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‘Tin Van’ in pre-Brexit dash to new Downpatrick home

THE Downpatrick & County Down Railway (DCDR) completed the move of its latest item of rolling stock on March 5 as the growing uncertainties over Brexit and the Northern Ireland border drew closer.

The unique 30ft-long carriage – No. 638a – is the last survivor of the so-called ‘Tin Vans’, nicknamed after the series became one of the first of their type to receive aluminium panelling.
It was built in 1956 at Inchicore as four-wheeled Travelling Post Office coach No. 2971 to the design of former Southern Railway chief engineer Oliver Bulleid.

Staffordshire-based Reid Freight Services conducted the move on the DCDR’s behalf, the carriage reaching Downpatrick from Inchicore about 08.00 on the day in question.

“Because of the uncertainty over what border controls are or are not going to be implemented, we worked flat out to ensure we brought the vehicle to Downpatrick before the Brexit deadline,” said DCDR chairman Robert Gardiner.

“We didn’t particularly like the idea of smuggling a railway carriage across the border.

“We plan to convert No. 638a to wheelchair-accommodation coach with guard and maybe even electricity-generating capacity if possible.

“We have a lot of work to do, however, including clearing out 20 years’ worth of junk and weeds from the interior before the conversion can start.”

No. 638a might appear unassuming, but as the last Irish-built item of coaching stock on Iarnród Éireann-Irish Rail’s (IÉ) service books, its preservation is important. In spite of its small size compared to other TPO stock, the ‘Tin Vans’ were used extensively on mail routes across the CIÉ network until the 1970s.

Following its withdrawal from revenue-earning service, No. 2971 became IE permanent way departmental unit No. 638a, and was extensively used as accommodation across the network.

“It really is a pre-Millennium time capsule,” add Mr Gardiner. “Inside we found bunk-beds, old calendars and diaries from 1999, and even an old green screen computer monitor.

“Since then, the carriage lay out of use in Dublin’s Heuston station before being moved to Inchicore late last year.”

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