The Belfast and County Down Railway
The only part of the BCDR network still in existence today is the branch to Belfast
The main line of the Belfast and County Down Railway ran from the Queen’s Quay station at Belfast and proceeded via Dundonald, Comber, Ballygowan, Saintfield, Ballynahinch Junction and Crossgar to Downpatrick.
Branches of the line also ran from Comber to Newtownards and onwards to Donaghadee, from Ballynahinch Junction to Ballynahinch, from Downpatrick to Ardglass via Bright, Ballynoe, Killough and Coney Island, and from Ballymacarrett Junction to Bangor.
From Downpatrick, the line ran to Newcastle via Tullymurray and Dundrum. A branch ran from Newcastle to make a connection with Great Northern Railway metals at Castlewellan. This was all closed by the Ulster Transport Authority in 1950, with the exception of the Castlewellan branch, which lasted a few years longer. The only part of the BCDR network still in existence today is the Bangor branch.
The Downpatrick and Ardglass Railway Company Ltd
In 1984, the Downpatrick and Ardglass Railway Company Ltd was formed with the aim of restoring a section of the line as a working railway museum. The original scheme was to rebuild the branch from the main line just outside Downpatrick to the fishing village of Ardglass. In partnership with the Down District Council, and with the support of the late Lord Dunleath, several miles of the original trackbed were acquired and track laying commenced in 1986.
However, while the Ardglass scheme has been postponed, the railway has taken advantage of opportunities to extend the line north to Inch Abbey and south towards Ballydugan Mill. Both of these extensions follow the route of the main Belfast to Newcastle line. A new halt was also built at the site of the burial mound of the Viking king Magnus Barefoot, who was killed at this spot in 1103. A runestone monument marking the site was erected in March 2003, marking the nine hundredth anniversary of his death.
Since 1986, a new station, work shed, signal cabin and engine shed have been built, and a selection of locomotives and rolling stock acquired and put into working condition. Some of the buildings, such as the station, engine shed and signal cabin, have been moved from their original locations and reconstructed at Downpatrick.
The Victorian canopy at Downpatrick Loop was the only original BCDR structure to survive the 1950s demolition. However, it was in such poor repair that a decision was made to build a replica incorporating parts of the original ironwork.
The original station building at Market Street, Downpatrick, was demolished in 1972 to make way for a supermarket. It had served as a bus station from the railway’s closure in 1950 until this date.
Downpatrick’s gasworks were located across the street from the railway station. When they were closed and demolished to make way for a new college, the nineteenth century listed manager’s house had to be retained. It was dismantled, moved across the road to the old railway site, and reconstructed as the station building.
Most of the station houses and sheds of the BCDR have been demolished, the yards built over, and tracks uplifted or hidden from view. However, a goods shed is still visible in Comber, while both the station house and goods shed remain intact at Ballygowan.
Newcastle station is still largely intact. An ugly, redbrick building with a vast clock tower, it stands beside the Slieve Donard Hotel, which was also built by the BCDR. Newcastle was also served by Great Northern Railway trains from Belfast running via Banbridge and Castlewellan. The station is now a supermarket, and housing covers its yards.
© The Downpatrick Railway Museum