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North Wall


I’ve always been fascinated by North Wall. It is unique within the British Isles, for although there are large freight terminals in Scotland, Wales and England, and some that are, or in many cases were, part of dock complexes, North Wall combines both aspects, having been since its inception both the largest freight terminal anywhere in Ireland, and also the largest active docks. When the parents-in-law were living in Glasnevin, their house was only a few minutes walk from the ‘Iron Bridge’, a footbridge spanning the former GS&WR tracks between the then long vanished Drumcondra – later of course replaced - and Glasnevin stations and along which many freights on their way to and from North Wall, as well as light engines, passed. A hundred or so yards further on, was the former MGWR line to North Wall but over which vastly less traffic passed. Not only that but it was in a cutting alongside the Royal Canal, and as no convenient vantage point for photography or simply watching the trains go by offered itself, I paid it less attention. I never really knew North Wall in steam days, but when I began to take a real interest in what was going on there, in the late 1960s, there was a great deal of activity including much shunting by locomotives specifically designed for just such duties, the Mirrlees-engined 301 class built at Inchicore in 1946-8, and their successors, the Maybach-engined 401 and 421 classes, also built at Inchicore between 1956 and 1962. The 301, or D class, although only five in number and by their very nature seldom in the limelight, was a key locomotive in the story of Irish motive power, for it was the first successful production diesel for the 5’ 3” gauge. The class was fairly short lived, indeed by the late 1960s only two of the 301s were still at work. The last, No. 304, ceased duties in May, 1972 but none were officially withdrawn until October 1976, all being cut up some five months later so none, sadly, was preserved.

North Wall dates back to the 1870s and, uniquely, was shared by no less than four companies, the GS&WR, the GNR, the MGWR and the English L&NWR. On my first visit to Dublin, in 1959, I was more than a little surprised to find a Scammel mechanical horse (there may have been more than one), adorned in British Railways livery going about its business delivering goods around the city. The L&NWR had built itself a very impressive, four storey red brick building, originally a hotel, and beside it a passenger terminus. The GS&WR began running passenger trains out of the terminus in September, 1877, the MGWR and the GNR(I) followed suit, but this service ended in 1922 and regular passenger trains would be no more at North Wall until Docklands station opened on the site of the MGWR goods terminus on 12 March 2007.

 The working time table for 4 October 1948 makes interesting reading. The authorised weekly shunting schedule, which included transfers between the various yards and banking duties up the steep inclines on the Midland route to Liffey Junction and the GS&WR route to Kingsbridge, amounted to 450 hours, 45 minutes at the Midland depot, and 366 hours at the GS&W depot. The 301 diesel class was already at work, at the Midland depot, its duties being confined to ‘shunting only’. The timetable refers to them specifically as ‘diesel electric’ so presumably everything else was steam powered: it would be two years before the first of the two Sulzer-engined 1100 class Bo-Bo main line locomotives entered service. The timetable on page 11 shows nine trains a day, weekdays, from North Wall to Kingsbridge Goods, the first at 5.30am, the last at midnight, each allowed 40 minutes, and ten in the reverse direction, the first at 6 am, with the last at midnight, also allowed 40 minutes. Intriguingly there were also in the up direction, two daily workings labelled ‘G.N. Porter Train’. The first left Kingsbridge Goods at 11.50am, called at Amiens Street between 12.15pm and 12.25pm, and arrived at North Wall at 12.45pm; the second left at 8.40pm and arrived at 9.35pm. Did the fact that no return workings appeared mean that both porter and wagons were consumed down at North Wall? The distance given between Inchicore and North Wall is 6 miles, a black dot beside Inchicore and Amiens St indicating that each has a turntable. At Kingsbridge the trains would be reformed and then continue on to various destinations on the former GSW and D&SER routes.

The only distinction made between the various yards at North Wall is that ‘North Wall (L.M.S.)’ is also shown, but there are no trains to or from it in this section of the timetable. However, if we turn to page 33 we see that there is a train each weekday at 4.25pm from Liffey Junction arriving at the LMS yard fifteen minutes later. Elsewhere this working is described as a perishable. Its locomotive then shunted the LMS yard for three hours and then ran to Ashtown ‘as required.’ I used to frequently walk from the Brian Boru public house (from outside it I should hastily add) at Glasnevin along the canal bank to Liffey Junction in the late 1960s and 70s when the latter station’s platforms and sidings were still more or less intact and the sidings were always full of goods wagons, stored out of use. Six overnight and early morning goods trains are shown in the 1948 WTT leaving North Wall for Midland destinations Monday to Saturday, for Ballina at 9.45pm, Sligo at 10.40pm, Galway at midnight, Claremorris at 1.00am, Athlone at 4.45am, and the Meath Goods at 6.30 am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only. The time allowed for the 2m 79ch[1] climb up from North Wall to Liffey Junction was 19 minutes. Trains waited there, presumably to have the banker detached and also, perhaps, to have wagons attached, between ten and 19 minutes.

 Return workings saw the Claremorris goods depart Liffey Junction at 6.30am, the Galway goods at 7.45am, the Sligo goods at 9.28am, the Westport goods at 10.7am, the Meath goods on Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturdays at 5.10pm, and the Athlone goods at 5.35pm. There is also a perishable in the small hours leaving Liffey Junction at 2.02am but this terminates at Westland Row. Despite being downhill, trains between Liffey Junction and North Wall are allowed six minutes longer than down trains.

 Various duties for locomotives at North Wall are detailed. One for instance started at 6.00am at Kingsbridge, ‘assisting yard working and attending to Guinness,’ and then went on to bank ‘North Wall Transfer for Trains, 9.45pm Goods’ (this would have been the Ballina goods) and finished its stint, banking, at 1.20am. Another, equally long, began at North Wall Midland at 3.30am, banking until 6.30am, and then worked right through the day until an hour after midnight, shunting.

 There were three approaches to North Wall, all of which survive, although a large part of the freight yards served have now disappeared. The Midland route alongside the Royal Canal passed Newcomen Junction, where a very sharp curve took trains up to Amiens Street/Connolly station. The Midland line then passed under the two bridges carrying the five former GS&WR and GNR(I) tracks out of Amiens Street/Connolly station, followed immediately by West Road Junction where double tracks veered left to connect with the rest of the North Wall complex, before branching out into a six track depot. Sheriff Street Bridge spanned this and the former L&NWR yard, permitting a grand stand view of activities below. The GS&WR route, having passed Drumcondra station and Croke Park, then diverged at North Strand Junction, the line to Amiens Street/Connolly curving away to the right whilst the goods line continued under the GNR(I) route out of Amiens Street/Connolly to North Wall. Two trailing junctions followed each other in rapid succession at Church Road, the first the connection with the Midland line from West Road Junction, and he second with the GNR(I) line from East Wall Junction. Connections from the Midland, the GS&WR and the GNR(I) lines enabled trains to reach the L&NWR/LMS depot, which, under Rail Plan 80 in CIÉ days, became the North Wall container depot with a gantry spanning the six tracks.

 Continuing along the GS&WR tracks, over which the East Road bridge passed, providing another excellent vantage point, a series of sidings spanned out, the East Wall Yard to the left, alongside a wagon repair depot, a ballast pad, another gantry, and an extensive civil engineers’ yard, at the end of which tracks crossed Sheriff Street to the Point, the impressive stone built GS&WR depot which today is the O2 concert hall. A single track ran past this, over another level crossing and terminated along side the River Liffey. One of the last times this was used was in 2004 to bring in the Spanish built CAF carriages used on the Dublin-Cork route, which were unloaded from the cargo ship MV Flintersprint. Other port tracks led from the East Wall Yard over the East Wall Road and continued along the Alexandra Road Tramway serving various depots and terminals, chiefly oil ones.

 Livestock was always big business at North Wall and cattle trains lasted as long as the railway continued to handle this traffic. On the other side of the Irish Sea, one of the last places in England to handle cattle traffic was Shrewsbury, and well into the 1970s, in the sidings between the Crewe and Chester lines, rows of cattle trucks could be seen which had brought in cattle shipped from Ireland via North Wall and Holyhead.

 I only once managed to travel by goods train into the North Wall complex, this on a pick up goods in the 1970s from Drogheda. In those days I used to visit the late Brian D’Arcy Patterson, Rail Control Officer (Personnel), in his office at Islandbridge each summer, where he always made me welcome and provided me with a footplate pass. He was a lovely man; whenever I mentioned his name to footplate staff, he was always spoken off with affection and there was great sadness when he died, in harness. We stopped off at various stations, a wagon load of turf being pushed into the siding at Malahide for the use of the signalmen, and passing alongside the waters of Dublin Bay at Fairview, which came right up to the railway in those days, crossed the River Tolka and swung off past the handsome GNR(I) signalbox at East Wall Junction and into the depot. Nowadays, although the freight scene at North Wall is vastly less busy than it was when I first knew it, the area is served, rather remarkably, by no less than two passenger rail routes, Spencer Dock on the site of the Midland depot, and the LUAS line along Lower Mayor Street to the Point.

[1] Distances for former MGWR lines were shown in miles and chains in the WTT long into the CIÉ era, along with the North Kerry line and Foynes branch – but no other portions of the erstwhile WL&WR – as well Amiens St to Greystones, but no other former D&SER sections.

The remainder of this article appears in IRRS Journal number 179, published October 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Irish Railway Record Society Ltd.
Revised: December 12, 2012 .