Exiles Forum

Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland


Saintfield's commuters of yesteryear let `the train take the strain'
Programme contributor Adam Hamilton the cat of a restored BCDR railway engine.
Programme contributor Adam Hamilton the cat of a restored BCDR railway engine. A preserved engine pulling carriages of the type in which people would have travelled between Saintfield and Belfast.

THE majority of commuters from Saintfield and Temple who face the daily grind of travelling into Belfast by road probably don't remember when it was possible to make the same journey by rail.

However, on Monday (January 14) a BBC Northern Ireland documentary will look back at a time when people from the area on their way to work in the city were able to relax and let the train take the strain'.

This convenience ended in the years immediately after the Second World War as routes operated by the Belfast and County Down Railway began to close.

People were forced to undertake their daily commute by bus and increasingly by car as private vehicle ownership increased.

'Raising Steam' at 10.35pm on BBC One will tell the story of the Downpatrick and Co. Down Railway Society's ambition to produce a 'vibrant living history' of the rail services which linked Saintfield with Belfast as well as other smaller towns and villages.

It will feature the stories of some of those who worked on the original railway and include archive as well as never before broadcast home footage recalling the 'golden age of the train' in Co. Down.

People in whose lives the railway played an important part will also contribute as will Society volunteers who are working to develop the track and restore more of the rolling stock.


The programme may also prompt the harassed roadbound commuters of 2008 to question why Co. Down's rail network was drastically cut as there can be little doubt many would be happy to travel to work by train if such a facility existed today.

Original plans for the Belfast and Co. Down Railway (BCDR) did not include Saintfield.

However, these were altered with trains from Belfast's Queens Quay Terminus arriving in the village after calling at Ballygowan on their way to Crossgar, Ballynahinch and Downpatrick.

Ballynahinch services began on September 10, 1858 and trains first travelled to Downpatrick on March 23, 1859 - less than a decade after the commencement of BCDR's first service linking Queens Quay with Holywood.

People who remember travelling into Belfast from Saintfield by train will recall passing through Shepherds Bridge Halt, Ballygowan and Comber before arriving at Dundonald.

Trains then called at Knock, Neills Hill which was located at Sandown Road and Bloomfield on Beersbridge Road before terminating at Queens Quay where commuters could either continue to Belfast City Centre by tram or walk across the Queen Elizabeth Bridge.

The demise of train services to Saintfield had its roots in a terrible accident one foggy January morning in 1945 when 23 people died in a collision at Ballymacarrett.

This occurred when one train ran into the rear of another. Both were travelling into Queens Quay from the Bangor direction.

The BCDR experienced financial difficulties after having to pay a very large amount of compensation to those affected by the tragedy and the railway was closed after coming into government ownership.

However, it's interesting to note that a large section of the line's route between Saintfield and Belfast has been earmarked as the route of 'e-way' a proposed rapid transit system linking Comber with Dundonald, East Belfast and the city centre.

Ulster Star