THE Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) has invested £200,000 in the expansion of the Downpatrick and County Down Railway tourist attraction to include a new Carriage Gallery and Museum.

Housed in a spectacular building, which harks back to the great Victorian termini, the Carriage Gallery and Museum is now Ireland’s only dedicated carriage gallery which tells the story of the development of railways in Northern Ireland from the 19th century to today.

The attraction contains vehicles from all over Ireland as well as artefacts and an exhibition of the old railway which used to run between Belfast and Downpatrick.

The museum is an expansion of the already popular Downpatrick and County Down Railway attraction which has been opened since 1987 and runs vintage trains through the drumlin countryside of County Down to Inch Abbey.  The steam train rides operate every weekend of the summer and during special annual events throughout the year such as Halloween, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Funding for the new gallery, which will open on August 17, was also provided by the National Lottery Scheme.

NITB’s Destination PR Officer, Pauline Gormley said, “This investment is a major commitment by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to develop and support tourism and attractions in the County Down area.

“The new gallery and museum will make a fantastic day out for families and train enthusiasts and visitors can not only hop onboard a steam train to experience railway travel as your grandparents would have but now they can also explore the history of train transport in the local area,” she continued.

“I’m positive this new attraction will encourage a number of visitors to the area which will in return benefit the local economy,” Pauline added.

There are also a number of other railway and transport attractions across Northern Ireland so why not take some time out to go exploring;

Steam Trains Ireland, Whitehead, Co. Antrim

Whitehead Excursion Station is where all the locomotives and carriages from the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland’s (RPSI) Northern Ireland collection is stored and maintenance and overhaul is carried out.  The RPSI operates its steam-hauled excursions on the present day Irish railway network from here, for families and railway enthusiasts, with a number of short steam train rides running throughout the year.

Giant’s Causeway & Bushmills Railway, Bushmills, Co. Antrim

Jump onboard and enjoy a truly heritage experience on a steam locomotive along a two mile coastal stretch between the historic town of Bushmills and the famous stone columns of the Giant’s Causeway.  The railway has been built to the Irish narrow gauge of three feet and the carefully planned design of the railway’s station, workshops, carriage sheds and signs hark back to its golden era.  The Giant’s Causeway station offers various facilities including a picnic area, cafe and cark park.

Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra, Co. Down

The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is comprised of two separate museums, the Folk Museum which illustrates the way of life and traditions of people from Northern Ireland in the past and present and the Transport Museum which explores and exhibits methods of transport by land, sea and air in Ireland from its early history to the modern era.  Climb on and off majestic steam locomotives, experience the sensation of flight or explore the museum’s fascinating collection of horse drawn carriages, electric trams, motorbikes, fire-engines and vintage cars.

Headhunters, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh

A trip to Headhunters Barber Shop & Railway Museum is like taking a remarkable journey into the past and bringing the golden age of the railway vividly to life.  Step onboard and enjoy the evocative nostalgia, social heritage and amazing artefacts associated with railways which operated throughout Fermanagh and the border counties until their closure in 1957.  The museum’s fascinating historical exhibition looks at the impact which railways had on people’s lives at a time when it was the gateway to the wider world; stimulating exports, providing greater access to education, enabling honeymoons and encouraging seaside holidays.  Why not combine your visit with a unique opportunity to have your hair professionally styled in the most nostalgic surroundings.

To find out more information about things to do and attractions in Northern Ireland visit www.discovernorthernireland.com