The Downpatrick & County Down Railway is celebrating an early Christmas present.
The local heritage railway has taken delivery of a massive semaphore signal gantry from colleagues in the Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway and Network Rail.
Railway civil engineer chief, David Crone, said: “We’re undertaking a plan to relay the track approaches in the station approaches, and as part of that we want to erect proper ‘heritage’ railway signalling.”
He explains: “We needed a signal which has three arms to control the point where the Inch Abbey and Ballydugan lines meet, and we knew there were none left in Northern Ireland, so we turned our attention across the water, never thinking that something would come of it.”
Over in Scotland, the main line railway into Stirling was still using old semaphore signals, and more importantly the same type as used by the Belfast & County Down Railway.
Mr Crone explains: “Railway signalling was usually standard equipment purchased from a few manufacturers, and the BCDR bought theirs from the Stevens & Son Company based in Glasgow, the same supplier as the Caledonia Railway which served Stirling used - a remarkable coincidence.”
Although all the signals from Stirling had been offered to the Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway, they didn’t need one of the gantries on offer and, through contacts between Bo’ness and Network Rail, kindly offered the second bracket signal to the Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway.
Donald McLeish from the Scottish Railway Preservation Society said: “A friend of mine who used to visit signal boxes would delight in telling of the signalman at Stirling sometime in the 1970s who said ‘Aye, ye’d better have a good look now, because it’ll all be gone by next year’. Of course, the semaphore signalling there has been under threat of modernisation down through the decades but has always managed to survive; until now.”
He adds: “When the Railway Heritage Committee designated the installation as of historical significance a degree of protection was afforded and we in SRPS always assumed that there was a good chance that the signals would eventually come our way.
“Over the years though, as signal posts arrived from other locations and storage space became scarce, the limited scope for use or display began to affect the collecting policy so that when we were informed earlier this year that the signals at Stirling were definitely coming down we thought that only one or two might be appropriate, so we were happy to let the smaller one go to the Downpatrick & Co Down Railway for use on their line.”
The signal requires some restoration work before it is erected, and also work in the next few months to complete a major part of the track relay works to allow it to be correctly placed.
If you would like to help with any project at the DCDR, and you are thinking about joining as a volunteer contact the Downpatrick Tourist Information Centre on 028 4461 2233 log on to the railway’s website at www.downrail.co.uk or find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/downrail follow on twitter @downrail.