Downpatrick train 'could have been derailed' by rail line vandalism
A vandalised rail line in County Down could have derailed a train carrying passengers on a May Day trip, a railway organisation has said.
Volunteers with the Downpatrick and County Down Railway found a metal bar wedged between switches on the line near Inch Abbey on Monday.
A train with about 80 to 90 passengers was set to use the rail line later that day.
Mike Beckett, the train's driver, said the trip "could have ended badly".
"We definitely averted a serious incident. It could have been quite scary, people would've have been thrown around or worse," he said.
The trip did go ahead after the rail line was cleared.
"The show went on as scheduled. No one was any the wiser," said Mr Beckett.
"We're volunteers but we're trained and have experience. We always check the line before the public are due to travel on it."
It was during a pre-trip check that Mr Beckett noticed the rail line had been interfered with.
He said that the metal bar had created a gap of two inches between the rails.
"That's big enough to have caused a derailment," the driver said.
"There would have been injuries or worse.
"Even without injuries, the damage to the vehicle would've been terrible. You cannot replace these trains.
"We're volunteers, so anything that is damaged or needs replaced comes out of our own pockets."
Mr Beckett, who has been volunteering at the railway for almost four years, said he had never seen vandalism of this kind before.
"We've had various low-level vandalism over the years but this is the first time I've seen deliberate interference with the rails.
"Disappointed is how I'd sum up our feelings on it."
Robert Gardiner, vice-chairman of the Downpatrick and County Down Railway, said that the organisation's safety procedures meant that there was no danger to the public.
"A metal bar was wedged in between the switches and the point lock removed, meaning that the points were not engaged which could in a worst-case scenario lead to a derailment.
"Fortunately due to our safety system in use before every public running day, the track is manually inspected.
"This sabotage was discovered prior to any trains running and remedied as a matter of course, there was no risk to either train crew or members of the public at any time."