site.

The spokesman said the former railway station in Crossgar has also disappeared and been replaced with housing.

He continued: “The heritage railway sector in Northern Ireland is relatively small compared to Great Britain, but we support each other in many ways, in terms of logistics, manpower and specialised expertise.

“We know from our experience of putting tracks back

on the ground that reopening

a closed railway is an expen-

sive business and, unlike many lines in Great Britain, the track beds here were sold off piecemeal.”

The spokesman added: “However, we would be genuinely pleased if circumstances now allow the Belfast and Co. Down Railway Museum Trust scheme to proceed, but would ask it to come and talk with us and the other Northern Ireland groups about such ideas to see if there is scope for a joined-up approach to grow the heritage railway sector in Northern Ireland.”

• Tomorrow night’s meeting in the Market House starts at 8pm.