Irish Railway Record Society
South Wexford Line
The suspension of services, on 18 September 2010, on the Waterford-Rosslare Strand section marked the end of any significant railway element of the great Fishguard & Rosslare Railways & Harbours Company scheme ‘To Ireland via Fishguard & Rosslare’ as it was promoted. The joint Great Western Railway/Great Southern & Western Railway scheme was incorporated to provide a through service from London Paddington to South West Ireland. The service opened on 30 August 1906.
When I joined the railway, on 18 June 1962, as a clerk in Rosslare Harbour booking office, the traffic through the port was very similar to that for which the route was designed for more than a half a century earlier. The exception was the Tourist Excursions from Paddington to Killarney, out overnight Friday night and back overnight Saturday night, had long since ceased. Goods traffic, or freight as we call it these days, consisted of bacon and chocolate crumb as the big-volume commodities and also general merchandise. Occasionally in winter a boat would call to collect peat moss from Kilberry (4 miles north of Athy) en route to the Channel Islands for horticulture. Soon after joining CIÉ I realised that 60 years of the history of the construction and the services would make an interesting paper and, with the enthusiastic help of Leslie Hyland, it was published in JOURNALS 42 and 43.
The Waterford (Abbey Junction)-Rosslare Strand section, 341/2 miles, was the last significant section of railway to open in what is today the Republic. At the time of its construction technology had moved on and concrete was dominant in the building of structures along the line. This was in sharp contrast to the Waterford & Wexford Railway twenty years earlier which opened from South Wexford (later renamed Wexford South) to Rosslare Harbour (later renamed Kilrane) on 24 June 1882 with six simple circular-arch masonry over-bridges and only two significant under-bridges, Coal Channel and the Ballybrennan canal both of which had masonry abutments and steel-spans. Rosslare Harbour station building also had masonry walls.
The entire scheme was built between 1900 and 1906 by three Glasgow based contractors; Charles Brand & Co. – Rosslare Harbour, Robert McAlpine & Co. – the Waterford-Rosslare Harbour railway, and Sir William Arroll & Co. – the Barrow Bridge and the viaduct at Rosslare Harbour. Three of the original four ships were also Glasgow built, at the yards of John Brown & Co., Clydebank. The major engineering feature of the line is the 2,131 ft long Barrow Bridge between Waterford and Campile which is to be the subject of a paper in a future JOURNAL. All the structures on the route were built between 1900 and 1906 by the contractors for the line, Robert McAlpine & Sons, who also laid the track. Perhaps the finest concrete structure of the same era (1897-1901) is Glenfinnan Viaduct on the Fort William-Mallaig line, in Scotland, also built by Robert McAlpine with 21 arches and having a total length of 416 yards. Because of his extensive use of concrete, Robert (later Sir Robert) was nicknamed ‘Concrete Bob’.
over-bridges on the Waterford-Rosslare Strand section have a uniform
appearance using a smooth plaster finish with decorative horizontal recessed
bands. The original design allowed for structures of masonry, brick or
concrete construction. Robert
McAlpine & Sons Ltd were the lowest bidder for the contract at £144,423
and on the 9 February 1900 was approved as the contractor by the Board of the
F&RR&HCo. meeting at Paddington Station, London.
At the F&RR&HCo meeting on
28 June 1900 Sir Benjamin Baker, one of the railways two consulting engineers,
reported to the Board that Robert McAlpine & Sons Ltd would be paid £150,308.
The difference had arisen because the contractor planned to do part of the
work in concrete whereas the original specification said masonry and brickwork
was to be used.
McAlpines persisted with their
concrete approach and at the F&RR&HCo. meeting on 24 June 1901, Sir
Benjamin Baker reported to the Board, and it is recorded in the minutes, that 'McAlpine has his way and the bridges will be concrete'.
In a PR quote from Malcolm
McAlpine, the Project Manager on site and then just aged 27, in the New
Ross Standard of 4 November 1904, he stated 'Indeed
McAlpines consider that the extent to which concrete has been used by them a
remarkable feature of the works they are constructing'.
Some over-bridges have riveted plate steel spans with troughing floors, while others have an elliptical brick arch of up to six courses of brick and the remainder is concrete. There are two major under-bridges built almost entirely of brick with circular arches: the seven-arch Taylorstown Viaduct (the sixth arch crosses the Owenduff River) and the three-arch one immediately east of the site of Duncormick station, known as Mill of Rags. All the remaining under-bridges are of similar construction to the over-bridges. Most bridges, both over and under, have substantial wing walls. A section that proved difficult was over Rosegarland Bog near Wellington Bridge, where at the start of the construction of the embankment two cubic yards of fill disappeared into the bog for every cubic yard that remained above. When construction started on 19 June 1900, much of the land was not available to the contractor and it was not until mid-1902 that rapid progress was being made and on 3 July 1902, 1,000 men were working on the project. In addition 700 men with four stone crushers were producing 1,000 tons of ballast weekly. Some 260,000 yards3 of rock was removed from the Great Island cutting and this was crushed for ballast. It is reported that eight trains of wagons built by the contractors on site from local timber were used to convey the ballast along the line. Initially three locomotives were used but this number increased to six. Temporary track was used initially but McAlpines laid the permanent track as soon as they could to assist in moving the ballast. There are three recorded fatalities during the construction, two being killed by laden wagons passing over them, and the third was killed by an engine overturning and falling on him. There was also a fatality on the Barrow Bridge when a crane collapsed into the river with the driver inside but this was on the Arroll site.
A map produced by Henry Pratt in London in 1708 entitled Tubula Hiberniae Novissima et Emendatissima (“The latest and most up to date map of Ireland”) shows Greenore Bay extending from Greenore Point, 11/4 miles south east of the location of the pier at Rosslare Harbour to Fort, a small community 33/4 miles north of the present Rosslare Strand railway station. At Fort there was a lifeboat station, base of a tower, pilot station for pilots guiding vessels in and out of Wexford Harbour. Between the Fort and Rosslare village was a continuous narrow strip of sand dunes varying between 37ft and 46ft in height and behind this spit was an area of approximate 10mile2 of mud flats extending westwards for approximately 31/2 miles and southward almost to where the Rosslare-Killinick railway was later laid. About 1840, embankments were built across the northern end of these mud flats to reclaim the land. Some were successful, some a failure. Two pumping stations using beam engines rotating waterwheels were used to pump out the water, as the land was below sea level at high tide. A drainage canal was built from Ballybrennan House, near Killinick, across the south end of the reclamation. Today bridge No. UB251 takes the Wexford-Rosslare line over the canal and according to reports in Builder sand was conveyed along the canal to Killinick for use in the construction of the works, mainly bridges, for the Rosslare-Waterford route. When the Wexford-Rosslare line was built across this reclaimed and uninhabited land there was no population and when the main line from this route to Killinick and Waterford was being planned, the junction at Felthouse was designed as a remote junction with no platform. In fact it’s very name suggests that there was nothing more than a small structure covered in felt after which to name the junction.
Until the computerisation of the records at the National Archives, Kew, I could find little information about this 21/4-mile section of the original mainline from Wexford to Waterford. After the computerisation, a search revealed Felthouse Junction was filed in a F&RR&HCo file (File MT6/1543/5) and included a full track layout and signalling diagram dated 27 April 1906 Engineer’s Office, Inchicore. The Waterford-Wexford section opened for goods traffic on Monday 2 July 1906 when an empty livestock special left Waterford at 05:00 for Wellington Bridge in conjunction with Taghmon cattle and sheep fair. The special returned later after loading and the day was without flags, nor banners nor fog-signals to mark the event. Passenger services commenced on 1 August 1906 but lack of traffic resulted in the closure of Felthouse Junction-Killinick by 1911. The points to and from Killinick were converted to ground frame control and the signals dispensed with. However, Coal Channel Bridge (UB250), just south of Felthouse Junction, then MP01/4 was in need of renewal in 1913 and Felthouse Junction cabin was temporarily re-opened during week-ending 26 April 1913 (GS&WR Weekly Circular No. 1284). The points leading to and from Killinick were restored to being worked from the cabin and the Distant and Home signals from Wexford and Rosslare Strand were brought back into use. The sections again became Wexford-Felthouse Junction and Felthouse Junction-Rosslare Strand. There was no reference to the Killinick section signals and neither is there any reference in the Weekly Circulars to any Wexford-Rosslare Strand trains being diverted via Killinick. Upon completion of the bridge work (with the temporary speed restriction of 5-mph increased to 15-mph), Felthouse Junction cabin closed again on Sunday 2 November 1913 and the points reverted to ground frame operation with the signals being dispensed with again. The Electric Train Tablet section again became Wexford-Rosslare Strand. The cabin referred to as Wexford was of course Wexford South, originally called South Wexford, Wexford North being on the D&SER. Material from the Felthouse Junction-Killinick line was used in the construction of the colliery line from Castlecomer Junction to Deerpark, which opened in 1919.
The mileposts between Killinick and Wexford (South) were measured from Mallow; Felthouse Junction was MP110 and Wexford (South) MP1131/2.
From an analysis of the GS&WR timetables, the last scheduled trains over the Killinick-Felthouse Junction section were on 30 September 1910. In its short 50 months of existence there was a morning ‘Mixed’ train from Waterford at 07:30 to Wexford D&SER (the only through working to that station), two passenger trains from Waterford at 14:15 and 18:00 to Wexford (South) and a connection at Killinick at 21:35 for Wexford (South) off the 20:05 Waterford-Rosslare Harbour passenger. Apart from the morning and evening Cork-Rosslare Express the 20:05 was the only passenger train to Rosslare Harbour. There was a 20:30 Cork-Rosslare Harbour Goods train taking 11 hours 10 minutes.
CHANGES IN THE 1960s
Bacon was traditionally shipped in sacking. In the early 1960s it began to be carried in British Railways’ FM containers which had insulated bodies and used dry ice to keep the product cool. There were also BD containers for non-perishable goods. Both types could be carried in coal trucks on the Irish side but on British Railways they we carried on flat wagons. Normally this traffic, which originated in Waterford, was shipped on the Waterford-Fishguard boat, the coal-fired TSS Great Western. As this service did not sail on Saturdays the traffic was routed through Rosslare to reach the Monday market in London. The Waterford service was withdrawn in 1966. The FM containers were usually conveyed from Waterford by special train, as the Waterford-Wexford goods did not go through to Rosslare Harbour.
When Cadburys’ chocolate company needed to move from central Birmingham to a new and much larger site in the 1870s, the selected a site near Stirchley Street station on the Midland Railway’s new Birmingham Western Suburban line (opened 3 April 1876) between Birmingham New Street and King’s Norton. The company opened its new factory in 1879 and influenced the MR to rename the station Stirchley Street & Bournville the following year. It became simple Bournville from 1 April 1904. Milk was brought in and chocolate crumb (raw chocolate) sent out on the Birmingham & Worcester Canal while cocoa arrived by train. In 1948, with the demand for Cadbury products rising in the post war years, Fry Cadbury build a factory for the production of chocolate crumb at MP241/4, Mallow-Tralee line, one mile east of Rathmore Station and this was controlled by an Annett’s Lock released by a key on the ETS for the Millstreet-Rathmore section. While the new Rathmore factory was originally intended to supply the chocolate crumb to the Irish market, special trains frequently operated between the siding and Rosslare Harbour for shipping and onward by rail to Bournville.
Labour to deal with the goods traffic was provided by a pool of part-time farmers and other local men who would cycle as much as six or seven miles to the Harbour in the hope of getting a ‘start’ as getting work for the evening was referred to. The CIÉ Inspector would decide on the number of men he required and employ that number leaving the remainder of the men to return home. However, a list was retained by the Inspector and those disappointed on a day would be given priority the next day.
Motor cars were craned on/off the ships on spreader mats and conveyed to and from the mainland on the floor of old bogie carriages, which had their bodies removed. The Rosslare Harbour ‘pilot’ locomotive, invariable a J15 class 0-6-0 until C-class locomotives appeared in the 1960s, propelled the train on to the pier and hauled it back. A wooden bodied carriage was attached at the locomotive end of the train for car drivers and their passengers. However, a practice had been established whereby the people remained in their vehicles during the shunt. This was very much a service for the wealthy – I recollect the tickets being printed with fares for the single journey for the vehicle, depending on length, of £11-£16. Passenger fares were £1.7s.6d steerage or 2nd class as it had become by then and £2.13s.0d Saloon. It was necessary for the motorists to report at Rosslare Harbour by 19:30 for the 23:15 sailing. By 20:30 most cars would be on the pier and their passengers would retreat to the restaurants on the ship for dinner.
In 1961, Cork Airport opened and by the middle of the decade Aer Lingus was operating services to London, Manchester and Bristol. The first jet aircraft to land at Cork Airport, a Comet operated by British Overseas Airways Corporation (predecessors of British Airways) on behalf of Aer Lingus touched down on 29 March 1964. After the Fishguard service was adapted for Ro-Ro and officially opened on 11 June 1965, shipping rates for cars fell rapidly and many families of Irish extraction in England and Wales changed to driving through to Ireland for their annual visit. The level of passenger traffic via Fishguard through to Cork and Kerry by rail diminished considerably and CIÉ closed the Waterford-Mallow section on and from 27 March 1967. The Fishguard-Rosslare service was increased to four sailings each way on weekdays in the summer of 1967 reflecting the rapid growth in car travel. The service was operated by the converted Belfast-Heysham vessel TSS Duke of Rothesay and the classic TSS St David. Another victim of the changing travel pattern was the withdrawal, in 1968, of the classic Cork-Fishguard service run by the B&I Line who have taken over from the City of Cork Steam Packet Company. Upon the withdrawal of the service, British Railways gave notice of termination of the agreement allowing the Cork ships to use Fishguard Harbour. A new high-car capacity ferry service, operated B&I, commenced between Cork and Swansea, further eroding the traditional rail-sea-rail passenger market. In June 1968, a car ferry service was established between Rosslare Harbour and Le Havre, France.
It is worth recording some fares at the time I joined CIÉ in 1962. Rosslare Harbour to London (Paddington) 2nd class was £4.2s.0d, and Cork 2nd class £2.13s.6d thereby making a Paddington-Cork return journey £13.11s.0d – this was about 11/2 times the average weekly wage of the day. There was no alternative to full fare through tickets, which were calculated on the sum of the individual companies’ fares with return tickets costing twice the single price. A family of 2 adults and 4 children, not an uncommon combination, would have paid six weeks earnings! Another interesting point on fares when I joined was that tickets printed in 1947, for the resumption of services after the ‘Emergency’ had fares exactly half what they were in 1962.
The 06:15 Rosslare Harbour-Cork Express called at Waterford, Kilmacthomas, Durrow, Dungarvan, Cappoquin, Lismore, Ballyduff, Fermoy, Mallow and Cork, arriving at 10:15. This was followed by the all stops 07:10 Rosslare Harbour-Cork taking 5 hours and 45 minutes. In the final timetable for this service, Winter 1966/67, the journey time for the 1343/4 miles was 3 hours 50 minutes, 57 minutes being allowed between Rosslare Harbour and Waterford. The overall schedule was exactly the same as it was 60 years earlier when the line opened. The closure was 75m 47ch in total of which 56m 65ch was the property of the F&RR&HCo. It was fitting that the last train was the down 18:20 Rosslare Express from Cork. After the closure of the Mallow-Waterford section on 27 March 1967 the Rosslare Harbour-Cork train was diverted to run via Limerick Junction.
Preparation for the closure had been in progress for some time. The loops between Waterford and Limerick Junction had to be lengthened and re-signalled and in addition mechanical staff exchangers were installed at Grange, Fiddown and Kilsheelan so that the locations could be passed at speed, as the train only stopped in, Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel, Cahir and Tipperary. On and from Tuesday 30 March, the journey time increased by 20 minutes to allow for the additional 171/4 miles via Limerick Junction and the 8-minute run-round there. The traditional stopping service to Cork terminated in Waterford as it continued to do until the closure of the Waterford-Rosslare Strand section. In summer 1970, the up Cork service began calling at Wellington Bridge at 18:33 with no increase in the overall running time. On 10 June 1974, the 18:30 from Rosslare Harbour was diverted to Limerick, became standard class only and had no catering onboard. An additional stop was included at Rosslare Strand and the journey time to Waterford was increased to 65 minutes though the timetable referred to it as the Rosslare Express! From 10 June 1974, a new weekday summer service was introduced leaving Waterford at 12:10 calling at Campile, Wellington Bridge, Rosslare Strand and Ballygeary returning at 15:00 to Waterford. This return service was to provide a connection with Rosslare-Le Havre service.
The evening Rosslare Harbour-Limerick service usually altered in conjunction with changes to the Fishguard Harbour service and by 1985 the up service left Rosslare Harbour at 19:40 and arrived Limerick 23:20. The connection for Cork arrived at 23:55 increasing the Rosslare Harbour–Cork journey time to 4 hours 15 minutes. In 2003, the 19:25 service from Rosslare Harbour connected into the down Dublin-Cork night mail and, with a 00:23 arrival in Cork, the journey time was just two minutes short of five hours. On some evenings there were no passengers on board the Rosslare Harbour service over some sections of its journey and, on 11 December 2004, the service was withdrawn.
LOCAL GOODS TRAFFIC
Local goods traffic on the line was never voluminous. The recently demolished Shelburne Co-operative in Campile would have been the biggest customer. The opening of the four beet factories in 1926/34 boosted goods traffic on the line for three months annually. Four-wheel open wagons would be placed early in the day at each station based on the requirements of the Irish Sugar Company and during the day farmers would arrive with horse and carts as well as tractors and trailers with beet and this would be forked into the wagons using a spoon shaped fork with a small steel ball on each prong to avoid damaging the beet. When tipping trailers became common in the late 1960s, CIÉ increased the height of some sections of the loading banks throughout the system so the beet could be tipped directly into the wagons, eliminating the labour involved in the loading. Concrete walls backfilled or sleepers were used to construct the raised extensions. Many of these are still visible around the country. In 1975, all stations Campile to Ballygeary were closed to goods traffic except beet and this was the end of the Waterford-Wexford goods train. Another exception was Wellington Bridge which remained open for tar which was worked from Waterford as required. In the 1975 beet season stations Kilrane to Campile had a daily quota of wagons in excess of 150. However, this was spread over eight stations and economies were needed. The following year CIÉ gave notice that it wished to close the Waterford-Rosslare Strand line and build a beet loading depot on the Kilkenny side of the Barrow Bridge. This ultimately led to the depot being more centrally located at Wellington Bridge. The end of beet loading at the minor stations came in 1979 when the new concentration depot at Wellington Bridge opened and specials operated direct to Mallow.
Kilmokea The only new station between Rosslare Strand and Waterford line since the line’s opening was the provision of a halt at Kilmokea, near MP82, just east of the Barrow Bridge in conjunction with the construction of a new power station for the Electricity Supply Board at Great Island. The station, which opened on 22 August 1966, was of simple construction, sleepers with a top surface of chippings. A train was provided from Waterford at 08:10 returning empty from Kilmokea via Campile following the 07:10 from Rosslare Harbour. In the evening the empty train again ran via Campile, this time ahead of the 17:45 from Waterford to Rosslare Harbour. The empty train left Campile at 18:01 having crossed the already mentioned 17:45 from Waterford. The set used was that of the 11:05 Waterford to Limerick and its return working. Initially the service was worked by a locomotive, carriage and van but, from 28 March 1967, former Sligo Leitrim & Northern Counties Railway railcar ‘B’ operated the service until it developed a serious fault early in May and was replaced by British United Tractions (BUT) bi-cab unit No. 716N before finally reverting to locomotive haulage again. Patronage was never great with highest known figure being 24, though the cost of the service was guaranteed by the ESB. When an extension was being built the halt re-opened for a short time.
Campile Campile signal cabin closed on 5 February 1989 and the section became Waterford Central-Wellington Bridge. After the opening of Belview sidings and the provision of trap points either side of the Barrow Bridge in 1995, the section became Waterford Central for Barrow Bridge-Wellington Bridge. The signal cabin was demolished by October 1991.
Ballycullane After the 1975/6 beet season, the cabin was switched out on 27 March 1976 and only switched in during the following two beet seasons. The signal cabin here was not switched in for the 1979/80 beet season and was formally closed in 1980, Campile-Wellington Bridge becoming the section.
Wellington Bridge Although simple in layout, the signalling arrangement here is complex with Ballylannan Level Crossing on the Waterford side worked by gate keepers and the Station Gates at the Rosslare end worked by the signalmen. There is a 3-aspect colour light signal protecting Ballylannan gates in the down direction and this will clear to a yellow aspect if the gates are open for a train but Wellington Bridge home signal is at danger. The down home signal will only clear if the Station Gates are open for the railway, the Wellington Bridge- Rosslare Strand for Grange Big ETS has been withdrawn and the down home and starting signals have been cleared. This is to cater for any possible over-run of the platform by a train. Once this station arrangement is clear the signal protecting Ballylannan gates will display a green aspect. If a non-passenger movement requires to enter Wellington Bridge station there are two discs at the home signal, the left one reads into the loop platform (formerly the down) or the beet loading siding. The right hand disc reads to the main platform (former up line) or Main siding. There is a ‘yellow’ disc at the Waterford end of the beet loading siding which can be passed at yellow by any vehicle going to the head-shunt or at green it reads to the mainline. In the up direction the signalling is simple as Ballylannan gates are well west of the station.
Duncormick From 6 September 1976 the station closed to all traffic except beet and on 27 September 1976, the signal cabin closed. It was replaced by two Annett’s locked lever frames at each end of the siding controlled by a key on the new Bridgetown-Wellington Bridge ETS. After the implementation of the central beet loading facility at Wellington Bridge the siding connections were removed and the main line became plain track.
Bridgetown The signal cabin at Bridgetown closed on and from 13 January 1986 but the station remained open for passengers until the withdrawal of services. The section became Wellington Bridge-Rosslare Strand. On commissioning of the Rosslare Line CTC on 27 April 2008, the section was altered to Wellington Bridge-Rosslare Strand for Grange Big, Grange Big being the last set of gates on the line and within the Rosslare Strand signalman’s area of control - See JOURNAL 167.
Killinick The first signal cabin on the line to close was Killinick on 13 March 1972 when the ETS section became Bridgetown-Rosslare Strand. This was followed by the closure of the station to passenger traffic from 6 September 1976.
Rosslare Strand Track and signalling changes were made in 1965 to allow higher speeds through the station toward Mallow and permit bi-directional working over both tracks through that station. However, with the demise of the passenger business, the layout was rationalised from 5 March 1973, the double junction was removed and a loop on the Wexford line was retained with a simple turnout from the loop towards Waterford. This layout was perpetuated in the Rosslare Line CTC re-signalling in 2008. The revised layout featured in the enquiry into a head-on collision between two passenger trains at the Rosslare Harbour end of the station on the evening of 13 August 1974 when the two locomotives were derailed and one badly damaged. The down Waterford passenger train was stationary when it was struck by the up Dublin passenger and was driven back by 21 feet. Thirteen passengers were injured. The withdrawal of services on the Waterford line means a certified signalman is no longer required at Rosslare Strand. The main station layout is under the control of the Rosslare Line signalman at Greystones.
In the 1906 scheme the pedestrian connection between the up and down platform was provided by two stairs from platform level to the road over-bridge. However, upon arrival of a Mystery train from Clonmel on 23 July 1967, a large number of passengers took to the up-side stairs to exit the station whereupon the weight of these people caused the stairs to collapse. Fortunately no one was seriously injured although ambulances did attend. The arrangement was abandoned and the disused footbridge at New Ross was erect there in lieu. As this was an additional bridge over the line it was designated OB222A. This bridge was subsequently replaced in 2001 by a new steel structure which is still in situ.
There were eleven manned level crossings between Waterford and Rosslare Strand:
The signal cabin at Wellington Bridge had 20 levers, though the lever fobs are conservative with their description – five simply stating ‘SUBSIDIARY SIGNAL – to explain these I have added an explanation in brackets’:
Upon withdrawal of services, the line will continue to be maintained. It is interesting to note that most of the 24½ miles of jointed rail is the original 87lb/yard supplied for the construction in 1900/6.
In conclusion I wish to thank Stephen Hirsch, Anthony Gray, Vincent Brady, Darren Bowe and Michael Dunne for assistance in preparing this paper. I specially thank the Archivist and staff University of Glasgow, Business Archives, Thurso Street, Glasgow for making the Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons files available (Reference UGB 254).
Copyright © 2011 by Irish Railway Record Society Ltd.