Irish Railway Record Society
Irish Railways: 1946 - 1996
Great Northern Railway (Ireland)
The war years had seen traffic on the GNR(I), in common with most other concerns, rise dramatically, more than doubling in some cases. However, by 1946 competition from road vehicles was eroding traffic and, while rates and fare increases managed to maintain receipts at around the £3½ million mark, expenditure was rising steadily. In the midst of this worsening financial situation the company suddenly faced competition from a new source - air services. In 1947 Aer Lingus started operating services between Dublin and Belfast which posed a serious threat to the railways traffic, in particular first class business. The GNR(I) responded by introducing Ireland's first regular non-stop rail service of over 100 miles in length, the 'Enterprise' express. The first service departed from Belfast at 1030 hrs, hauled by Class V locomotive No. 83 'Eagle'. A special train of the GNR(I)'s most modern coaches was made up for the 'Enterprise'. Normally seven the train was composed of seven coaches, but this could increase to ten during the summer. The timing for the 112½ miles between the terminal stations was 135 minutes and while this was a comparatively easy schedule compared to pre-war days, the service proved so popular that the air service was withdrawn after only a short time. The return working departed from Dublin at 1730 hrs. In 1948 a second 'Enterprise', based in Dublin, was added, departing Dublin at 0930 hrs and returning from Belfast at 1715 hrs.
Also in 1948, but towards the end of the year, the last GNR(I) steam locomotives entered service. These were the five 4-4-0 VS Class locomotives, numbers 206 to 210 which were built specially to operate the 'Enterprise'. Based on the 1932 built compound locomotives of Class V, the VS Class had three-cylinder simple propulsion with Walschaerts valve gear. The Belpaire boilers were identical to those fitted to the V Class and certain other parts were interchangeable. The wheel arrangement used on these locomotives was dictated by the cramped layout of the erecting shops at the company's Dundalk works which precluded the use of locomotives larger than 4-4-0 or 0-6-0.
By 1949 the financial situation of the GNR(I) had worsened considerably. Expenditure exceeded revenue by £118,000 and it had become clear that the end of the company as a private concern was fast approaching. The summer of 1950 saw the introduction to traffic of the first of twenty diesel mechanical railcars ordered from A.E.C. Ltd. of Southall These cars, developed from a pre-war A.E.C./Great Western Railway design, were powered by two A.E.C. 125 h.p. under-floor engines, each one driving the inner axle of one bogie through a five-speed, pre-selective epicyclic gearbox. Bodywork was by Park Royal. A full-width cab occupied one end of the car and there was a guards compartment at the other end. Accommodation was provided in two saloons for 12 first-class and 32 third-class passengers. The first-class saloon was located immediately behind the driving cab, giving the passengers a clear view forward onto the line ahead. The power cars could operate with up to two unpowered intermediate coaches, these being built by the GNR(I) at its Dundalk Works. One of the first duties of the A.E.C. cars was working the Dublin based 'Enterprise' express. While the restriction of the train size to four carriages proved something of a drawback, these units did have the distinction of being the first successful main line diesel railcars in either Ireland or Britain.
Also in 1950, in conjunction with CIÉ, the Belfast based 'Enterprise' was extended to run to and from Cork. Two sets of coaches were used, one GNR(I) and the other CIÉ, working Belfast-Dublin-Cork and Cork-Dublin-Belfast on alternate days. GNR(I) VS Class locomotives were used between Belfast and Dublin, with CIÉ locomotives, either 400 or 800 Class, being used between Dublin and Cork. The southbound journey took 6¾ hours and the northbound one 6½ hours. This working lasted until June 1953, but a through coach from Belfast to Cork was included in the 'Enterprise' set until September of that year, being handed over to CIÉ at Amiens Street, worked round to Kingsbridge and attached to a service to Cork.
In November 1950, the directors announced that the company had reached the end of it financial resources and the following month the shareholders authorised the Board to close the line as soon as possible. This decision caused great concern to the two governments who entered into negotiations with the company wit a view to its acquisition. On 6th January,1951 the GNR(I) announced its intention to discontinue all services in Northern Ireland within five weeks. Two days later, one week's notice was given to approximately 1,200 employees. This was withdrawn the following day when it was announced that the governments would meet the deficit. An offer of £3,900,000 was made to the company by the governments, but this was rejected by the shareholders. Following protracted negotiations the offer was increased to £4½ million and this was accepted. Pending the formal acquisition of the company, the governments agreed to finance the operating losses and to fund the purchase of materials and equipment. By the end of 1952 the growing deficit had reached the alarming total of £1,900,000, whereupon the two governments passed legislation in the following year bringing to an end 78-year existence of the GNR(I) as a private concern and establishing the Great Northern Railway Board.