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?

Help save an NIR 80 Class DEMU

Although this site is predominantly concerned with locomotives and not multiple units, I do feel that there are a small number of the latter that are far more interesting and popular than many locos.  Prime examples are the English Electric-powered DEMUs used in Northern Ireland between 1966 and 2017.

Comparable to British Rail’s “Thumper” DEMUs in that they were powered by above-solebar English Electric 4SRKT power units, very few examples of the three classes of these units survive.  All of the 1966-built 70 Class power units were disposed of – due to asbestos, they were shrink-wrapped and submerged in Crosshill Quarry, County Antrim; their power equipment being reused in the initial batch of 450 (“Castle”) Class units built in the mid-1980s.  Just one unit of that class survives – no.458, at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway, south-east of Belfast.


A very recent photo of 80 Class driving trailer vehicle no.749 undergoing a repaint into its original livery at Belfast York Road (copyright and courtesy of Robert Gardiner)

The third class of NIR DEMU was the 80 Class, built from 1974 to the basic BREL Mark 2 carriage design.  Their final withdrawal from passenger service being in 2011, just four of the 22 power cars remain extant – one of them for spares recovery (only) at the East Lancashire Railway in England, and the other three which were granted a stay of execution by their use on sandite workings – duties that ended after Autumn 2017.

Time is therefore of the essence if a set is to be saved for future generations to enjoy.

The above is a link to the official video of the railway’s fundraising appeal, on the Downpatrick & County Down Railway‘s official YouTube page.

The Downpatrick & County Down Railway have launched an appeal to raise funds by the end of April 2018 to secure two of the former sandite train vehicles – 69 and 749 – for passenger use on their heritage railway, as well as 90 and 752.  69 and 749 are already in the process of repainting into their handsome original maroon and blue livery (see photo) by Translink at Belfast York Road, but there is a need to raise more money in order to transport them – necessarily by road – to Downpatrick, and to make them fit for use there.

How you can help

I personally have no connection with the railway, but I have been an enthusiast of both these units and the railway for nearly 25 years, and I’d very much like to encourage you to donate to this very worthwhile project.  The railway have set up a crowdfunding/pledge-style donation scheme where rewards are available upon donation of particular amounts – please see here for more details on that.

Alternatively, of course, you could share this article – or one of the railway’s Facebook posts – on social media in order to spread the word.  This really does seem to be the last chance saloon to secure an 80 Class unit for operation into the future.

July_to_September06 144.jpg

Power car no.99 “Sir Myles Humphreys” returned to England in 2006 when it was acquired by the East Lancashire Railway for use for spares for its BR Class 207 DEMU.  Soon after arrival, it was fired up – as seen here – but it is very unlikely to run under its own power again.  If the Downpatrick appeal does not raise enough money, then that indeed may be ‘game over’ for the whole class.  (JW)

Monday 21st May 2018 – Railtour with German MaK hydraulic 800011

Update 10/05/18 – this tour was unfortunately cancelled due to insufficient bookings.

If, like me, you used to pass the scrapyard of the Galway Metal Co. at Oranmore, look at the remains of ex-GNR(I) diesel-hydraulic 800 (CIÉ K801) – used as a stationary generator there since 1976 – and wonder what it would have been like to have travelled behind it, then you have a chance to find out on Monday 21st May 2018.

The 800hp MaK-engined diesel-hydraulic K801, or what was left of it by that time (photo on page 4 here), was cut up in 1999 – but although it was unique in Ireland, it had been built by MaK in Kiel in 1954 to a design that was in fact sold to several countries.

Alongside this machine – works number 800028 – on the production line was a virtually identical machine with works number 800011, built for the Osthannoversche Eisenbahnen (OHE) based in Celle, not a million miles away from its birthplace.  Whereas K801 was withdrawn in 1967 and only returned to traffic for about an ill-fated month or so several years later, 800011 clocked up a 40-year career with the OHE and then passed into preservation, the only one to do so.

The above is a link to a video uploaded to YouTube by user seppl hochlader showing it at work during a brief period of hire from the museum to Delta Rail in 2006/2007 for use shunting at Geseke.

It is now in the collection of the Süddeutsches Eisenbahnmuseum in Heilbronn.  A very rare mainline passenger outing has been advertised for Pfingstmontag, Monday 21st May 2018, from Heilbronn to Schwäbisch Hall and return (details here).  It’s very sociably timed at 10:30 from Heilbronn, arriving back at 16:46, and the adult return fare is equally sociable at €39.

From the Archive: Irish rover, 20th-25th February 2000

Although the primary aim of this site is to give you information on current and future workings and to demonstrate that there is still plenty out there of interest, I will occasionally dip into the past too and lament the fascinating railway scenes that are now gone forever.


My favourite Irish loco, 077, at Dublin Connolly.  Incidentally, Gary Thornton of Six Bells Junction accompanied us for the particular bash this photo was snapped on, and his top review of that day can be found here.  29/12/00 (JW)

18 years ago this week (at the time of writing!) it was the school half-term holiday and I was 11 years old.  Thanks to my Dad, I had a superb childhood on and around railways, and our most regular haunt in the mid and late 1990s was Ireland – floating across the Irish Sea and through a wave of insomnia one night when I was about 13 we worked out that I’d already made 64 trips to the Emerald Isle for a total of over 200 days, which was far more than I did on the trains at home.

The reasons for this were legion – but for a start, why would you hang around the UK railway (that was even then severely sanitised and unit-ised), when just 50 miles away there was a land where loco haulage, steam heating, vacuum braking, semaphore signalling, jointed track etc etc still ruled supreme?  On top of that, it was a land unburdened by much of the “red tape” found in the UK, and unofficial cab rides and depot tours and other such privileges unimaginable today were in fact easier to come by as a child than as a grown-up!  I certainly credit many of those early experiences of kindness shown to me by Irish railwaymen as part of the reason I was driven to pursue my own career on the railway in later life.

Additionally – and this is a tip that still has relevance today – if you are cranking on the Continent with your young children then returning home in an emergency (or simply if said children decide to “play up”!) can sometimes be difficult; but from even the furthest reaches of Ireland’s railway network, we could have been home in Kidderminster by hook, crook, air or sea within just a matter of hours.

Sadly, I don’t feel there’s much to tempt you to travel to Ireland for a train-related holiday these days, but there are at least a number of railtours each year that allow us to briefly relive the good old days – and these are listed in the Haulage Calendar on this site.

Sunday 20/02/00

I recall this day well, having watched Villa beat Everton in a televised FA Cup quarter-final, we set off on our overnight journey to Ireland.  Added interest in such journeys through the 1990s and until December 2000 was provided by class 37 haulage directly to the ferry, and tonight was no exception, with 37415 taking us through the night (topped by “Mary” as far as Crewe).

37401 + 37415 Birmingham New Street Crewe 23:30 NEC – Holyhead (1D99)
37415 Crewe Holyhead 23:30 NEC – Holyhead (1D99)

Monday 21/02/00

In 2000, if you wanted to travel overnight from Holyhead across the Irish Sea, you had two options: either Stena Line’s “HSS” (High Speed Service) fast catamaran, Stena Explorer, to Dun Laoghaire, or Irish Ferries’ Sulzer-powered Isle of Inishmore to Dublin.  Our usual move was the former on its 04:10 sailing, as the HSS was timed to make the crossing in just 99 minutes (more on that later…) and got you to Ireland and on the move sooner.  However, this sailing was seasonal, and didn’t run on this day, so the green ferry it was!  Irish Ferries also offered a fast-cat sailing, but that only ran during the daytime.

It is fair to say that such rancid overnights were made far more bearable by the fact that you could get to Holyhead loco-hauled, and I would certainly point you in the direction of air travel if heading for Ireland today – particularly with the budget airline possibilities that you have today.  However, should you indeed wish to travel by ferry, you still have the choice between Stena Line and Irish Ferries – the Stena Superfast X (now to Dublin), or the Ulysses or Jonathan Swift of Irish Ferries.


This rover saw me get two new locos for haulage, one of which was 192.  I had previously had an opportunity to ride behind that one – when it worked the Ballina branch shuttle on 29/03/99 – but as we were behind 075 on its first working in several years at the time, we gambled and stayed behind it to Westport (where this was taken) and back.  It took me 11 months to finally catch up with 192!  (JW)

Anyway, on with the 2000 rover.  Those who know me will know that my favourite Irish loco was, and is, 071 Class machine 077.  This dates back to very early in my childhood and will doubtless form the basis of a future article on this site.  It was certainly not unknown on a week’s Irish rover for us to find 077 and simply stick with it for the rest of the holiday.  However, at the time of this trip, we knew that 077 was still undergoing an overhaul in Inchicore Works, as it had been since mid-1999, so we knew that we were unlikely to cross paths with “the machine” (again, more of that later…).  As such, rather than focusing on the 071s, this rover was ideal for heading up country and enjoying some Bo-Bos around the two operational centres of Limerick and Cork.

“Irish Explorer” five-day all-line rover ticket purchased from Dublin Connolly booking office (a slightly cheaper alternative to a EuroDomino, and still offered today – and still slightly cheaper than the equivalent Interrail), we first enjoyed the 100-odd mile round trip to Mullingar on the two 071s out on the Sligo line that day, which were 072 and one of my favourites, 083.  We then took a Mark 3 push-pull set hauled by 218 out to Howth Junction to come back in on the “Arklow”, the 10:32 Dundalk to Dublin Pearse, a rake of Cravens booked to be hauled by an 071 but in practice often produced Bo-Bos either in singles or in pairs.  On this day, it was 081.  We took it through to Pearse before returning round the corner to Tara Street on another 201-hauled outer suburban working.  From here, it was the number 90 “Stationlink” bus – the precursor to the Luas tram in linking “Connolly side” with “Heuston side”.  This of course is now done by a number of service trains via Phoenix Park Tunnel too, but back in 2000, there was no rail-based option open to passengers transiting between the two separate railways in the capital.

Despite the fact that you would usually see only a small number of enthusiasts during a week’s roaming of the Irish rails – and even then, they were generally Brits on holiday! – Ireland was not entirely “genless”, although the nature of the gen varied and it was a case of who, rather than what, you knew.  On this day we had established that there were no 071s booked out of Dublin Heuston, so it was “first available apparatus” (the ubiquitous 201 Class) to the Limerick area to find some little engines.


085 heads round the back of Limerick Junction to the “Waterford bay” on an ITG tour, 09/10/04.  This was the last time I ever did that move, the track is now long lifted.  Back in 2000, it was done daily by 141 or 181 Class-hauled 15:45 Limerick to Rosslare.  (JW)

A curious feature of most Irish rovers I ever did was that there were one or two locos that would “follow you around” for the duration.  For this week, the machines in question were 167 and 219 – with a total of 12 runs racked up behind these two alone.  Of course, we didn’t know this when we elected to “enjoy” 219 out to Portarlington on the 13:05 Westport in order to drop back onto our intended taxi, 215 on the Cork.

From Limerick Junction, three journeys between there and the station in the city of that name, 22 miles distant (abbreviated to “City” in my notes for brevity, although it was officially Limerick Colbert – along with Dublin Connolly, Heuston and Pearse, Cork Kent, Sligo MacDiarmada, Waterford Plunkett etc, named after executed leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising) were enjoyed with three separate Bo-Bos (two 141s – 149 and 157 – and one 121 – 128 – on the push-pull diagram that shuttled up and down that line seemingly continuously!).

The train around which most Limerick area evenings was planned at this time was the 17:25 Dublin Heuston to Ennis.  This was booked for haulage by a 201 Class loco to Limerick, from where a pair of Bo-Bos (usually both 141s) backed on to take it the 25 miles up to Ennis.  These were kick-outs off the shed, so sometimes this provided the only opportunity to travel behind the machines in question that week.  The train then returned ECS from Limerick to Ennis – a friendly word to the guard before departure from Limerick, and an offer to go round with a binbag or equivalent usually ensured a place on this, but there was a dodgy Bus Éireann fallback move via Shannon Airport that got you back if this was denied!

We headed up to Thurles on a 201 to board this train on its inbound working – passage on the ECS agreed, we settled in towards the back of the train to enjoy 147 and 151 into County Clare and back.

One other aspect of bashing in Ireland that was a throwback to an earlier age was that you never really knew for sure where you would end up.  Although the fact that every loco class had booked passenger work and there was no formal sectorisation meant that theoretically everything was available for haulage, some machines were rarer than others, some classes deputised for others, and the element of surprise therefore still existed.  Consequently, we’d rarely book accommodation before we travelled, but had a list of “approved B&Bs” at which we were regulars that we tended to ring up during the day.  Our usual in Limerick was Boylans at 22 Davis Street, a stone’s throw from the station, and this night was no different – indeed, it transpired, we spent the full rover based there!


147 turned out to be one of the last locos to carry the 1987-vintage “four rails” logo and – along with fellow survivor 169 – it worked an ITG tour in 2002, which is photographed here at Waterford.  12/10/02 (JW)

Isle of Inishmore Holyhead Dublin Port 03:45 Holyhead – Dublin
98-D-20423 Dublin Port Dublin Connolly bus
072 Dublin Connolly Mullingar 08:28 Connolly – Sligo
083 Mullingar Dublin Connolly 07:40 Sligo – Connolly
218 Dublin Connolly Howth Junction 11:07 Pearse – Drogheda
081 Howth Junction Dublin Pearse 10:32 Dundalk – Pearse
228 Dublin Pearse Tara Street 12:14 Pearse – Drogheda
99-D-520 Tara Street Dublin Heuston bus
219 Dublin Heuston Portarlington 13:05 Heuston – Westport
215 Portarlington Limerick Junction 13:20 Heuston – Cork
157 Limerick Junction Limerick 15:10 Limerick Junction – City
149 Limerick Limerick Junction P4 15:45 Limerick – Rosslare
128 Limerick Junction Limerick 16:25 Limerick Junction – City
216 Limerick Thurles 17:45 Limerick – Heuston
205 Thurles Limerick 17:25 Heuston – Ennis
147 + 151 Limerick Ennis 17:25 Heuston – Ennis
151 + 147 Ennis Limerick 21:54 Ennis – Limerick (ECS)

Tuesday 22/02/00

The Monday had seen us bump into two top men of the Class 31 bashing fraternity (Andy & Dave) and, indeed, we were to enjoy their company for much of the rover as the best moves wrote themselves!  Each morning, one of the four of us would go over to the station to see if the first two Limerick to Dublins “had handrails” (i.e. were class 071/121/141/181 instead of the booked 201!) – if it did, we’d come back over the road, wake the others up at whatever hotel they were in, and go for a run to the capital.  Spoiler alert: it was a 201 all week!  A leisurely breakfast it was, then, before making the acquaintance for the millennium of our other “stalker” for this rover; 167, on the 08:35 to the Junction.

A phone call to Cork had established that one of the few Irish locos I still required at the time – 192 – was due to work a round trip on the Cork to Cobh branch that lunchtime whilst the booked “Arrow” DMU was being fuelled, and this dropped you very nicely onto the 13:30 Cork to Tralee – that week curtailed to Mallow as the Kerry Road was closed for engineering works – which was an 071, 085.  As I said, the best moves wrote themselves!

Consequently, we had time to enjoy 167 back to Limerick and to the Junction again before our 710-engined taxi to Cork.  You guessed it, it was 219…  Interestingly, although this was the usual rake of plug-door Mark 3s, it included BREL “International” coach no.6208 (ex-99529, I think), in which we ensured we sat – something a bit different.

The move worked beautifully, and with a gap in the service from Mallow, we had time to head back into Cork with 230 before 219 (again) returned us to Limerick Junction.  For reasons I don’t fully remember, the four of us took 154 on the Rosslare.  The obvious move on this was to do it all the way to Rosslare for a different loco of the same class all the way back, arriving very late.  However, wanting to cover the Ennis, we instead tapped up a bemused taxi driver before departure from the Junction to drive to the next station along the line, 3 miles distant, at Tipperary.  He thought we were mad, and insisted on telling us so, but was indeed waiting for us when 154 bumbled in with its tiny rake of Cravens, collected us and took us straight back to where we’d just come from!

This is where the wheel dropped off the day.  The plan was to take 128 on the 18:34 to Limerick, but we walked back from the pub to find that this “overgrown shunter” (I jest, I miss them very much now they’re gone) had failed, the railway had collapsed and a minibus was en route to convey us to Limerick.  This actually occurred with a minimum of fuss, but the Ennis was long gone when we arrived there.  Day over.

167 Limerick Limerick Junction 08:35 Limerick City – Junction
167 Limerick Junction Limerick 09:13 Limerick Junction – City
167 Limerick Limerick Junction 10:10 Limerick City – Junction
219 Limerick Junction Cork 09:05 Heuston – Cork
192 Cork Cobh 12:25 Cork – Cobh
192 Cobh Cork 12:55 Cobh – Cork
085 Cork Mallow 13:30 Cork – Mallow
230 Mallow Cork 11:25 Heuston – Cork
219 Cork P3 Limerick Junction 15:00 Cork – Heuston
154 Limerick Junction Tipperary 15:45 Limerick – Rosslare
taxi Tipperary Limerick Junction
99-D-30645 Limerick Junction Limerick bus replacing 128

Wednesday 23/02/00

The aims of this day were much the same – view the Dublins (both junk), enjoy some little engines and make sure we were in position for the Ennis.  Another of my five or so required Irish locos – 142 – had been spied on a freight in the area so we hoped that this might be in with a chance of dropping out for it.


23/02/00 saw me score 142 for haulage, albeit in the dark!  The next time I enjoyed a run with it was in the October 2001 school holiday, out of Cork.  I wasn’t tall enough to see over the bridge (hence this dodgy “point and hope” shot!) but I’m happy I took it.  Enterprise-liveried 208 is seen adjacent, which didn’t see Belfast all week!  (JW)

For a change of scenery, we took 167 on the Ballybrophy round via Nenagh.  Although I considered this “brain death” at the time, I look back on that country branch line with fondness, and that run on a freezing cold February morning with the sun just rising, steam everywhere (except where it should’ve been, leaving the vestibules a sauna) and a little engine stridently chugging away at the sharp end particularly so.

128 was back in action so that was taken for another run, by which time 167 had returned to Limerick and to the Junction, so we had 167 back to Colbert.  Here, we took a little break from the bashing.  In complete contrast to what you would find today (police sirens, probably) the depot staff were entirely welcoming to an 11-year-old paying a visit, and when said child asked as politely as he could if there was any chance 142 might make an appearance on the Ennis that evening, the man said “wait and see”…

He also kindly phoned through to his colleague at Cork and established that the previous day’s scratch, 192, was in line for the 17:10 departure.  With the opportunity to increase the mileage a little bit, with a hellfire departure through the steep tunnel out of the “rebel city” guaranteed, it was a no-brainer to head back up to the station, get behind 167 again and head south.


One “part of the furniture” in my childhood that I took completely for granted was the sight, sound and smell of 141 Class locos hauling steam-heated trains around Limerick.  (This brings it back instantly!)  Here is 160 on 30/05/98.  (JW)

Heading back into Limerick on 128, peering through the grimy windows of the push-pull set into the dark as we passed the depot, I was delighted to see 141 and 142 paired up, lit up and looking promising for the Ennis.  I was even happier to see them back onto the stock!  Interestingly, this pair are both preserved by the RPSI and have worked as a pair on railtour duty in recent years.

167 Limerick Ballybrophy 07:15 Limerick – Ballybrophy
201 Ballybrophy Portlaoise 08:00 Limerick – Heuston
215 Portlaoise Limerick Junction 09:05 Heuston – Cork
154 Limerick Junction Limerick 11:00 Limerick Junction – City
128 Limerick Limerick Junction 11:40 Limerick City – Junction
203 Limerick Junction Thurles 11:05 Cork – Heuston
223 Thurles Limerick Junction 11:25 Heuston – Cork
167 Limerick Junction Limerick 13:01 Limerick Junction – City
167 Limerick Limerick Junction 14:20 Limerick City – Junction
222 Limerick Junction Cork 13:20 Heuston – Cork
192 Cork Mallow 17:10 Cork – Mallow
222 Mallow Limerick Junction 17:30 Cork – Heuston
128 Limerick Junction Limerick 18:34 Limerick Junction – City
142 + 141 Limerick Ennis 17:25 Heuston – Ennis
141 + 142 Ennis Limerick 20:58 Ennis – Limerick (ECS)

Thursday 24/02/00

After the previous day’s use of the red pen it stood to reason that this day would be more sedate on that front, and so it proved.  I seem to recall that the 07:15 was 167 again, so we had a more leisurely breakfast and started our day’s bashing on 147, which was the 08:35 to the Junction, and then headed south.

150 Inchicore

150 was the only 141 which was named, at Inchicore Open Day in 1996.  Four years later it had lost its plates (they had in fact been stolen much, much earlier than that – they didn’t last long!), but I did at least enjoy it to Ennis!  16/06/96 (JW)

The Cobh lunchtime turn was 162 on this day, and it did two round trips, so we visited the former Queenstown (final port of call of the RMS Titanic) twice.  With not much more in the way of proper GM on offer, and presumably a plethora of 167 followed by 167 passing 167 (or so it felt!), we headed back to Limerick for yet another 22 miles with 128 and then the Ennis.  On this night, it was 141 again, but this time mated with 150 – a loco I was quite pleased to have as I had not enjoyed a run with it since mid-1996.


I worked my passage with 141+150 on the empties back from Ennis.  I was happy to see them using a proper loco on the reservation slips…

147 Limerick Limerick Junction 08:35 Limerick City – Junction
219 Limerick Junction Cork 07:30 Heuston – Cork
162 Cork Cobh 11:25 Cork – Cobh
162 Cobh Cork 11:55 Cobh – Cork
162 Cork Cobh 12:25 Cork – Cobh
162 Cobh Cork 12:55 Cobh – Cork
225 Cork P3 Limerick Junction 15:00 Cork – Heuston
128 Limerick Junction Limerick Junction 16:34 Limerick Junction – City
210 Limerick Thurles 17:45 Limerick – Heuston
220 Thurles Limerick 17:25 Heuston – Ennis
141 + 150 Limerick Ennis 17:25 Heuston – Ennis
150 + 141 Ennis Limerick 20:47 Ennis – Limerick (ECS)

Friday 25/02/00

And so to the last day of the rover.  Fridays were always good fun as there were plenty of Fridays Only services across Ireland, and these were a good bet for 071 Class haulage.  We already knew that 080 – my second favourite of the class, after 077 – was in Cork and a phone call established that it was allocated to the 10:35 FO service to Dublin – which was normally a train from Tralee, amended to run from Cork on this day due to the closure of the route west of Mallow.  The move was a no-brainer then.

We had a 141 on the 08:35 to the Junction and then a 201 on the taxi to Cork.  Can you guess which ones they were?!

080 was sat there ticking over at the head of the rake of Cravens, but actually against the blocks as it was in Platform 1, a south-facing bay.  The train propelled out of the platform towards Cobh and then took the avoiding line behind the station, before crossing over and, once clear and well into the tunnel, giving us the thrash of the trip on what I recall as a beautiful sunny day.  What a fine machine 080 was.

What I have not yet mentioned is that we were returning home on the Friday afternoon, as the Saturday was seeing Deltic 55019 “Royal Highland Fusilier” work a railtour from Newcastle to London and back.  This loco has always been very close to my family’s heart and I hope to clear it for 10,000 miles this year – hopefully before I’m 30 in December!  Back in 2000, though, that railtour was unmissable for me and therefore the plan was to cross the water on the 16:05 “HSS” sailing, which connected into the class 37-hauled 1G79 18:22 Holyhead to Birmingham.  Quick trip home for a few hours’ kip then a fast car to Newcastle for the Deltic.  What could go wrong.

The first spoke in the day’s wheel occurred passing Inchicore Works.  We knew that the stock was meant to do a round trip to Limerick (the 13:45?) but, as we were heading home, we had not troubled the usual contact to find out if that was booked for an 071.  On rolling past the depot, there was what can only be described as a blindingly shiny 071 sat waiting to head towards Heuston.  Getting closer… it was only 077!!!  My Lords!  The machine was quite clearly coming out to work the Limerick – which it duly did – and we believe this to have been its first passenger run of the millennium.  After much soul-searching, however, we decided to stick with the plan and headed back for the UK.  Nonetheless, it had been an absolutely fantastic rover, and as school holidays go… I’m sure the like will never be seen again.


I’ve included this photo, taken in low light in absolutely deplorable (but, in my experience, normal for County Longford!) weather, as it includes the two locos that starred in 25/02/00 for me – 077 and 080 – and I also like the fact that the single-line token can be seen in mid-air!  Edgeworthstown, 22/10/01.  (JW)

Just as an aside, the Dart down to Dun Laoghaire for the ferry was the first and only unit travelled on in Ireland that trip – how times change.

If you fancy a bit of schadenfreude, have a look at our journey home.  I mentioned that the HSS was advertised to make its crossing in 99 minutes, which would give a +30 or so onto 1G79.  That was when the ferry was on four jets.  It was often on three, including today.  Long story short, as we were getting off the ferry we heard the Type 3 erupt and take its doubtlessly empty train towards Birmingham.  Along with several hundred other people, we endured a selection of units home.  I would rather have been out to my ankles behind 077 howling down the Cork main line!  “Welcome home”.

167 Limerick Limerick Junction 08:35 Limerick City – Junction
219 Limerick Junction Cork 07:30 Heuston – Cork
080 Cork P1 Dublin Heuston 10:35 Cork – Heuston
99-D-519 Dublin Heuston Dublin Connolly bus
8313 Dublin Connolly Dun Laoghaire 14:45 Howth – Bray
Stena Explorer Dun Laoghaire Holyhead 16:05 Dun Laoghaire – Holyhead
153316 Holyhead Llandudno Junction 18:45 Holyhead – Llandudno Jn
158752 Llandudno Junction Chester 19:46 Llandudno – Piccadilly
153358 Chester Crewe 21:00 Chester – Crewe
323241 Crewe Wolverhampton 20:49 Lime Street – New Street

Saturday 26/02/00

Just to bookend the rover with Vulcan Foundry products, here’s the Saturday moves.  No fuss, no drama, no book-filling up rusty sidings.  My kind of day.

55019 Newcastle King’s Cross 09:50 Newcastle – KX (1Z49)
55019 King’s Cross Newcastle 18:10 KX – Newcastle (1Z48)


I hope you have enjoyed reading this article as much as I have enjoyed the walk down memory lane writing it.  I am truly grateful to my Dad for making sure that I got to know a railway that, to British eyes, was a window on the past, and is now only something that old fools happily reminisce about over a Guinness or several.  We didn’t just travel to Ireland, by the way (many of you will know me better as a devotee of German diesel-hydraulics) but it is those formative years travelling so regularly to Ireland that have ensured that I feel more at home on overseas railways than those on my doorstep!

This was by no means unusual in terms of an Irish rover in 2000.  I enjoyed many better ones, and many more that weren’t so good!  But 18 years ago this week, this is what you could have chosen to have done, and although these days are irretrievably gone, you can still travel behind some of the old Irish locos on occasional railtours or at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway.  If you haven’t yet done so, I would highly recommend it.

CIÉ E421 Class – Little Maybachs in Ireland


E421 at Downpatrick, 18/10/14 (JW)

The Maybach-engined diesel-hydraulic locos of British Rail have long had a large enthusiast following, but it’s lesser-known that there were Maybachs across the Irish Sea too – three of which have survived into preservation.

Largely unburdened by war damage in comparison to other European countries, the railways of Éire embraced diesel traction relatively early, although initially in something of a piecemeal and haphazard way.  Aside from five Mirrlees-engined shunters, two prototype 960hp Sulzers and a one-off 0-8-0 MaK diesel-hydraulic, CIÉ’s first serious attempts at dieselisation came from 1954-58 when it procured 94 Crossley-engined diesel-electrics from Metropolitan-Vickers in Dukinfield – 60 of 1200hp (the famous A Class) and 34 of 550hp (C Class).

Aside from these sizable orders, CIÉ continued to amass small fleets of entirely disparate traction, including from BRCW/Sulzer, Deutz, and the first order of 15 machines from General Motors (B121 Class), which allowed steam traction to largely be dispensed with by the end of 1962.  One of these small fleets was of 19 420hp diesel-hydraulic shunters constructed by CIÉ themselves at their Inchicore Works in 1956/57, with 420hp Maybach MD220 power units with Mekydro transmission, and were known as the E401 Class.

The E401 Class met CIÉ’s expectations and indeed led to a follow-on order of 14 further machines to a largely similar design, known as the E421 Class, which entered traffic in 1962/63.  These featured a different Mekydro transmission, multiple working capability and were slightly longer than their forebears.


E421 alongside G611 and G613 during a diesel gala at Downpatrick, 17/04/05 (JW)

Strictly speaking, “shunter” might actually be an unnecessarily derisive term to use for these diminutive machines, as they were designed with greater things in mind than shunt releasing in termini and knocking wagons about in yards.  They may have only been of 420hp but they were built with a plated maximum speed of 100km/h (62mph).

The E421 Class, however, did not get off to an auspicious start.  On Friday 7th September 1962, whilst returning from Kildare to Inchicore on one of its pre-acceptance test runs with five coaches, E421 had just passed Droichead Nua/Newbridge station when it derailed.  Thankfully, none of the seven people on board the loco and train – six CIÉ staff and a German Maybach technician – were injured, however 200 yards of track were destroyed (effectively closing the main Cork to Dublin main line) and all of the vehicles including E421 sustained serious damage.  E421 came to rest jammed up against a bridge embankment (see photo on Wikipedia).

The loco’s wheel arrangement (C) was implicated in the accident and this, combined with a notorious reputation for rough riding, meant that both the E401s and the E421s were permanently restricted to 40km/h (25mph) not long after, which naturally affected the duties on which they were employed.  Generally, their existence was a relatively humdrum one, predominantly in and around Dublin, and all were withdrawn by 1983.

The above is a link to a video uploaded to YouTube by Ulsterimages with some good sound of E421 in action in 2010.  The loco is currently out of service.

All of the E401s were withdrawn by the late 1970s and cut up by the end of the following decade, however the E421s survived in an operational condition long enough to feature in the developing Irish preservation scene in the mid-1980s.  E421 and E432 went to the Downpatrick & County Down Railway over the border in Northern Ireland, where they remain, although both are currently out of traffic awaiting overhaul.

E428 and E430 went to the nascent “Westrail” based at Attymon Junction.  Westrail had hoped to take over the short branch line from there to Loughrea (closed 1975) as a preserved railway, but this did not come to pass; CIÉ downgraded Attymon Junction as a block post and sold the formation of the branch.  Westrail decamped to the goods shed at Tuam, on the Athenry to Claremorris route, in late 1985, but E430, which had been cannibalised for spares, had been cut up by then.

However, this ultimately led to a brighter future for its sister, at least for the short-term.  Sunday 22nd June 1986 saw E428, that unremarkable little engine in the far west of Ireland, make true diesel preservation history.  When it hauled the “Orange Blossom” special from Tuam to Claremorris and return, it became the very first preserved diesel locomotive to haul a passenger-carrying train on the main line under its own power in the British Isles.  E428 continued to be used on such specials up and down the Western Corridor – closed to passengers in 1976 but still open for freight traffic at the time – for the next few years (here is a link to a YouTube video of E428 at work on these duties, from 1989).  That is, until 1993, when Iarnród Éireann made the decision to lift the rails from the route through Tuam, supposedly for “reconditioning”, thus trapping Westrail’s rolling stock in its shed.  The route was eventually relaid, but not the connection to the shed – thus effectively ending Westrail’s operations at a stroke.


E428 hides away in the background behind A3r at the Inchicore Works open day, 16/06/96 – I don’t seem to have actually taken a photo of E428 itself in those pre-digital days!  (JW)

E428 next returned to its birthplace, when it was taken by road from Tuam to Inchicore to be exhibited at the open day commemorating the Works’ 150th anniversary in 1996, with the assumption that it would then return to Tuam, but this did not occur.  E428 stayed at Inchicore for nearly a decade, before things turned full circle once again with it moving on to the Loughrea branch – it was purchased by Dunsandle Railway Station, and placed on a length of track there along with a carriage and a wagon.  It remains here as a static exhibit and has been recently been repainted; you can make a donation to its upkeep on its owners’ website should you so wish.

E425 and E429 were also earmarked for preservation, but sadly this did not come to anything – but we are lucky to retain the three survivors.

E421 Downpatrick & County Down Railway, Northern Ireland
E428 Dunsandle Stationlink to Google Maps
E432 Downpatrick & County Down Railway, Northern Ireland

As an aside, the E Class were not the only Maybachs that CIÉ had.  As the 1960s progressed, the aforementioned Crossley Metrovicks were not delivering the desired level of reliability; the Cs were especially problematical, as a lot of their branch line work was being taken away by the closure of the routes, leaving them at 550hp as underpowered for main line work.  As a trial, C233 and C234 received Maybach MD650 power units (as in the BR Class 42s and DB V200.0s) of 980hp in 1965/66, but in the end CIÉ made the sensible decision to standardise across its fleet on General Motors power units instead, and C233 and C234 followed suit in 1979, being the last “main line” Maybachs in the British Isles.

The E Class have never really been in the limelight, but the sound of one at full power is something to experience – especially if, like me, you are a fan of diesel-hydraulics – and hopefully it won’t be too long until that sound is heard again.

Various dates in 2017: 071 Class haulage in Ireland


075 at Westport on its first passenger train post-rebuild following accident damage, 29/03/99 (JW)

One class of diesel loco outside the UK that has a dedicated following is the Iarnród Éireann 071 Class.

This 18-strong, 2,250hp General Motors design has been phenomenally successful.  Built in 1976, they worked out of the box, have frequently given 100% availability, and remain in traffic even today.  This post is not, however, intended to give a comprehensive history of the class – that will follow at another time.

The days when we used to charge around Ireland behind these locos on service trains at design speed are long gone.  Happily, there are a number of railtours planned to use them during 2017.

Class leader no.071 has been repainted in something approximating the livery it was built in (photo here) and no.073 is currently (17/05/17) in the Inchicore paint shop being painted back into the Irish Rail livery of the late 1980s and early 1990s.  It’s likely, therefore, that these tours may feature these two machines – indeed, the October tour booked for a pair is almost guaranteed to, barring failures.

Sunday 28th May 2017 – 11:25 / 13:35 / 16:35 Howth to Dublin Connolly top and tail with steam locos (no.461 starts, to be replaced by no.85 “Merlin” at some point during the day), €10 per trip, €27 day rover.  Operated by RPSI.  Link.

Saturday 12th August 2017 – 09:35 Dublin Connolly to Howth and back, then to Sligo and back, £65.  Operated by the Irish Railway Record Society.  Link.

Sunday 20th August 201710:30 Dublin Connolly to Kilkenny and return, “Radio Train” vice steam loco.  Operated by RPSI.  Link.  Cancelled.

Saturday 9th September 2017 – NIR 111 Class 07:30 Whitehead (Excursion Platforms) to Dublin Connolly for an 071 to Rosslare Strand and forward to Sligo and return as outward.  Operated by the Modern Railway Society of Ireland.  Link.  UPDATED

Saturday 14th October 2017 – 2 x 071, Dublin Connolly to Cork and Tralee and return, £57.50.  Operated by the RPSI.  Link.  (This is planned to be the first occasion that two JT22CWs have powered a train together for over 21 years – since this tour, in fact!)

The above is a link to an excellent video on YouTube by Metro Vick, giving a flavour of exactly what it was about these hellfire machines that made them so popular in their heyday.

23rd March 1996 – “The Yankee Explorer” railtour


102 at Belfast Great Victoria Street, 23/03/96 (JW)

21 years ago today (at the time of writing!), I was fortunate enough to be a passenger on one of the most audacious railtours in history!

Formed in 1989, the Irish Traction Group had a long tradition of operating interesting enthusiast railtours in the Emerald Isle.  Saturday 23rd March 1996 was to see one of the most exciting.

The premise was simple – and brazen – it would travel from Dublin to Northern Ireland, use all of Northern Ireland Railways’ locomotive fleet – then go back!  And it almost succeeded.

I was only 7 years old at the time (hence the dodgy photography on my part!) but had already spent a lot of time on the Irish railways with my Dad and had developed a keen interest bordering on obsession!  This tour was therefore not one to be missed, as it fell firmly into the “unrepeatable” category.


102 awaits departure from Belfast Great Victoria Street (Julian Mandeville)

To give a bit of historical context, most of my schoolfriends and – particularly – my teachers were gobsmacked that I was travelling to Northern Ireland in the mid-1990s.  Belfast was a place that most people in Worcestershire had only ever seen on the 6 o’clock news, and tended to associate it with guns, bombs and barricades.  Indeed, just six weeks before this railtour, an IRA bomb had exploded in London’s Docklands area, ending the ceasefire.  However, it really does need saying that in a quarter of a century of visiting the Six Counties, my experience has been only of a beautiful part of the world inhabited by friendly people – and so it proved again on this day.

Northern Ireland Railways at the time had six locomotives in their operational fleet: one “Hunslet” 101 Class (no.102), the three machines of the 111 Class (nos.111-113) and two brand new 208 Class locos (208 and 209).  The plan was as follows:-

Unspecified traction Dublin Heuston – Islandbridge Junction
NIR 111 Class Islandbridge Junction – Bray (reverse) – Portadown
2 x NIR 111 Class Portadown – Lisburn
2 x IE 121 Class Lisburn – Derry (reverse) – Lisburn – Belfast Great Victoria Street
NIR 101 Class Belfast Great Victoria Street – Belfast Central
2 x NIR 208 Class Belfast Central – York Road (reverse) – Portadown
NIR 208 Class Portadown – Dublin Connolly
IE 071 Class Dublin Connolly – Bray (reverse) – Islandbridge Junction
Unspecified traction Islandbridge Junction – Dublin Heuston

The three 111 Class machines entered traffic in the early 1980s (111 and 112 in 1981, followed by 113 in 1984), to an identical design to the enormously successful 18-strong Córas Iompair Éireann 071 Class which had dated from 1977; 90mph, 2,475hp General Motors Co-Cos with 12-cylinder 645-series engines.  These plied their trade relentlessly on the cross-border expresses between Belfast and Dublin, but as of summer 1995, were usurped by the brand new 208 Class and pushed onto freight and civils work.They say in Ireland that it rains for 15 minutes every quarter of an hour, and this day dawned no differently, as 141 Class Bo-Bo GM no.170 performed the short manoeuvre out of the terminus station of Dublin Heuston as far as Islandbridge Junction.  From here, Northern Ireland Railways 111 Class loco no.112 took over, running via the then-freight only route through Phoenix Park Tunnel to Dublin Connolly, Dun Laoghaire (to collect a load of bleary-eyed cranks who had arrived on the overnight ferry from Holyhead) and Bray.  There it ran round to begin the journey to north.

As a result, 111 Class power across the border was beginning to get quite rare, so was something to be savoured.  112 had always been my favourite Northern Irish loco, so I was pleased that it was doing the distance work on this day, and it noisily but effortlessly did its job, exactly as it had been built to do and exactly as it had done for most of its life.

One of the true highlights of the day was to follow.  All of the “traditional” GM diesels in Ireland could work in multiple with each other, but this was banned for any of the six-axle machines south of the border.  However, it was permitted in Northern Ireland.  Previous ITG railtours both in 1990 had seen the two class leaders, 071 and 111, work together, as well as 111+113, and the “Yankee Explorer” was to repeat the feat – two 111s in multi, admittedly only for the 18 miles from Portadown to Lisburn, but enough to make a lasting impression – what a run it was, with some awesome acceleration!

Unfortunately, 113 was out of traffic for the weekend, under repair at York Road depot in Belfast, so we were thwarted in the attempt to use all of NIR’s traction – just 111 ran light engine to Portadown to pair up with 112, rather than 111+113 to replace it.

On arrival at Lisburn, we said goodbye to the big engines and gained a pair of the elderly single-cab IÉ 121 Class Bo-Bos – 130 and 135 – for a journey via the now-closed line through Crumlin to Antrim, Coleraine and along the stunningly scenic coastal route to Derry.  After about three-quarters of an hour in the Maiden City – enough to take some photos of the locos running round but not much else! – we set off, retracing our steps back to Lisburn and then through to the terminus of Belfast Great Victoria Street.


130 and 135 at Lisburn, 23/03/96 (Julian Mandeville)

This station had only reopened 6 months previously, having been closed for 19 years.  1976 had seen Belfast finally gain a cross-city railway line, with the termini of Queens Quay (of the former Belfast & County Down Railway) and Great Victoria Street (of the former Great Northern Railway) being closed in favour of a new route through the newly-built but distinctly un-central Belfast Central station.  As such, this was the first time that many of the tour’s participants – including me – had been there.

There was something far more exciting to look at than the brand new station and transport interchange, though – chirping away to itself in Platform 4 was a pristine no.102.

In concept, the 101 Class were essentially the predecessors of the 111s.  Again a class of three machines, these 1,350hp English Electric 8CSVT machines were built by Hunslet in Leeds in 1970 to work the “Enterprise” express trains between Belfast and Dublin.  Once replaced by the 111s on these duties, they worked push-pull suburban trains and non-passenger work.  103 fell by the wayside in 1989, followed by 101 itself in 1993, leaving 102 as the sole survivor in service – it was clear that it did not have a long future ahead of it.


102 where it resides today – in the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum at Cultra.  30/05/16 (Nicola Elsden)

It’s fair to say that the 1.8-mile canter through the city suburbs did not tax the old girl, which was the exact point, but it allowed the train’s happy participants to say “I was there” for what I believe was the last time a member of this class ever hauled a passenger-carrying train.  This video of an earlier ITG railtour on YouTube contains some good quality audio of no.101 at work, which sadly is probably the closest you will come to hearing an NIR Hunslet for the foreseeable future.

Incidentally, we saw all three of the class during the day – 101 was visible stored at Adelaide, and 103 was seen awaiting scrapping at Ballymena.  Sadly, we were just two months too late to see Metro-Vick no.107 at Ballymena – it had been scrapped in the January – and the cutter’s torch awaited 103 less than a year later.  102 soldiered on until 1998.  Both it and 101 were bought by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland; 101 was scrapped for spares in early 2010, just shy of its 40th birthday, and 102 was sold to the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum in Cultra, to where it was taken in January 2012 and remains on display today.

On arrival at Belfast Central, we lost NIR’s oldest traction and gained its newest!  The 208 Class were an oddity – 34 mechanically identical locomotives arrived in the Emerald Isle in 1994/95; nos.201 to 207 and 210 to 234 were painted orange and formed Iarnród Éireann’s 201 Class, whereas nos.208 and 209 were blue and formed Northern Ireland Railways’ 208 Class.

These 100mph, 3,200hp GM machines essentially replaced the 111s on the cross-border expresses and were less than a year old at the time that this tour ran.  These were able to work in multi with members of same class; therefore, obviously this tour was going to use that capability!

As an aside, the fact that agreement had been reached that both 208s could be on the railtour at the same time meant that something else would have to be found for the evening Belfast-Dublin service train.  Step forward 130 and 135!  Many railtour participants therefore alighted to travel back to Dublin with them, and by all accounts, they experienced a blistering run with the pair of little engines.  However, they missed a treat the with pair of big ones.

It must be said that the 201s/208s were fairly unpopular with enthusiasts at the time – perhaps predictably, as they were replacing well-loved machines on the crack expresses and neither looked or sounded anywhere near as good – but also with railwaymen and, apparently, GM themselves, all of whom would have preferred another 34 “071s” instead.  However, these fresh-out-of-the-box machines absolutely stormed back up the main line to Portadown; with 6,400hp through one handle, it was always going to be brisk!  Indeed, I’m not sure the carriages liked it very much, and indeed this has not been repeated.  208 took us forward on its own to Dublin.

Back in Éire, we lost the blue engines for the day and gained 071 Class machine no.081, which took us to Bray and back to Islandbridge and, after the usual Bo-Bo drag back into Heuston, the end of a fantastic, never-to-be-repeated day out.

Incidentally, I did travel behind no.113 in 1996 – thereby completing my own personal “set” for the year – but I had to wait until 28th December, and the MRSI’s “Three Loughs” railtour, to do it!  That, however, is a story for another day…

I remain indebted to the ITG for operating some of the finest railtours that I have travelled on.  Although they ran their last charter (to date) in 2010, their work continues in earnest in the field of preservation.  They own a total of 13 locomotives, 4 of which are operational at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway in Northern Ireland.  I can wholeheartedly recommend a trip there when the diesels are running; although it will never be the same as experiencing these machines on the main line, we are lucky that they are still here for us to enjoy at all.


My sincere thanks to Julian for the use of two of his excellent photos, which are far better than anything I could have managed!