Irish Locomotives – 2018 Overview

I recently commented on the European Traction Facebook page along the lines of “I no longer have an interest in Irish mainline railways”, but that’s something I’ve pondered on ever since.  Over the years, I’ve made over 200 trips across the Irish Sea specifically for railways, and 20-25 years ago I had comparatively little interest in mainline railways anywhere else.  So what has changed, and was it a reasonable thing to say, even in haste?

Well, the main change, of course, is the widespread and almost total replacement of loco haulage with modern multiple units – doubtless a step forward in the eyes of a business-focused railway and its customers, but a sad development in the eyes of the enthusiast.  Even into this century, even some main line inter-city services were steam heated and vacuum braked, running on jointed track under semaphore signals – to ‘English’ eyes it was a real window on the past.  Combined with the legendary welcoming nature of the Irish people, and the fantastic scenery to be found on the Emerald Isle, and it was just a lovely environment to be in.  These latter two things, of course, are permanent and well worth your visit regardless.

For this article, I thought I would take an objective view on what the locomotive enthusiast will find if they head to Ireland in 2018.

Main Line Passenger Loco Haulage

The only class of loco left with passenger diagrams in Ireland are the 201 Class GMs, which (worryingly for me, as they still seem new!) are approaching their quarter-century.  Their use is now on just two routes – linking the three largest cities of the Emerald Isle – Dublin to Cork and Dublin to Belfast.


221 awaits departure from Dublin Connolly, 14/10/07 (JW)

Services between Dublin and Cork operate using 201s in push-pull configuration with Mark 4 carriages on some trains, and the service requires six machines a day to operate it.  The most recent known diagrams are included in a post on this thread on the WNXX forum (subscription required).  These locos are permed from a pool of 215-226229232 and 234 (with 216 being the dedicated loco for luxury train duties – see section below – although it can appear occasionally).

Similarly, all services on the “Enterprise” cross-border route between Dublin and Belfast are booked to be formed of 201s with push-pull De Dietrich sets.  These are hauled by locos from a pool consisting of 206-209227228231 and 233 and three are in use each day.

Main Line Railtours

Thanks to the efforts of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland and, less frequently, the Irish Railway Record Society and the Modern Railway Society of Ireland, it does remain possible to experience main line haulage by different traction, in the form of railtours.

Currently, the RPSI have a railtour to Cobh advertised for 13th October 2018 featuring haulage by both 071 and 201 Class diesels, but their bread-and-butter are steam trains, with the currently-operational fleet comprising of ex-LMS (NCC) 2-6-4T “Jeep” no.4, ex-GNR(I) 4-4-0 compound no.85 “Merlin”, ex-GNR 4-4-0 Q Class no.131 and GSR 2-6-0 K2 no.461.  They run a frequent programme of these, and regularly run affordable shuttles over short routes (e.g. Dublin to Maynooth or Greystones, or Belfast to Whitehead), particularly around Easter and Christmas.  The ‘brief’ nature of these as compared to a full-day tour mean that they are usually doable whilst flying over and back in the same day, or can be done as part of a ‘normal’ holiday if the rest of your group don’t want to spend too long on the rails!  Of interest is that the RPSI’s current diesel tours are in aid of restoring its loco 134 for it to operate future main line tours with 141.

Keep an eye on the Haulage Calendar on this site for future diesel loco-hauled railtours.


141 runs round its train at Limerick Junction, circa 1998 (JW)

I must also mention the Belmond Grand Hibernian – a luxury private charter along the same lines as the Northern Belle – comprised of a rake of converted Mark 3 carriages and with dedicated loco no.216 – but with tickets for the forthcoming multi-day excursions starting at €3,484, it’s not a cheap way to get your 201 fix!

Preserved Railway – Loco Haulage

There are a number of preserved railways which give frequent opportunities to travel behind quite a variety of locomotives.  The biggest and the most famous is the Downpatrick & County Down Railway, a ‘standard gauge’ (as in, the Irish standard of 5’3) line approximately 20 miles south-east of Belfast.  It is not rail-connected, but it is easy enough to get there by Translink no.515 bus from Belfast, which takes about an hour.  Given the short flying time and the frequent nature of some air routes to Belfast, it is possible to do this as a day trip from some parts of England and Scotland too.

The railway predominantly operates steam where possible and its currently serviceable steam loco is Orenstein & Koppel 0-4-0T no.1, formerly of the Irish Sugar Company at Thurles.  Its sister loco (no.3) is soon to return to service too.  However it has a varied collection of diesel traction as well.  Possibly of the most interest to the enthusiast are its three big diesels – all owned by the Irish Traction Group – A39, 146 and C231.  There is also an operational shunter (G617) along with E421 and E432, G611 and G613 currently out of traffic.  Northern Ireland’s English Electric “thumper” DEMUs are represented by two recently-arrived two-car 80 Class sets and a 450 Class set now used as a buffet train; one of the hauled carriages, 728, was also formerly a 70 Class intermediate trailer.  Of interest is also Leyland railbus RB3 (former BR 977020), also out of traffic.

The West Clare Railway, at Moyasta Junction in County Clare, operates a 3′ gauge demonstration line.  The ITG also have some of their preserved fleet on static display here – A3, 124, 152 and 190.  A second Metro-Vick is there, as the railway have 015 themselves.  Also of interest are ex-CIÉ Mark 2 carriages 4108, 4110 and 4402 – all former BR vehicles exported in the early 1990s – and Mark 3s 6402 and 7146 (the former being ex-HST trailer 40513) along with push-pull control car 6105.

015 Inchicore 1996

Unlikely to run again, but fortunately a survivor, 015 – now at the West Clare Railway at Moyasta Junction – is seen at the Inchicore open day in June 1996 (JW)

The other operational heritage railways in Ireland are of narrow gauge and do not operate anything ex-CIÉ or NIR as a result.  However, they are still worth a visit.  In Northern Ireland, you have the 3′ gauge Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills Railway, about 25 minutes’ bus ride east of Portrush.  Éire has its fair share of 3′ gauge railways too, including the Fintown Railway in County Donegal, the Cavan & Leitrim Railway adjacent to Dromod station on the Dublin to Sligo railway in County Leitrim (at which the cab of scrapped ex-CIÉ loco no.133 is also an exhibit), and the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway at Kilmeadan in County Waterford; some ‘standard gauge’ interest also exists at the latter, as Mark 2 carriage no.4106 (ex-BR FO no.3157) is used as a static buffet.

There is also the interesting Lartigue Monorail and Museum at Listowel, County Kerry, which allows visitors the unique opportunity of travelling on a reimagined version of the fascinating Listowel & Ballybunion Railway – the loco is a steam outline diesel (but what an outline!) and the gauge is… well, it’s a monorail!


Freight on the main line has been largely decimated but some does remain, largely 071-hauled and consists mainly of zinc ore from Tara Mines, west of Drogheda, to Dublin’s North Wall and a few other flows concentrated on the same routes: timber from Ballina and Westport to Waterford, along with liner trains from Ballina to Dublin to Waterford.  Aside from that, most non-passenger work is now restricted to occasional works and engineers trains.

There are, however, a number of museums to occupy your time.  Probably number one on the list is the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, adjacent to Cultra station on the Belfast to Bangor line.  The star exhibit of its numerous items of rolling stock for me personally is Hunslet diesel no.102 – I wonder if I will ever get the chance to add to the 1.6 miles I enjoyed behind it on its last passenger run in 1996?  However, six-cylinder Sulzer B113 is well worth your time too, and the massive GSR 4-6-0 steam loco no.800 Maedbh is a site to behold.


102 in the museum at Cultra (photo: Nicola Elsden (my fiancee!))

Also open to the public is the RPSI’s Whitehead Railway Museum, at which 142 lives as a ‘super-shunter’, as well as a number of steam locos both operational and under restoration.

The Foyle Valley Railway Museum in Derry, which was formerly the starting point for a short preserved railway along the bank of the River Foyle, appears to have recently been taken over and reopened by a local disability charity called Destined.  Its star exhibits are two County Donegal Railways Joint Committee 3′ gauge 2-6-4Ts, no.4 “Meenglas” (outside) and no.6 “Columbkille”.  This museum is a ten-minute walk over the Craigavon Bridge from Derry’s (last remaining) railway station.

There are a small number of locomotives which are located at private, non-operational sites, too.  The ITG’s B103, 226G601 and G616 are at a private site in Carrick-on-Suir.  E428 – one of the Maybach-engined E421 Class – is now at the closed Dunsandle station on the former Attymon Junction to Loughrea branch line, along with “Laminate” coach no.2159.  Metro-Vick A55 has had the Hell’s Kitchen pub/Castlerea Railway Museum built around it – about a 15-minute walk from Castlerea station – and 227 (ex-NIR 106) is at a private site at Kilmacow, County Kilkenny.  This latter loco was cosmetically restored for static display at Cahirciveen as “C202” – that being the last loco to work to Valentia Harbour – but tragically it was vandalised by the locals and had to be removed – initially to Bilberry in County Waterford – however as can be seen in this view from 2009 on Google Maps, it was far from secure and vandalised further.  It’s to be hoped that its more recent move will ensure that this does not get worse.

There are also some carriages in unusual places.  A non-exhaustive list would cover no.6203 (ex-BR “International” demonstrator no.99524) now in use as a cafe at Caragh Nurseries in Naas, County Kildare.  At Clonakilty, about 30 miles south-west of Cork, lies the West Cork Model Railway Village.  Two ex-CIÉ “Park Royal” carriages, 1400 and 1424, exist as grounded bodies here.  I remember being in the car with my family driving towards Skibbereen in the early 1990s and stumbling across them entirely by accident!  the Kiltimagh Railway Museum in the former station in the County Mayo town has been built around carriages 1460 and 2148.

Additionally, the Glenlo Abbey Hotel in County Galway has three ex-BR carriages (Mark 1 no.4474, GUV no.93558 and Pullman parlour car “Leona”) in its grounds, and the Quirky Glamping Village in Enniscrone, County Sligo has 3-CIG no.1498…along with ten double-decker buses and a Boeing 767!

So, what do you reckon?  Worth a visit?

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