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Train of thought


By Len Ball.

          With childhood memories, having originally lived in the Comber townland of Castleavery below Scrabo, I recall the trains wending their way around the foot of Scrabo hill on their journey between Comber and Newtownards. On the wee high road, now the Scrabo Road, we could watch down on the long trains of carriages or goods wagons as they clanked heavily across farmer Davy-John Orr’s accommodation bridge (still standing behind the modern Lansdowne Estate near West Winds). Railway travel began from Belfast to Newtownards way back in 1850, and by 1861 had extended to Donaghadee. This was the Belfast and Co Down Railway which also went to Bangor via the Belfast lough shore route through Holywood, and also to Newcastle via Comber.
          As a child of seven years I witnessed the eventual closure of the railway in 1950 due to the onslaught of the developing road transport strategy. Buses, lorries and the motor car were to enjoy the monopoly because of the greater convenience, affordability and the all out plans of the authorities to expand the road network as soon as the railways were abandoned. Bangor, however, just across the way fortunately avoided the loss of the railway to Belfast, where the authorities retained a vestige of good sense and, at much expense it must be emphasised, has kept the railway to the seaside town running to this very day. And what a service it is! With excellent modern railcars, timetables and comfortable regular services it is a real asset to the corridor it serves.
          Bangor, as is the rest of this area of North Down, is enlarging enormously all around, and not least Conlig with its housing developments continuing at pace. To glance at the old railway network when the train services were closed in 1950 the course of the line from Belfast called at Dundonald, Comber and Newtownards, and then to within a couple of miles of Bangor at Conlig, before swinging east on its way to Donaghadee. Present maps of the North Down and Ards districts show massive housing programmes continuing around all these areas, right along the very route of our old abandoned railway! Just think, if the government bodies in 1950 had at their disposal a reliable working crystal ball with which to foresee the future, would this North Down area of the old railway have been closed down so expediently?
          Now, there isn’t any law against dreaming, so let’s imagine the following scenario – with the old original line such a short distance from Bangor, wouldn’t it be a heart-warming thought if a connection had been made from Conlig to Bangor? We could today be enjoying an incredible circular rail transport system in this vastly burgeoning part of the province; a service to avail so many of our population from the present overcrowded, environmentally unfriendly and accident prone road legacy that we are invariably locked into today!
          Just study the map for a few moments and ponder the advantages – Belfast, Holywood, Bangor, (not forgetting Conlig), Newtownards, Comber, Dundonald, Belfast, and vice versa. A modern contra-rotating rail route for the social, domestic, business and tourist commuters who would so passionately welcome such an alternative to the depressing and rapidly increasing road chaos which reigns today! Developed as a light rapid transit diesel or electric train or tram service it could have fitted very nicely into the current demand for a safer and more eco friendly environment, providing a step in the right direction towards the climate change question – at least in our wee part of the world! What a jewel in the crown might it have been today?

Ah well, it’s just a train of thought.

Len Ball

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