South Down MP Margaret Ritchie and MLA Colin McGrath called down to the Downpatrick and County Down Railway for the last day of the Lapland Express and met volunteers as well as the jolly big man himself… Santa Claus.
As well as welcoming this festive VIP to the town, Margaret Ritchie and Colin McGrath saw for themselves the work to rehabilitate the Downpatrick and County Down Railway’s (DCDR) South Line, which runs out to the Loop Platform.
This line was originally laid in the 1980s using second-hand wooden sleepers and in the last year has been completely renewed with concrete ones, extending the life of this part of the line as well as making a smoother ride for passengers.
Railway chairman, Robert Gardiner, who showed the guests around, said: “We were delighted to welcome Margaret and Colin down to the DCDR and seeing the crowds travelling on the Lapland Express to visit Santa.
“They also took a great interest in seeing the improvements and works that we’ve been undertaking, and hearing about our plans for the future.
“The Lapland Express is one of our most popular events, and this year we’ve moved to online prebooking for the first time in our history.
“This has been a record year for the DCDR, with over 3,500 passengers pre-booking and travelling.
“This move has been a tremendous success and has made the whole event much more welcoming for our passengers,” said Mr Gardiner, “It has eliminated the long queues at the ticket office, allowing people a more leisurely visit with more time to explore the station and museum.”
The elected representatives also got the chance to talk to volunteers and members of the public on what is one of the most popular events in the railway’s calendar, as well as getting up close to the locomotive itself, a 1935 vintage engine that used to haul sugar beet wagons in factories in the Republic of Ireland.
Mr Gardiner revealed: “One of the visitors must have said something to Santa Claus. He received an early Christmas present when the locomotive crew offered Colin McGrath a complementary Footplate Pass back from Santa’s Workshop to Downpatrick Station, an offer he readily accepted!”