The return of the engine to a ramshackle temporary platform was the culmination of years of work by a group of enthusiastic volunteers. Today, the fully restored engines and rolling stock attract hundreds of visitors to one of the finest examples of its kind in Northern Ireland and the only example of a full-size heritage railway here.
A new BBC One Northern Ireland documentary, Raising Steam, on Monday, January 14 at 10.35pm tells the story of the Downpatrick and Co Down Railway Society’s ambitions to restore what was once a wasteland into an area of vibrant living history.
For more than a century, the railway network served as a vital link for the communities in County Down stretching from Queen’s Quay in Belfast to Newcastle, Ardglass and Castlewellan before the closure of much of the line from 1950 onwards.
Raising Steam hears the stories of some of those who used to work on the original railway including Willy Watterson who remembers the last train leaving Tullymurray station in January 1950.
The programme also uses archive and never before broadcast home footage to recall the golden age of railways in Co Down. It also shows how the volunteers have beautifully and faithfully carried out the painstaking restoration work as well as the retrieval of the discarded rolling stock from farmers’ fields including the coach built for the royal visit of the Duke and Duchess of York in 1897.
Many of the volunteers are also interviewed about their work on the railway including Gerry Cochrane the founder of the Society, Heather Taylor, John Beaumont and Michael Collins, Chairman of the Society. The programme follows the volunteers as their work continues to develop even more of the track and restore more of the rolling stock to keep alive the history of the era.
Raising Steam hears from those past and present for whom the railway played an important part in their lives with 2008 also marking the 60th anniversary of the nationalisation of the railways in Northern Ireland.