Vandals hurl abuse and smash glass in incident at railway

Vandals hurl abuse and smash glass in incident at railway

7 November 2018

HERITAGE railway officials in Downpatrick have been left with a hefty repair bill following a Halloween vandal attack.

Windows were broken by youths in one of the carriages last Wednesday shortly after they had been spotted stripping lights from the ornate canopy at the nearby Loop platform.

Branding those responsible for the vandalism as “irresponsible”, railway officials have confirmed they now face a race against time to ensure the carriage is repaired ahead of the traditionally busy festive 

period when hundreds of families make their way to Downpatrick for a trip on the hugely popular Lapland Express.

The attack comes just weeks after a meeting was held in the town in the wake of unruly teenagers running amok at the nearby Grove shopping centre and St Patrick’s Square areas. 

A number of businesses reported that they were forced to close early as a result of the anti-social behaviour, with some shop owners revealing they had been verbally and physically abused and a number of parked cars damaged.

While there has been virtually no major trouble at the Downpatrick and Co Down Railway for a number of years, the volunteers who run the operation have been left bitterly disappointed by what happened last week and the fact that they were verbally abused by youths.

Officials say the “needless damage” will cost hundreds of pounds to repair and that the money could have been put to much better use elsewhere.

Volunteers say the damage to three carriage  windows will also add to their workload, explaining the damaged vehicle was due to feature in the forthcoming Christmas activities.

The railway has also added a donation facility on its Facebook page in a bid to generate some funds to offset the cost of repairing the damaged carriage which was unoccupied at the time it was attacked.

Heritage railway chairman Robert Gardiner said volunteers preparing for last week’s Halloween festivities discovered around half a dozen youths at the Loop platform stripping festoon lights from the canopy.

“They were pulling the lights down and the volunteers contacted police and took officers out to the platform but the culprits had gone, scarpering off in the direction of Inch Abbey,” he explained.

“Around 6pm, a call came over the radio that the youths were spotted heading back into the town along the railway line at which point they hurled abuse at some of the volunteers.

Mr Gardiner said some carriages had been parked in a siding a short distance from the main station and it was one of these that was targeted.

“This was a concerted effort to cause damage and we only have about three weeks to get the carriage ready for our busy Christmas period. The damaged carriage is used for serving tea and coffee and is also where Santa’s grotto is based.

“At the moment, we are trying to think what is the best way we can do this but Santa still will be coming. We are looking at what is the best option for us moving forward and have a number of questions which have not yet been answered,” confirmed the chairman.

Mr Gardiner said volunteers were currently looking for replacement safety glass. Despite no major incidents at the heritage railway over recent years, he described what happened last Wednesday as “worrying”.

He added: “We have a lot of support in the local community and are grateful for that. We also have a great relationship with the local police and they were down with us when the damage was reported. While what happened was disappointing, the main focus is to now get everything ready for Christmas. Last week’s damage was something we could well do without.”

Downpatrick councillor Dermot Curran has appealed to anyone with information about the vandal attack to contact police.

“The railway is one of the district’s top visitor attractions and it is despicable it was targeted last week by young people who quite frankly should know better. The railway’s volunteers do tremendous work and it is important we give them our full support at this time and help in any way we can,” he added.

Anyone who can help police with their enquiries is asked to contact them using the non-emergency 101 number of use the confidential Crimestoppers number, 0800 555111.