Campaign to save ‘Thumper’ train which served NI during Troubles

80 Class No. 84 August 1983
80 Class No. 84 August 1983

A fundraising campaign has been launched to ensure it is not the end of the line for a unique train which served Northern Ireland for four decades.

Downpatrick & County Down Railway want to safeguard the future of the distinctive train known affectionately as a ‘thumper’.

80 Class No. 68 being scrapped

80 Class No. 68 being scrapped

Railway chairman Robert Gardiner said: “The 80 Class may not be a steam train, but they are still fondly loved by railway workers and the public alike.

“They’re unique to Northern Ireland, there’s nothing else like them in the world and they defined Northern Irish rail travel for four decades.”

He added: “This veteran of the rails is also testimony to Northern Ireland’s resilience.

“In 1965 huge swathes of railway lines were axed in Warrenpoint, Dungannon, Omagh and the West and it looked like the rest of the network would follow suit.

Surviving 80 Class No 69 near Carrickfergus May 1984

Surviving 80 Class No 69 near Carrickfergus May 1984

“The railway was still largely an Edwardian relic, with mechanical signalling and jointed track. It didn’t look like it would last the decade.

“But, in the early 1970s the tide turned when NIR ordered the first of these vehicles.

“Despite bombs and hijackings these trains became the train that would get through the Troubles, reliable and strong enough to keep the people of Northern Ireland moving and safeguard what was left of our rail network.”

He continued: “In the 1990s they were also used for the famous Peace Train movement, operating between Belfast and Dublin, with one of the surviving units No 69, operating the last Peace Train to Dublin and back.

DCDR Chairman Robert Gardiner in front of No. 69 in York Road engineering works

DCDR Chairman Robert Gardiner in front of No. 69 in York Road engineering works

“Sadly, the last of the 80 Class, used by Translink as leaf-busting trains during the autumn until last year, has now been withdrawn from service.”

Although based on an earlier BR Mk1 design used on the Southern Region, no BR version of the 80 Class was ever produced, leaving it unique to Northern Ireland.

It was first employed on Great Victoria Street to Portadown services.

They also started working on the Bangor line when the Belfast Central line was reopened in April 1976.

The majority of 80s were withdrawn in the period 2004-2006 with the arrival of the 23 CAF 3000 sets.

Some of the refurbished 80 sets were used on the Larne line from 2009 to 2011.

A farewell tour was held on September 25, 2011.

He said: “On a recent visit to our heritage railway a 10-year-old child came up to me excitedly and asked if we were saving an 80 Class. Whilst surprised that he knew what they were, I thought – how could we disappoint him?”

Mr Gardiner said: “We want to turn back the clock for these trains to allow our children and grandchildren to fall in love with their unique spirit.

“That distinctive thump-thump noise which gave them the nickname ‘thumpers’ in recent years, along with the clickety-clack of them going over the rails and the merry tunes that used to be played on their warning horns by their happy drivers, got into your soul just as it did with me as a child going to holidays in Portrush on them, kickstarting my own passion for our railway heritage.”

Mr Gardiner explained what the 80 Class train will be used for at the heritage railway: “With an 80 Class in our fleet we can expand our timetable to include days and times that we normally couldn’t operate, and provide extra capacity at peak events. It will make school trips easier and cheaper to run.”

“To help return the 80 Class trains to their former glory, we have agreed with Translink to repaint the trains to their original maroon and blue livery with the large white diamond on the front you might remember, but this and the transport to Downpatrick doesn’t come cheap.”

• To make a donation log on to www.downrail.co.uk/80class or pick up a leaflet from any of the major Translink stations.