Calls for railway halt signs to be revived on greenway route
A fascinating part of Belfast's railway history is buried underneath vegetation on the Comber Greenway, it has been warned.
A group of railway enthusiasts is now calling for signs to be erected showing where people once queued for trains at former halts such as Neill's Hill, Knock and Bloomfield - now unmarked sections of the seven-mile walking and cycling route that runs between Belfast and Comber.
Old platforms also remain buried alongside the path.
The line once played a key role in ferrying evacuated children out to the countryside during the war, bringing fish from Ardglass and carrying day-trippers to Newcastle.
History Hub Ulster treasurer Gavin Bamford said the names of stations that once dotted the line up to April 1950 had been wiped from people's minds.
"Stations such as Bloomfield, Neill's Hill, Knock, Dundonald and Comber are no longer recognisable when walking or cycling through them," he added.
"Infrastructure recognisable to railway enthusiasts at each old station are a lane wall at Bloomfield, platforms at Neill's Hill and Knock. Various retaining walls remain at Dundonald and Comber."
Gavin and fellow railway buffs Patrick Davey and Robert Gardiner suggested that station name boards similar to those used on the railways on the early 20th century be installed at the site of each station as they would add to an important tourist trail.
Robert Gardiner, vice chairman of the Downpatrick and County Down Railway, said: "The Comber Greenway was for over a hundred years the main line of the Belfast and County Down Railway, transporting commuters and shipyard workers from Belfast's suburbs, tourists to the seaside at Newcastle, Scrabo stone from Newtownards and herring from Ardglass.
"It played a vital role sending hundreds of children out to the countryside during the Second World War evacuation. The line was also the first to be closed after the nationalisation of Northern Ireland's railways. That history deserves to be recognised."
Sustrans NI director Gordon Clarke said the charity would love to see not only heritage signs but also some clearance work round the old halts.
"There is one at Knock Halt where the platform is in part intact and another one further which is overgrown with vegetation," he added.
"We had thought of making one of the old stations into a seating area with interpretation panels.
"It would be really good to remind people of that heritage, and we would be very supportive of that type of thing to animate the route and let people understand the past. As time goes on, people will forget that it used to be a railway."
Mr Clarke said there needed to be a discussion about the future management of the greenway as it is owned by the Department for Infrastructure. "That needs to be resolved to make this type of thing more meaningful," he added. "The department doesn't provide parks and open spaces, and this is a linear park."
A Department for Infrastructure spokesman said: "Transport NI is not responsible for providing or erecting local heritage signs.
"Our priority is the provision of signs which enhance safety on the public road network.
"Transport NI does however recognise the importance of our transport heritage, so if another party wishes to provide, erect and maintain these heritage signs on the Comber Greenway, Transport NI will facilitate this."