The Thumper engines defined rail travel in Northern Ireland for four decades, but now it is the end of the line for this veteran of Northern Ireland’s rails.
This week the Downpatrick & County Down Railway (DCDR) has launched a fundraising campaign to safeguard the future of this distinctive Northern Irish train and that the last halt is not the the scrapyard.
DCDR chairman Robert Gardiner, a passionate supporter of these trains, said: “The 80 Class may not be a steam train, but they are still fondly loved by railway workers and the public alike. They are unique to Northern Ireland, and there’s nothing else like them in the world. They defined Northern Irish rail travel for four decades.
“This veteran of the rails is also testimony to Northern Ireland’s railway resilience.”
In 1965, huge swathes of railway lines were axed in areas such as Warrenpoint, Dungannon, Omagh and the West and it looked like the rest of the network would follow suit. The railway was still largely an Edwardian relic, with mechanical signalling and jointed track. The NI network did not look like it would last the decade.
But in the early 1970’s, the tide turned when NI Railways 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.
In the 1990’s 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.
“Sadly,” explained Robert Gardiner, “the last of the 80 Class, used by Translink as leaf-busting trains during the autumn until last year, has now been withdrawn from service and without your help their last stop could be the breaker’s yard, leaving no trace of their important legacy. But it doesn’t need to end this way.
“On a recent visit to our heritage railway a ten 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?
“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 inPortrush on them, kickstarting my own passion for our railway heritage.
“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, and when our Ballydugan extension opens the 80 Class will be used to provide a connecting service between the Loop Platform and Inch Abbey, providing a longer trip for passengers, as well as giving passengers a chance to experience different forms of rail transport and the experience of changing trains.”
Robert Gardiner added: “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. We need your donations by the end of April to make this happen.
“Even the smallest donation is welcome, but there are rewards for larger donations.
“If you donate £50 you will get free travel on any day the 80 Class is running. £100 will get you an invite to the official opening as well. £250 will get you both of these plus a cab ride. £500 will earn you this and exclusive lineside access, whilst donations of £1000 or above will get you all of that for life, plus the chance to actually learn to drive the vehicle with an exclusive Footplate Experience course.
“And we’ve a challenge for you – for every pound you donate, one of our volunteers will match it pound for pound up to £4000. We know you can do it, but we don’t have long to make this happen”.
To make a donation log on to:
or pick up a leaflet from any of the major Translink stations, or send a cheque to Downpatrick & County Down Railway (80 Class Appeal), Market Street, Downpatrick, BT30 6LZ