Ireland now has some 2,300
km of public railways, all 1,600mm (5'3") gauge. Irish Rail (Iarnrod
Eireann), the state railway system in the Republic has 1944km, and in Northern
Ireland, Northern Ireland Railways operates another 357km.
Most of the system carries passengers predominantly, and freight traffic
is light by international standards. Some lines, particularly on
the NIR system, carry no freight at all.
Irish Railway System Map (2005)
Irish railways were built between
1834, when the Dublin to Dun Laoghaire line opened, and the early years
of the 20th century. In the early 1920s, both the route mileage
(at about 12000 km) and the traffic levels carried were at their peak,
but competition form road traffic began to make inroads into railway traffic
from the 1920s. While most of the system was 1,600mm gauge, some lines
mostly in rural areas were narrow gauge - 914mm gauge. In the north west,
County Donegal was almost entirely served by two large narrow gauge systems
totalling some 300 km. In 1923, the Keady - Castleblayney line in Co. Armagh
was closed after only 10 years open to traffic, and by the early 1930's
a number of rural lines had followed into oblivion, mostly in the south
The main lines between Dublin
and Cork, Belfast, and Belfast - Derry received a fair amount of investment
over the years, and locomotives, carriages and services were as good as
anywhere in Europe, but rural and western lines received little new investment
especially during the lean years of the 1920's - 1930's. In 1925,
all the railway companies whose lines fell wholly on the Southern side
of the newly created border (between Northern Ireland and the Republic)
were amalgamated as the Great Southern Railways. By the late 1940's, Ireland
still had an extensive railway system which was almost entirely steam operated,
and indeed, one short branch line in Co. Tyrone was to remain horse worked
until its closure in 1957!
Between 1949 and 1960, huge
changes took place. Large investment was made in diesel locomotives
and railcars and new carriages in the Republic, with Inchicore working
at full capacity for many years. Following nationalisation of CIE
(the State transport company in the Republic) in 1950, many unremunerative
lines were closed, and others reduced to freight only status. Meanwhile,
in the North, the Ulster Transport Authority (state owned railway and general
public transport in Northern Ireland 1949 - 1967) closed almost 80%
of the railway system under its control, and introduced diesel railcars
to the rest.
Both economic circumstances
and political interference had resulted in the closure of most of the Great
Northern Railway system in 1957. The remainder was divided between
the two state companies. CIE took over the remaining lines in the
Republic, and the UTA took over what was left in the North - only to close
over half of it by 1965.
By 1960, main line trains
were almost entirely dieselised, leaving steam on secondary duties and
freight traffic. At the end of 1962, following the delivery of more
diesel locomotives and with further branch line closures imminent,
CIE eliminated steam traction for good. In the North, dieselisation
had followed a different pattern. No main line diesel locomotives
had been acquired at all, and practically all passenger trains were railcar
formations. Freight traffic had been abolished by the UTA in 1965,
apart from cross border traffic to and from Belfast and Derry, and yet
further closures of lines had taken place. In 1967, the UTA was split
up into road and rail undertakings. The railways became the Northern
Ireland Railways system. Steam lingered on in the form of a remaining
few ex-NCC "WT" class 2.6.4T's until 1970, when the last two were withdrawn.
The last public main line passenger train both in Ireland and in the British
Isles had operated on Easter Monday, 1970. After that, NIR began
a gradual program of renewal. Currently, most NIR services are still
railcar operated (by newer railcars!) while most services in the Republic
are locomotive hauled.
DATES IN IRISH RAILWAY HISTORY
||Ireland's first railway opened, from Dublin
- Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire)
||Grouping of Irish North Western Rly, Ulster
Rly, Dublin & Drogheda Rly, to form the Great Northern Railway (Ireland).
||Purchase of Waterford, Limerick &
Western Railway by Great Southern & Western Railway.
||Purchase of Belfast & Northern Counties
Railway by (English) Midland Railway to form Midland Railway (Northern
Counties Committee) (known as "the NCC")
||Midland Rly (NCC) becomes LMS (NCC) as
a result of the merger of the Midland Railway into the London, Midland
& Scottish Railway in Great Britain. Irish border created after
of political events led to the creation of Northern Ireland and the Irish
Free State (Republic of Ireland after 1937).
||First closure: the Keady - Castleblayney
line on the GNR system.
||Closure of the unique steam operated monorail
line, the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway in Co. Kerry.
||All railway companies wholly within the
Irish Free State grouped into Great Southern Railways. Cross border
lines, and line wholly within Northern Ireland unaffected.
||Amalgamation of G.S. Rlys. with road transport
concerns and Dublin tram companies to form Coras Iompair Eireann (CIE)
= the Irish Transport Company.
||Takeover of LMS NCC by British Transport
Commission through Railway Executive (NCC). BTC also inherited the
penniless Dundalk, Newry & Greenore Railway which it closed in 1951.
||NCC railway system and Northern Ireland
Road Transport Board (buses) amalgamated to form Ulster Transport Authority,
Ireland's first all embracing nationalised transport undertaking.
||UTA takes over Belfast and Co. Down Railway,
only to close almost all of it 18 months later!
||Nationalisation of CIE in the Republic.
Introduction of main line diesel railcar trains by both CIE and the Great
||GNR taken over by Governments of Northern
Ireland and Republic of Ireland. Both Governments appoint the members
of the Board, the GNR (Board) taking over from GNR (Ireland)
||Large scale diesel purchases by CIE (the
"A", "B101" and "C" classes) result in virtual elimination of steam on
scheduled main line passenger services in the Republic.
||Closure of major part of GNR system, mostly
in the North, including Ireland's last horse worked railway, the Fintona
branch; and the last fully independent company, the cross-border Sligo,
Leitrim & Northern Counties Railway.
||Takeover of remainder of the GNR lines
by CIE (in the Republic) and UTA (in Northern Ireland).
||Closure of the surviving sections of the
County Donegal Railways, once Ireland's largest narrow gauge system.
||Closure of the last public narrow gauge
railway, the West Clare Railway, by now part of the CIE system.
||End of regular steam traction on CIE system.
||Formation of the Railway Preservation
Society of Ireland
||UTA split into three different State-owned
companies. Ulsterbus (buses), Northern Ireland Carriers (road haulage
- later privatised), and Ulster Transport Railways.
||U. T. Railways becomes Northern Ireland
Railways Co. Ltd.
||End of steam on NIR, and therefore in
Ireland. NIR buys 3 main line diesels for Belfast - Dublin expresses -
Northern Ireland's first main line diesel locomotives.
||First year of the longest running preserved
main line steam train operation in Europe - the RPSI's "Portrush Flyer",
Belfast - Portrush and back.
||Electrification of Howth - Dublin - Bray
suburban line of CIE, as "Dublin Area Rapid Transit" (DART). Immediate
dramatic rise in passenger usage reverses many decades of decline in Dublin's
suburban train service.
||Division of CIE into three operating subsidiaries:
Bus Eireann (Irish Bus), Bus Atha Cliath (Dublin Bus), and Iarnrod Eireann
(Irish Rail). Road haulage under IR's management.
||Amalgamation of the Boards of Directors
of N.I. Railways and Ulsterbus / Citybus, under a new company name, Translink
Steam alive in Ireland since 1964