Irish Railway Record Society
Great Northern Railway Board
The GNRB commenced operations on 1st September 1953. The Board consisted of ten members, five appointed by each Government, with the Chairmanship and Vice-Chairmanship alternating each year between A. P. Reynolds and G. B. Howden. Apart from a small number of vehicles introduced during the last years of its predecessor, the GNRB inherited an old and obsolete fleet of locomotives and rolling stock. The average age of the 194 steam locomotives was 37 years, with 33 being over 55 years old. Of the 329 coaching stock vehicles some 127 had exceeded their economic life of 45 years and only 14 were under 10 years old, while nearly half the wagon fleet was over 35 years of age. The Board felt that the continued use of this equipment was not only uneconomic but would also lead to further reductions in the volume of traffic with consequent worsening of the railway's financial position and concluded that diesel haulage should replace steam traction as soon as possible. Accordingly the Board sought approval from the two governments, in March 1954, for the purchase of an additional twenty-four diesel railcars at a cost of slightly over £½ million. The difficulty of reporting to two masters with differing views on the future need for railways soon became apparent and it took nine months before both Governments agreed to the Board's request.
The GNRB's modernisation plans also included the introduction of diesel locomotives. In April 1954 the Board sought tenders for the supply of three types of locomotive; 350 to 400 h.p., 800 h.p. and 1,000 h.p. The German company Maschinenbau A.G. Kiel (MAK) offered to construct and ship at its own expense an 800 h.p. diesel hydraulic locomotive for trial on the GNRB. This offer was, naturally, accepted and the locomotive arrived at North Wall on 14th December, 1954. Five days earlier the Tolka bridge had been washed away by floods resulting in an unplanned journey over CIÉ metals from North Wall to Navan, via Clonsilla, before continuing over GNRB tracks to Dundalk. The locomotive, which had a D wheel arrangement, was fitted with a Voith hydraulic transmission and its centre cab gave it a decidedly continental look. After successful trials with heavy goods trains on the Dublin - Belfast and Belfast - Derry lines and on local services out of Amiens Street, the Board purchased the locomotive for £29,500.
The main line from Dublin to the north crosses the River Tolka about half a mile outside Amiens Street. The destruction of this bridge by floods on the night of 8th/9th December, 1954 isolated the Board's Dublin passenger and goods termini and the locomotive shed from the rest of the system. It took nearly a month before a temporary bridge was in place, normal working resuming on 4th January, 1955. In the interim, passenger services worked to and from Clontarf station, while goods trains operated from Drogheda to Dublin via Navan and Clonsilla. A permanent concrete bridge was constructed during 1955 and was brought into use on 12th January, 1956.
During 1955/56 the Board closed the Scarva to Banbridge, Goraghwood to Markethill and Knockmore Junction to Castlewellan sections, the last mentioned resulting in the ending of workings over the former B&CDR line into Newcastle. Serious differences between the two governments became apparent in 1956 when the GNRB was instructed by the Northern Ireland Minister for Commerce to close 115 miles of line in the province; Omagh to Newtownbutler, Bundoran Junction to Belleek, Portadown to Tynan and the Fintona branch. The Dublin Government and the GNRB were vehemently opposed to these proposals, the latter arguing that if diesel traction was employed there would be a net loss to the Board of nearly £70,000 as a result of the closures. This opposition proved to be of no avail and the closures went ahead on 30th September, 1957. The Dublin Government felt it had little choice but to legislate for the ending of passenger services on the portions of the lines which lay in the Republic; Dundalk to Clones, Cavan to Glasslough and the Carrickmacross and Belturbet branches. this taking place on 14th October.
The order for the twenty-four diesel railcars placed by the Board at the end of 1954 had gone to the British United Traction Co. (B.U.T.). Delivery of the underframes and unassembled structural sections of the bodies to Dundalk Works commenced in September 1956, with construction being undertaken by the GNRB. The first cars were ready for service in June 1957 and the programme was completed in October 1958. There were two distinct types of car ordered; eight were similar to the earlier A.E.C. cars, with a full width cab at one end and accommodation for 12 first and 40 third-class passengers, and sixteen 56 seat third-class only cars with a half-cab and corridor connection at both ends. All twenty four cars were fitted with 150 h.p A.E.C. engines, driving through a four-speed non-pre-selective gearbox. The double ended cars could be marshalled as intermediates in sets, allowing eight-car trains to be formed. The B.U.T. cars took over the working of the Belfast based 'Enterprise' in 1957 and the Dublin based set in the following year.
By this time the process which was to lead to the dissolution of the Board had already commenced. In June 1957, the Stormont Minister of Commerce announced his intention of terminating the joint agreement for the operation of the GNRB, adding the Portadown to Derry line had no long term future. In Dublin, the Minister for Industry & Commerce gave similar notice and it was agreed that the Board's assets would be divided between CIÉ and the UTA. The Great Northern Railway Act and the Transport Act (N.I.) were passed in Dublin and Belfast respectively during July 1958 and the GNRB ceased to exist at midnight on 30th September of that year.