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Limerick as a Railway Centre

JOE COLEMAN FCILT

 

Limerick has always been an important railway centre and at one time boasted lines radiating in four directions with services to Waterford, Galway, Sligo, Cork, Tralee and the Port of Foynes, It also had its own tramway which served two local markets. In its early years, its extensive Works were noted for the rebuilding of selected locomotives and having produced some fine rolling stock, including pioneering the first electric carriage lighting. Limerick also handled a huge variety of freight traffic flows over the years; including; sundries, cement, beer, sundries, cattle, barytes, molasses, timber, fertiliser, shale, zinc ore. Today, it remains busy for the increased level of passenger services throughout the day. While many changes have taken place particularly over the past 50 years, most of the original structures remain in place and are still in regular use.

 

THE WATERFORD & LIMERICK RAILWAY (1848)

The first railway in Ireland authorised by parliament was the Limerick and Waterford in 1826 (the date of the Act being 31 May 1826) and although never built, its successor, the Waterford and Limerick, was the first line out of Limerick. This was authorised by an Act of 21 July 1845 and was the work of William Dargan. It was opened from Limerick to Tipperary for goods traffic on 24 April 1848 and for passengers on 9 May 1848. The W&LR planned their approach to Limerick very well. For the first 1½ miles out of the station, the line is dead level and dead straight.

At the time of the opening of Limerick’s first railway, the station used was not the present one at Parnell Street, but a temporary station (81ft wide and 400ft long) about 540 yards from the present buffer stops on the Limerick side of the Meagher Viaduct. This carries the Roxborough Road over the railway, the present structure dating from 1911. The Viaduct was built over six lines of track. During construction, the structure fell and had to be rebuilt, but this did not prevent its opening on 18 February 1847, which was over a year before the railway was completed beneath it. The temporary terminus continued in use until an Act of 1855 authorised the W&LR to extend the railway to the present site, where the new station opened on 28 August 1858.

At first, there were intermediate stations at Killonan, Pallas[1], Oola and Limerick Junction. Additional stations were provided at Boher and Dromkeen in the 1850s. The line continued to Clonmel on 3 May 1852, to Fiddown on 11 April 1853, to Dunkitt 23 August 1853 and finally reached Waterford on 11 September 1854, completing the 77¼ mile route but 2 years over schedule. Intermediate stations were; Bansha, Cahir[2], Clonmel, Kilsheelan, Carrick-on-Suir, Fiddown & Portlaw, Grange and Dunkitt, the latter being closed as early as 1855. It had always been the intention of the W&LR that the Limerick–Limerick Junction line would be double track and this was provided in 1849.

For the opening, there were three trains on weekdays and two on Sundays in each direction. An omnibus was run from Cruises Hotel in the heart of Limerick City to connect with the trains. The 1848 timetable regarded trains to Limerick as “Down”, but by 1861, towards Limerick was the “Up” direction. By this time, a more lavish weekday service was provided with four passenger trains to Waterford, one to Tipperary (mixed) and a mixed night mail through to Waterford. There were also two goods trains, one day and one night.

Timings were:

07:00 Passenger to Waterford

07:20 Goods to Waterford

09:10 Passenger Mail - Overall time 2 hours 55 minutes

11:05 Mixed to Tipperary

15:10 Passenger Mail to Waterford

16:25 Passenger to Waterford

22:05 Night Goods to Waterford (duplicated on Saturdays)

23:00 Night Mail Mixed to Waterford

On Sundays, there was one train to Tipperary and the night mail ran. The Sunday night mail ceased about 1919. An extra 21:45 mixed working to Limerick Junction, which continued to Waterford as a goods, commenced soon after the 1925 amalgamation, but otherwise no change was made up to 1941, when coal shortage forced the GSR into cutting services drastically. The Waterford trains were reduced first to two and the 21:45 mixed, and later to one day service and a mixed night mail, both through to Waterford. The best timing between Limerick and Waterford was 2 hours 40 minutes, in 1927. The variety of locomotive power on the line was considerable. J15s mingled with 4-4-0s of No. 1 class (D17), the 333 class (D4), and Woolwich 2-6-0s after formation of the GSR.

The second track between Limerick Junction and Killonan was removed as an economy measure by the GSR in 1929, but remained between Killonan and Limerick. Limerick Junction may originally have been known as Solohead Junction, after a local townland[3]. In the early days there were poor relations between the W&LR and the GS&WR. The W&LR threatened many times to build their own station, and did in fact provide a platform of their own for a short period in 1880, with passengers having to walk to and from the GS&WR station alongside the track - no health & safety issues in those days!!. There was a dormitory at the Junction in which one room was alleged to be haunted. No one would sleep in it, so it was eventually sealed up completely.

 What was unique about the Junction was the fact that all trains had to approach the platforms by reversing. Major track work eliminated this practice for Dublin and Cork trains when facing crossovers were installed to the mainline platforms in 1967, when the Limerick-Dublin direct curve was also opened to traffic. The north end of the single mainline platform was Platform 1 and the south portion Platform 3. The Limerick bay, opposite Platform 1, was Platform 2. The Waterford bay, Platform 4, was opposite Platform 3. Until 2008, Waterford-bound trains continued to use Platform 4 via the back road behind the station building, this requiring a reversing movement in both directions (i.e. to and from the bay). Platforms 3 and 4 were later demolished, the crossover from Platform 3 to the Up main was removed, and the site converted to a 200 space car park. The previous Platform 2, originally the Limerick bay, is now designated as Platform 2 for part of its length and Platform 3 for the remainder, to allow distinction between trains when a Limerick and Waterford service are present at the same time. CTC finally arrived at the Junction in December 2010, which rendered both the North and South Cabins redundant and further track rationalisation also took place. CTC is also in operation from the Junction to Tipperary. Today Tipperary, Cahir, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir remain open, but all are reduced to halt status. All other stations succumbed to the 1963 closures, except Bansha and Fiddown, which handled beet traffic until January 1964, and Grange which remained for beet, livestock and wagon load traffic to the same date. Dromkeen, closed in September 1976, is now a busy mid-section crossing place, with a loop located to the western side of the road crossing. Tipperary, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir are now the only remaining block posts still in operation.

The old W&L line is less busy today than in the past with all freight traffic in the area now consigned to history. The only freight wagons to be seen are those to and from the wagon fleet maintenance facility at Limerick. Throughout the day there is an hourly passenger service in both directions to the Junction and four through workings to Dublin (one via the Junction). In the 1990s, there was speculation that the line might be redoubled, the section then being the busiest stretch of single line in the country. However, there are now no through passenger workings between Limerick and Waterford, with just 2 daily passenger services in each direction between Waterford and Limerick Junction Monday-Saturday all year round, but no service on Sunday.

 

THE LIMERICK & FOYNES RAILWAY (18 57 - 2000)

This main line of the W&LR did not prove by any means the limit of the company’s empire. The second line to serve Limerick was the Limerick and Foynes Railway (L&FR), which was authorised by an Act of 4 August 1853 to build this 26½ miles route[4]. It opened to Ballingrane on Saturday 12 July 1856 and it was also built by William Dargan. Intermediate stations were provided at Patrickswell and Adare. Kilgobbin halt was added in 1929. On 12 May 1857, the extension to Askeaton was opened and the line was completed to Foynes on 28 April 1858. The L&FR was taken over by the W&LR in 1873.

In the early days, before construction of the Direct Curve to Foynes Junction [see below], trains to Foynes were hauled from the station to a location in the upper yard now occupied by the Check Cabin. The train engine was then attached to the rear to bring the train in a south-westerly direction over the Foynes Loop on a gradient of 1 in 100 and a curve of 30 chains.

In the 1930s, there was a goods, a mixed and a passenger train, worked by a Foynes based locomotive. Axle loads allowed on the branch were 14t. 10cwt. During the Emergency, the Foynes service was reduced to just a single mixed train, worked from Foynes. Later, the service was worked from the Limerick end. A J15 and a single six-wheeled coach (36M) was regularly used on this working, which rarely carried a passenger up to the withdrawal and scrapping of 36M in 1959. Subsequently, either another six-wheeler (100M) or an ex-works bogie was used, usually hauled by a Deutz G class locomotive; mostly G611. The return working to Limerick was via the Check Cabin, first detaching the wagons before bringing the single passenger vehicle to the station. The train used to stop on the Foynes Loop beside Wallers Well to allow a regular passenger to alight there; in those days safety was a different matter altogether. The passenger service ended on 2 February 1963.

By the mid 1960s, the branch had become very rundown, but new traffic was offering from Silvermines Mountain, County Tipperary; notably barytes ore in 1966 and the Mogul company’s zinc and lead concentrate in 1968. It became necessary to re-lay the entire branch using very substantial wooden sleepers specially imported from Sweden. The line could, by this time, be described as being as solid as the flanks of the mountains. There were up to 7 trains in each direction daily; 3 barytes, 2 Mogul and 1 or 2 oil (the 2nd one as required). The heavier trains were in the hands of the venerable “A“ class locomotives throughout. Askeaton closed as a block post in 1974 leaving Patrickswell and Ballingrane as the two remaining block posts on the line. The B141 and B181 classes only appeared on this mineral traffic as a last resort due to their weaker brake power. Also, double-heading was prohibited over Robertstown Viaduct. However, the class did appear on coal & oil trains. The Mogul traffic finished in 1982 and by this time, the barytes ore had been reduced to just one train each way daily. Prior to this, there had been an overnight working which involved the use of a 2nd van at the rear of the train so that the crew could operate the numerous level crossings.

The daily laden departure left the Foynes Loop at 10:14, arriving back at Limerick Check about 17:00. Because of the train length and limited space at the port, the train had to be split into 3 sections for unloading. With drop down opening side panels, the wagons could be discharged very rapidly. There was also a once weekly coal & oil train, which ran on Mondays for a number of years. The empty train departed Limerick Check at 07:00 and returned laden at 13:45 before continuing on to Ballina via Ennis and Gort.

The barytes traffic finished in October 1993 when the mine closed, but the coal & oil ran until November 1997. After this, movements on the branch became very sporadic. Traffic included fertiliser, molasses and animal grain, with the final revenue train running in November, 2000. Foynes had a number of passenger specials over the years, but the last one ran in 1995. For a short time in the 1960s, CIÉ operated specials on Sundays, as well as a short-lived Thursday afternoon departure. Other specials were operated by the RPSI, the ITG and even one by Southern Railtours who ran a 13 coach combined Mk II IÉ and NIR special from Dublin in May 1991. The track had been removed from the passenger platform several years earlier and passengers were not allowed to alight from the train at Foynes.

The last movement over the branch was the weed spray train in May 2002 hauled by B141 class 154. The line is now disconnected at Limerick Check, Limerick County Council having been unsuccessful in their attempt to have the line designated as a preserved structure. The line is “mothballed” and quite overgrown in places. There has been speculation in recent years that the branch will re-open in the near future, but it would require significant investment from the private sector for this to happen.

 

THE LIMERICK & CASTLECONNELL RAILWAY (1858)

The Limerick and Castleconnell Railway opened its 5½ mile line from Killonan to Castleconnell on Saturday 28 August 1858. The company was incorporated on 26 June 1855. On 2 August 1858. a second Act authorised a change of name to include Killaloe and extension of the line thereto. The extension was opened to Birdhill on 10 July 1860 and to Killaloe on 12 April 1861. The station at Killaloe was on the Tipperary side of the Shannon in Ballina, Co. Tipperary, just north of the road bridge across the river. A 34-chain extension to “Killaloe” (Lakeside), to tap into waterborne traffic, was authorised by an Act of 1866 and opened in August 1868.

By an Act of 1872 the Limerick, Castleconnell and Killaloe was absorbed by the W&LR, which had worked the line since its opening in 1858. Stations on the LC&KR were Castleconnell, Birdhill, Killaloe and Killaloe (Lakeside). When the line opened, the stations at Grange and Nenagh Road were not ready, but they opened in 1859. Grange was renamed Lisnagry Annacotty, but closed after about two years; it was reopened in 1928 as a halt. Nenagh Road was named Lisnagry in 1880. Meanwhile, the GS&WR had been extending its line from Ballybrophy to Roscrea on 19 October 1857, on to Nenagh on 5 October 1863, and to a junction with the LC&KR at Birdhill on 1 June 1864. The stations between Ballybrophy and Birdhill were Roscrea, Cloughjordan, Nenagh and Shalee; all except Shalee opened with the line itself. The latter opened in 1904. The line throughout has always been known by enginemen as the “Nenagh” branch. An 11¾ mile branch from Roscrea to Birr existed from 1858 to 31 December 1962. The Killaloe branch lost its passenger service from Friday 17 July 1931 and was closed completely from Monday 24 April 1944.

The opening of the L&CR brought three extra trains into Limerick per day, which was the standard Irish service of the period. A similar service at different times ran on Sundays, although GS&WR trains from Ballybrophy terminated at Birdhill. After the absorption of the W&L there were through carriages on this route to and from Dublin. In Bradshaw for April 1910, reprinted 1968, carriages for the Nenagh Road were slipped at Ballybrophy from the 09:15 and 15:00 down services to Cork. The reverse workings were complicated; involving a change at Nenagh for Dublin passengers on the last Up train. The service pattern laer settled into two trains to Ballybrophy and one local to Nenagh, this still prevailing today. Between 1926 and 1931, a Sentinel steam railcar worked on the branch and was shedded at Nenagh to work the morning connection to Ballybrophy. It then returned to Limerick connecting out of the Down day mail and worked the 13:10 local back to Nenagh. This was cut back to a Nenagh-Ballybrophy working in 1931 and vanished completely with the coal shortage of 1942. The first scheduled restaurant car into Limerick was by this route in 1926; the Pullman service on the 09:45 Down and 15:50 Up.

Neither the 1941 troubles nor even the suspension of all regular services in 1947 affected the Nenagh local, although the 1950 strike did. Diverse motive power from W&L tanks and small 4-4-0s to J15s and 301 class 4-4-0s handled this service in steam days. In 1956, the diesel locomotive off the Nenagh goods took over the turn. This was found unsatisfactory and the former SL&NCR railcar “B” of 1947, purchased after the closure of that line and renumbered as 2509 in CIÉ stock since 24 November 1959, ran on this train up to its suffering damage in an accident at Nenagh. The fifty-three mile round-trip was its total day’s work.

On Wednesday 25 November 1931, Killonan cabin was closed as an economy measure and the junction taken out of use. Traffic was worked into Limerick on two single lines, the former Up line carrying trains in each direction to and from Limerick Junction and the former Down line trains in each direction to and from Nenagh on the Ballybrophy line. This arrangement lasted until 17 October 1947, when CIÉ reinstated ordinary double line working and replaced the junction. The layout at Killonan today is completely different from that before 1931. Formerly the Nenagh line diverged from the Down line and a trailing crossover gave Nenagh trains access to the Up main line. A short siding existed at that time in front of the signal cabin, which was in the same position as it is today. The original foundations and walls were used in the 1946 cabin, but it is about 3 feet higher than before as can be seen by a line of coping stones below the windows. The cabin once had 20 levers of which 7 were spare; today there is only one lever in use for activating the level crossing gates. Since the 1970s there is only one track over the level crossing. This is on the Up side, to take account of a sharp rise on the public road approach to the crossing from Killonan village.

Up to the late 1970s, the Nenagh branch was the only branch line in the country to have a 70mph speed limit, but a speed limit of just 30mph applies over lengthy portions of the line. The Nenagh-Limerick service was withdrawn in March 1963, but in September 2008, a new commuter service was introduced in co-operation with the Nenagh Rail Partnership. The operation involves splitting a double pair of railcars in mid-section at Nenagh Station with the front portion going on to Ballybrophy and the rear portion returning to Limerick with a “single purpose” staff designated “Nenagh–Birdhill Only”. In effect, there are two trains running in opposite directions in the Birdhill–Roscrea section at the same time.

 In 1982, the last stretch of new railway in the area was built at Kilmastulla, a short distance to the east of Birdhill Station at MP40¾. The new traffic was shale and was carried in specially built bogie tippler wagons to Castlemungret Cement Works. The main line became the shale siding with a new running road being built parallel to it. The traffic started running on 29 August 1982, with 3 trains each way daily. Down trains dropped off the single line staff at Birdhill station with the road made to the shale siding. The train then propelled into Kilmastulla before running around and propelling a laden set  back out, after placing the empties for loading. An unusual operation was the fact that the wagons were uncoupled individually at Castlemungret and moved by gravity and turned over for unloading, then marshalled in reverse order to the rake for the following departure. This traffic ended suddenly in December 2009 and the wagons are now stored at Limerick. The ground frame at Kilmastulla was removed in the spring of 2012.

In 1966 a 1¼ mile branch was built to Silvermines Mountain, with a ground frame installed at MP35¼ facing Limerick. The line was laid using the last sections of track taken up from the West Cork lines in the previous year. There was one level crossing operated by the train crew and the line was steeply graded. Laden trains departed the Silvermines railhead at a speed of 5mph with all brakes pinned down, unladen trains were allowed to negotiate the line at 10mph. There were trap points on the approach to the main line from the branch, to protect against runaways. The layout at the Silvermines was fairly extensive with 4 roads and a high loading bank for the barytes ore, complete with a run-round facility. A separate area almost parallel to the running line was provided for the Mogul traffic. For a time in the early 1970s, when the morning passenger service on the branch arrived at Ballybrophy, its carriages were attached to the rear of the service from Limerick via the Junction, with the branch locomotive going light engine to Silvermines to collect a laden train for Foynes. After closure of the mine in 1993, the railhead was used for storing wagons and the location was also proposed as a possible site for a future super dump using the rail connection, but nothing came of the idea. The ground frame was removed in 2008. The track remains in situ although heavily overgrown.

Major track alterations at Ballybrophy station ended through passenger working in the winter of 1985/86, when the branch was left with only a trailing connection, operated by a ground frame, from the Up road into the branch platform. From March 2012 to January 2013, a 3-car ICR left Limerick at 05:05 and worked direct to Dublin Monday–Friday via the branch. This involved having to operate the ground frame in order to allow the train to enter the Up main line. The return working to Limerick was a 13:40 service via the Junction loop, as there is no facing crossover at Ballybrophy in the Down direction to access the branch platform.

 

THE LIMERICK & ENNIS RAILWAY (1859)

The first scheme was the Limerick, Ennis & Killaloe, incorporated in 1846, but no construction was done and the company was dissolved in 1850. In 1853 an Act was passed to form the Limerick & Ennis Railway to construct the 24¾ miles between the two places. Contractors were, first, Johnson and Kinder and later from 1856, William Dargan. The line was opened from Longpavement to Clarecastle on 17 January 1859; the reason for this odd opening was the trouble experienced with the Shannon Bridge and the non-completion of the Fergus Bridge near Ennis.

It is interesting to note the position regarding the Shannon Bridge (No. 16). The completion was delayed by the need to have the bridge propped to Board of Trade (BoT) requirements and was the cause of the two opening dates in 1859: 17 January west of Longpavement and 26 March to the east. The BoT Inspecting Officer in his remarks was very critical of the standard of the finished structure.  .

His report showed it to be one of the worst bridges on record. He told the contractor that from the plans supplied by the Company’s Engineer, he considered it unsafe. The contractor (Mr Kinnard) replied that it was actually built to another plan of much greater strength; on examination it was found to have been built to neither plan. The bridge consisted of 6 spans each 73ft. long with cast-iron and wrought-iron girders supported on piers consisting of four hollow cast-iron pillars. “There were not enough piles under the piers and the pillars were imperfectly connected. The vertical strength of the wrought iron girders would have been just sufficient were the workmanship not so defective, but the riveters imperfectly filled the holes, some are bent, their heads split, and are imperfectly formed. Fishing pieces of angle iron are imperfectly put on; rivets sometimes go through the piece they are intended to strengthen… Dimensions of ironwork in no two spans correspond and the superstructure is not straight seen sideways or along top and bottom!”. A speed limit of 5mph applied over the bridge. Each span was propped by a centre pier and one span at the Ennis end was filled in. The dimensions of the bridge are lacking and perhaps this is understandable – in any event any diagram would in view of the BoT comment be of doubtful value.

The amazing thing is that the bridge lasted until 1909 when the GS&WR drew a diagram of it, without dimensions and promptly renewed Mr Kinnard’s effort with the present 5 span bridge at a cost of £11,425 14s 3d. Reconstruction took 2½ years and there was no interruption to train services. The bridge received major work during the relaying of the line to Ennis between 2002 and 2005. In September 2013 work commenced on strengthening the bridge and this work which is carried out at weekends is expected to be finished before Christmas.

On 26 March 1859, the line was opened between Limerick and Longpavement and the same summer throughout to Ennis. Trains leaving Limerick diverged at Ennis Junction and followed an eastern course initially on a sharp curve to Ballysimon, crossing the Canal at Park and through the suburb of Corbally. The stations were Longpavement, Cratloe, Sixmilebridge, Ballycar & Newmarket, Ardsollus & Quin and Clarecastle; all of these were closed in 1963, although Clarecastle still handled tar traffic for some time afterwards. One of the shortest-lived stations on the line was at Meelick at MP6½, which only operated for 3 months from January to April 1862. In 1875 there was a fatality on the line when a double-headed steam train returning to Limerick derailed near Shannon Bridge, resulting in the death of a fireman. Ballycar station was built on a flood plain and flooding has been a recurring problem particularly since 1929, following the diversion of a stream from Rosroe Lake to Bunratty during arterial drainage work carried out by the OPW. The railway line has flooded on at least 14 occasions. The maximum flood height of 1.6 metres was reached in 1995. The track was raised three times but this didn’t solve the problem. A number of hydraulic constraints contribute to the flooding, including restrictions to the underground section of Ballycar Lake outlet channels and restricted flows at bridges and culverts. Severe flooding of the lands in the area were highlighted in recent years in the run up the reopening of the line to Galway. Flooding resulted in complete closure for 8 weeks in the winter of 2009 which caused particular hardship for local landowners and rail users.

During the steam era it was possible for trains to operate over several inches of submerged track, a high wheel steam engine No. 301 was regularly used on such occasions, even after general dieselisation. Ballycar remained as a block post until 1982, thereafter leaving Limerick–Ennis as a long section.

Ennis Junction was situated just east of the level crossing of that name. Between 1859 and 1910, there was a double junction, although the Ennis line became single almost immediately beyond. At one time there were only two running lines – Down and Up – between the Check Cabin and Ennis Junction; today there are three – Up/Down Ennis, Down Killonan and Up Killonan. A legacy of this layout is the bend in the Killonan lines east of the level crossing. Formerly, these were straight, as the present Ennis line was the Down road and the present Down Killonan was the Up road. During the period 1929–1946, of course, the two tracks of Killonan were parallel single lines. The road crossing was closed off in the 1970s following a fatality involving a taxi and an empty train returning from Cork. The gates were user operated with somewhat limited views in both directions.

The Ennis line was worked at first by the W&LR. From 11 November 1859 to 22 April 1861, it was worked by the L&ER itself, until the L&E was taken over by the W&LR on 1 January 1874. Northwards from Ennis, a scheme for a line to Galway was put forward in 1845 but nothing came of it. An Act of 1860 incorporated the Athenry & Ennis Junction Railway to link Ennis with the MGWR. This was opened on 15 September 1869 and was worked by the owning company with varying vicissitudes until 1 November 1872, when the W&LR took over. The stations were Crusheen, Tubber, Gort, Ardrahan and Craughwell. The line had been extended to Tuam on 27 September 1860 by the Athenry & Tuam Railway, this was worked by the MGWR up to 5 November 1872, when the W&LR took over  – the same month as it took up working the A&EJR. There was one intermediate station at Ballyglunin. The line was eventually extended to Claremorris by the “Athenry & Tuam Extension to Claremorris” on 11 October 1894 and to Collooney with running powers to Sligo on 11 October 1895. The W&LR changed its name to “Waterford, Limerick & Western Railway” (WL&WR), which by this time had a total route mileage of 342½ miles. It was absorbed by the GS&WR on 1 January 1901. Ennis became a junction in 1888 with the opening of the 3ft gauge 48½ mile West Clare Railway (WCR), which operated to 1961 – Ireland’s last public narrow gauge line.

 Goods trains on the Limerick-Ennis line were heavy with a maximum load of 65 wagons. The guard needed to have a good working knowledge of the gradients on the line in order to keep the train stretched. In the event of a “break off”, the driver’s job was to keep the front section away from the rear portion until it stopped, otherwise there could be a collision. The gradients on the line were challenging, with a notorious “dip” at Cratloe. The footplate men at Limerick claimed that if you could drive a loose-coupled goods train from Limerick to Ennis without a “break off”, then you could drive one anywhere. Axle loads were Limerick-Ennis, 16t. 4cwt, beyond Ennis, 14t. 10cwt. There were 2 goods trains in each direction on weekdays, one at 03:40 to Sligo and the other at 07:00 to Claremorris, arriving back in Limerick at around 19:00 and 21:00 respectively.

Tuam was usually the changeover point for crews. Crew duties were mixed between passenger and goods, up to the withdrawal of the Ballina–Limerick passenger service in April 1976. Traffic on the line included; cattle, sundries, sundries, beer, fertiliser, tar, timber, cement, coal, oil and scrap metal.

Passenger service was re-introduced in 1988 between Limerick and Ennis, running twice a week. The journey often took up to 55 minutes compared to 37 minutes in its heyday. Passenger services to Galway were restored on 30 March 2010 after 47 years, with 5 trains running in each direction Monday-Saturday and 4 each way on Sunday. Reconstructed stations were opened at Sixmilebridge, Gort, Ardrahan and Craughwell, and at Oranmore, this latter opening in July 2013. The line was re-laid using continuous welded rail on concrete sleepers and with mini-CTC. All traffic is controlled from Athlone Signalling Centre. Maximum line speed is 50mph between Limerick and Ennis and 80 mph (increased from 60 mph) between Ennis and Athenry.

The new services on what is now known as “The Western Rail Corridor” were operated by the 2700-class until 2012, when these were replaced by 2-piece or 4-piece 2800-class Mitsui sets. In 2011, a connection to Galway was introduced off the 19:30 Limerick–Ennis service, by way of the return working of the 18:30 service from Galway. 3-car ICRs form part of the daily Limerick/Ennis/Galway workings; 06:40 from Galway, 16:30, 18:05 19:30 and 20:20 from Limerick. The 2013 timetable has some adjustments to timings with the 19:45 service from Limerick now running as a through service to Galway.

 

THE CORK & LIMERICK DIRECT RAILWAY 1862 - 1967

The GS&WR had for some time set its sights on Dublin-Limerick goods traffic, which had so far been dominated by the W&LR. The GS&WR line to Birdhill failed to tap into this traffic, as the W&LR had the LC&KR under their thumb. An Act of 1860 was the first challenge to the W&LR monopoly. It authorised the “Cork & Limerick Direct Railway” to build a new line from a junction, about 1 mile north of Charleville on the GS&WR main line, to Patrickswell on the L&FR. Running powers to Limerick were provided over the L&FR’s line and a further short link at Limerick to give direct connection to the station. The line was a successor to a failed scheme of 1845 and had the backing of the GS&WR, with agreement for the C&LDR to be worked by the GS&WR. The Direct line was absorbed by the GS&WR on 1 July 1871. Intermediate stations were provided at Bruree, Rosstemple and Croom. The line was built by J Trowsdale & Sons. It was opened for passenger traffic on 2 August 1862 and for goods traffic shortly afterwards.

In 1867 the C&LDR was paying the L&FR £1,400 per annum for the use of the line between Patrickswell and Limerick, and rent of £430 to the W&LR for the use of their terminus in Limerick. The junction at Patrickswell was soon moved to the Limerick end of the station. This created an extraordinary position of a two-platform station in which the apparent Down platform was in fact the Up/Down Cork line platform, and similarly the Up platform served the Kerry line trains in both directions. Axle loads on the branch were 16t. 4cwt.

The C&LDR was mainly intended to give the GS&WR access to Limerick for goods trains. A new goods yard was built alongside the direct curve to Limerick Station, at Carey’s Road. Until 1901, Limerick goods trains from Limerick to Dublin ran via a curve at Charleville Junction linking the Croom line with the Up main, thus making Charleville one of Ireland’s relatively few triangular junctions. It would appear that no provision was made for Down trains to use the curve to reach the Croom branch. The curve was lifted by 1908, but even today its location is still visible. At opening, there were three passenger trains each weekday, and one goods, but for some years in the 1890s two goods ran, one to Cork, one to Dublin. After the amalgamation of 1901, two of the three passenger trains ran through to Cork, but probably for no more than about 10 to 12 years. Although this route was in fact shorter than the route via the Junction, it was very often slower, due to the connection into stopping trains at Charleville. To exemplify the difference in times by the two routes, the best Limerick-Cork service via Croom was 2½ hours in 1907, while in 1927, there was the ludicrous situation of a 17:10 from Limerick via Croom which reached Cork at 20:18 (3 hours 8 minutes). There were some occasions, however, when the direct train was quicker, and it did perform a useful function up to the withdrawal of passenger services from Monday 31 December 1934. For its last four years, only two passenger trains had been provided.

The Cork goods continued to run on the Croom branch each weekday night, with an extra overload or cement special at 15:45 from Limerick when traffic warranted, until complete closure in March 1967. Passenger specials also continued to run on the branch, having to negotiate the 18-mile section between Patrickswell and Charleville at a line speed of just 25mph, which was imposed after the ending of the regular passenger services. Although long lifted, some of the formation is still discernible, but more of it has disappeared with road widening and the N20 dual carriageway. The three stations still stand, Croom and Rosstemple as private dwellings. The station building at Croom was destroyed by fire in 2011 but the platform, goods store and loading bank still survives.

 

THE CORK & LIMERICK DIRECT RAILWAY IN LIMERICK

[Reference may be made to the diagram, pp366-7, which is however not geographically exact and was prepared for Traffic Dept purposes. It does not show the shed and works areas in full detail.]

The Cork Direct Curve served only platform 4 in Limerick in the early days. Initially, therefore the C&LDR was separate from the lines of the W&LR in the station area. Connection between the lines of the two companies in the station was only possible via Foynes Junction and the Check Junction. Completion of the Direct Curve created what became known as “The Triangle”, three sections of track which linked the Station Cabin, Foynes Junction and the Check Cabin. Connections to Platforms 2 and 3 at the station were added later, but there was never a connection to Platform 1. The Direct Curve swung sharply to the south from the station across an open space where the Kerry line check platform stood from 1910 to 1938. The three lines from the station came together before crossing Carey’s Road on a girder bridge and continued on a falling gradient to Foynes Junction. From level near the station, the gradients were 1 in 306/57/62/107, then level again. There was a level crossing where the approach road to Tobin’s Store, the large Goods Store on the south side of the W&LR lines to Limerick station, crossed the No. 4 Back Road and the three lines from Platforms 4, 3 and 2.

The three lines from the station were protected by three individual inner home signals. The Tobin’s Store level crossing, which lasted from 1962 to 1975, was controlled by traffic signals worked by a lever in the Station Cabin. On the Up side of the Direct Curve, there was a siding with a horse loading bank of seven wagons capacity and one small shed which housed the PW inspection car and a collection of rail bicycles. Beyond Carey’s Road Bridge stood the outer home for the station – a three-way route indicator with a disc for entry to the siding. It replaced a four-arm bracket signal with four discs, which stood in the same position up to 10 May 1944. Out beyond the outer home, there was an advanced starter, replaced by a “Limit of Shunt” sign in November 1957. Alongside the running line here was the Shed Road which paralleled the Cork Direct Curve to Foynes Junction, on the western side of the main track [Running Road]. This enabled trains or locomotives to reach Carey’s Road yard without a staff having to be withdrawn as was necessary when using the Running Road or the Foynes Loop [See diagram].

The Shed Road got its name from the C&LDR Shed, which was situated beyond the Carey’s Road Bridge on the Up side [See diagram]. This became the gas plant in 1902 and was demolished in 1959. When the area was being cleared for the building of the Guinness Store, opened in June 1960, the coping stones of two turntables were found; the first one behind the shed and the other at the end of the Table Road beside the eastmost siding in Carey’s Road yard. At an unknown date, but possibly after the 1901 amalgamation of the WL&WR and the GS&WR, the turntable behind the locomotive shed was moved nearer to Foynes Junction and to a lower level. It was then reached by a siding [the Table Road – see below] off the Shed Road near Foynes Junction from the opposite direction.[5]

 Carey’s Road Yard had eight sidings (nine tracks) from west to east:

1.    The Pens – which divided into two tracks – the Crooked and Straight Pens, called the Cork and Dublin Banks respectively.

2.    The Long Siding.

3.    The Dock.

4.    The Store Road - it led into Carey’s Road Store which had seven road loading docks and was used for Messrs Ranks traffic exclusively.

5.    The Back of the Store.

6.    The Column – so named from the water column at its south end.

7.    The Far Road, which served the Guinness Store.

8.    The Table Road.

All of these connected in groups and led into the Shed Road. Movements from Carey’s Road Yard or the Direct Curve to the Check Cabin required reversal at Foynes Junction.

The Limerick triangle proved to be very useful for turning of B121 class locomotives after the removal of the turntable in the old W&LR engine shed in 1975. However, this facility did not last much longer and the Direct Curve was abandoned and lifted in September 1975. The bridge at Carey’s Road was also removed. Today the only remnant from the line is an active permanent way base  on the eastern approach to Carey’s Road. The year 1975 also saw the end of cattle traffic on Irish railways, which resulted in a significant reduction of activity at the once busy Carey’s Road, which had had a full time pilot based on site. In diesel days, this was a C class locomotive, usually C232. With the exception of Guinness traffic, all other activities at Carey’s Road ceased with the introduction of containerisation in the Limerick area in 1980 under “Rail Plan ’80”, when all traffic was concentrated at the new container terminal beside the passenger station on the site of the former carriage shed.

The track work remained in situ until 1989 when the buildings were demolished, but the old loading banks still remain. The Guinness store continued in use until the late 1990s, but was later demolished. The embankment on the western side of Carey’s Road was demolished in 1978 and the CIÉ Employees Sports & Social Club built on the site. The triangle is no more, with only the section from the Check to the passenger station remaining in use.

 

THE MARKETS BRANCH TRAMWAY (1862–1951)

This ¾-mile branch was authorised by an Act of 23 July 1860 and a further Act in 1862 permitted the deviation from the original planned route. The line was constructed by the W&LR and opened on 7 January 1864. This short line started at a wagon turntable behind the Top Yard Store on the north side of the station yard and ran at right angles to the “store bank”. In its earliest days, the line extended to a similar wagon turntable at the rear of Tobin’s Store on the south side of the five running lines or siding – five square crossings in a row! This feature, rather naturally, disappeared early and later a direct connection from the “Back Road” (the northernmost siding, north of the Top Store) was inserted.[6]

The line crossed two public roads on the level before the Market was reached; these were the Roxborough Road and Mulgrave Street. Trains crossing Roxborough Road and Mulgrave Street and a third crossing at Cathedral Place had to be preceded by a man carrying a red flag by day and a red light by night. Speed was not to exceed 3mph over the crossings. On 5 July 1933, there was an accident when a GSR train was in collision with a motor hearse owned by one Mr Griffin, undertaker, at the Roxborough Road crossing.

In the Market yard, a wagon turntable gave access to an extension of the Tramway, which crossed Cathedral Place to the factory of Messrs Henry Denny & Co. This section ceased to be worked after 1931. Between Roxborough Raod and Mulgrave Street, the line also served Shaws Factory. Traffic continued to be handled here and at the Market until about 1940, when the line was cut back to the first level crossing, where there was a siding for oil tank wagons for the bus garage alongside. Even this traffic ceased in the 1950s and the last act, the removal of the turntable, was completed on 12 August 1961.

The Tramway was worked by horse in the early days and for several periods in later times, but the locomotive most closely associated with the Tramway was WL&WR No 29, a 0-4-0 saddle tank by Sharp Stewart (No 1653 of 1865). This engine was known, quite unofficially, as the Darkie.[7] As GS&WR No. 228, it was still in use up to about 1925, when it was replaced by Elf and Imp for service on the Tramway. They were scrapped in the early thirties and replaced by two Sentinel locomotives bought by the GSR in 1927 for the Castleisland Branch. The Sentinels continued to be used up to the cessation of traffic in 1940, but were not scrapped until 1948. What was unusual about the road crossings of the Tramway was the fact that the rails were not flush with the road, thus creating a “ramp” effect when travelling over them. The rails on the footpaths on both sides of the road at Mulgrave Street remained in place until the early 1970s.

 

THE LIMERICK & KERRY RAILWAY (1867-1975)

Of all the lines that radiated from Limerick, the Tralee line was probably the hardest to work on account of its steep gradients. It diverged from the Limerick-Foynes line at Ballingrane. A separate company, the Rathkeale and Newcastle Junction Railway was established under an Act of 22 July 1861 to build the branch to Newcastle West. The contractor was J. Hargreaves of Cork. The line was not opened until 1 January 1867 and had intermediate stations at Rathkeale and Ardagh. It was worked from the outset by the W&LR, as also was the “Limerick and Kerry Railway”, incorporated by an Act of 5 August 1873 to continue the line from Newcastle West to Tralee. Axle loads on the line were Limerick-Newcastle West 16tons 4cwt and Newcastle West-Tralee 14tons 10cwt.

The building of this section involved both the ascent and descent of Barnagh Bank, one of the most arduous climbs on any Irish railway, and once the highest point reached on any standard gauge railway in the country at 630 ft. above sea level. The line, 42¾ miles long, was opened throughout on 20 December 1880, with stations at Barnagh, Devon Rd, Abbeyfeale, Kilmorna, Listowel, Lixnaw, Abbeydorney and Ardfert. In the early days, it had three passenger trains each way – one an 04:50 mixed mail – and one goods. In GS&WR days, an extra mixed train was provided to Newcastle West or Abbeyfeale at different periods, sometimes only on two days a week. This train was always worked by a tank locomotive, generally a GS&WR 0-4-4T, as there was no turntable in Abbeyfeale.

Regular passenger services ended in February 1963, although goods and excursions ran until closure between Ballingrane and Listowel (exclusive) from Monday 3 November 1975. The final revenue train to Newcastle West consisted of a single wagon of cement for a local firm. GM locomotive B143 had the honour of clearing the yard at Newcastle West and hauling “crippled” wagons back to Limerick. The section from Listowel to Abbeydorney ceased from 10 January 1977, but Abbeydorney to Tralee continued until June 1978. Following closure, the track was left in situ and the whole line was visited annually by the weed spray train up to and including 1984. Locomotive 172 brought the final weed spray over the line. An inspection car also traversed the entire route on a number of occasions up to 1987.

The Limerick & Kerry Railway Society was formed in the 1980s with a view to the retention of the line as a tourist railway. By 1985, plans had been put forward by Limerick County Council to bypass the town of Rathkeale. These involved the new road running over part of the track bed to the west of the town. CIÉ finally abandoned the line in 1987. The first part to be removed was the physical junction at Ballingrane. This took place in January 1988 and the cabin was closed. The whole line was lifted by a private contractor, with 12 miles of rail being shipped to the Sudan. The Limerick & Kerry Railway Society became the Great Southern Trail, with the aim of retaining the former railway as a walkway/cycle path and CIÉ retaining ownership of the entire route. Apart from the Rathkeale bypass, the road was realigned at Barnagh in order to eliminate a dangerous bend. The Great Southern Trail has been successful in developing almost 30 miles of the route so far, stretching all the way from Rathkeale to Abbeyfeale and recently crossing the border into Kerry, the eventual goal being to reach Tralee and link with Fenit.

 

LIMERICK STATION (1858)

The present station at Limerick opened in 1858 and is well set back from Parnell Street with ample car parking space. The station once boasted an impressive array of semaphore signals, which replaced two four-post gantries, one on each platform. Each gantry carried a home, a distant and a shunt signal on the post applying to the main line and a home and a distant on the post applying to the Kerry line. There were also a number of “shunt only” signals, with a ring mounted on the arm. The Station Cabin was the first signal box in the country to get electronically controlled signalling in 1971 as part of remodelling of the station.

Limerick station has four platforms numbered from north to south. Up to 1889, they were numbered south to north. No. 1 was the longest (552 ft.) and could accommodate nine bogie coaches, as could No. 3 (537 ft.). No. 2 was originally 397 ft. and could hold five bogies and a van, while No. 4, the erstwhile C&LDR platform, could hold five bogies and was 373 ft. long until, in 1961, the construction of a bus office cut some 30 ft. off its length.

The amalgamation of 1901 – the WL&WR with the GS&WR - and the 1925 groupings which brought about the GSR both resulted in significant changes to the track work, described further below. One of the few changes prior to 1901 had been removal of a carriage shed that had existed adjacent to Platform 1 and its replacement by what later became known as the “lower yard”, construction of which had necessitated the movement of several crossovers.

The station was renamed Colbert Station (after Con Colbert) in 1966, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. All platforms were altered in the remodelling of the station in 1971. Platform 2 was extended to full length back towards the main concourse and part of Platform 3 was removed, which resulted in a curve at the inner end with new track being laid, creating a middle road.

Although there was no hard and fast platform rule, it was usual in the 1950s and early 60s to despatch and receive trains to Dublin via Nenagh from No. 1 and trains to Limerick Junction and Sligo from No. 2. The Galway service used No. 1 or No. 3, and No. 3 was also used for most arrivals and for departure of the night mail. No. 4 was the Kerry line platform, although at times this train left from, or more frequently, arrived at, No. 3. On each side of the station – outside Platforms 1 and 4 respectively, but still under the roof – there were two carriage sidings. These were known as No. 1 Back Road and No. 4 Back Road. No. 4 Back Road was taken out in the remodelling of 1971. In later years, Platform 2 became the main platform used, with No. 4 being rarely used, although all four platforms are now in regular use since the introduction of railcars as the main traction mode. Latterly the night mail left from Platform 4 until this traffic ended in 1994.

The station concourse was further altered in the mid-1990s, with the booking office being relocated to provide a more spacious and brighter appearance. A glass wall was installed at the end of the platforms to reduce noise and engine exhaust.

Beyond the Station Cabin is a series of crossovers allowing access to the platforms. Out between the two Goods Stores in what was called the “Top Yard”, there were seven parallel tracks from North to South:

1.    The Store Bank, leading into the Top Yard Store.

2.    The “Back of the Store” (which is actually on the main line side of the Store! The line to the north of the Store, from which the curve to the Tramway diverged, was known as the “Back Road”).

3.    The Ennis Road.

4.    Lower Old Departure.

5.    Down Main.

6.    Up Main.

7.    Tobin’s Store Road.

The Top Yard Store was formerly the W&LR goods store and had 12 delivery bays (formerly 13, but one was later bricked up). The tenth of these from the west end had the date 1859 on its keystone. The store handled all Limerick loading and distribution, except some bulk traffics and cattle, which were dealt with at Carey’s Road, and furniture storage, which was latterly the province of Tobin’s Store.

“Tobin’s Store”[8], the former Foynes and Kerry Store, had seven delivery bays alternately arranged for exterior end loading and for interior side and end loading. On bay 4 (from the west end), the date 1856 was cut into the keystone, while on the west gable end is the Masonic Crest. Entrance was gained from the Running Shed Road or by Station Cabin No. 89 crossover. This allowed a train or locomotive to shunt off the Up main. To indicate its clearance of the far points, a depression bar was fitted to Tobin’s Store Road. This rang an electric bell in the Station Cabin when a vehicle was standing on it. Behind the Store was Tobin’s Back Road, off which there existed in 1920 a further spur, later removed. Tobin’s store was demolished in 1981, following the introduction of containerisation.

North of the passenger station and west of the Top Yard Store, is the Upper Yard. Here, from south to north, were the:

1.    Coal Road (Belonging to Limerick Coaching).

2.    Matterson’s, which split, and had “straight” and “crooked” tracks.

3.    Middle Road.

4.    The Pens, Limerick’s longest loading bank.

At the east end of this yard was the exit to the “Back of the Store”, while two short sidings existed as a continuation of the Pens and Middle Road. These were the Midland Bank and the Short Middle Road respectively. When the Top Yard Store was enlarged in 1961, the former was shortened and the latter removed. Behind the Pens on the other face of the wide loading bank was a long siding known as the “New Siding”, although it was built in 1915 for the completion of the GS&WR programme for development of Limerick. This siding was joined to the “Back Road” about twenty yards from its end and the tail this left was known as the “End of the Store” Siding. The extension of the Top Yard Store, began in the spring of 1961. It was brought into use on 1 March as a road freight terminal. This obviated the previous awkward “shunt to Tobin’s” required frequently to transfer “road freight” wagons out of the Top Yard and bring back empties, involving fouling every line in a yard which was exceedingly busy, a real headache for the shunters and signalmen. In both the main Goods Store and the extension, goods handling was largely mechanised by extensive palletisation of consignments. Forklift trucks were employed for conveying pallets between stores.

 The freight operation was modernised in 1980, when “Rail Plan ’80” was implemented, and Limerick freight traffic remained very busy up to the withdrawal of container traffic in the autumn of 2005. Outside of Inchicore, Limerick had the most numerous group 141/181 class locomotives to be found on site on any given day, with one or two pairs of “doubles” to be found. More recently, there was usually an 071 class loco on shed for shunting duties to and from the Wagon Maintenance Works. The old “Top Yard” store has survived. Although out of use, it is a protected structure, but is no longer rail connected. The crane stands silent and secured. It had replaced an earlier one on the same site in the 1990s. The running rails for the crane have been removed and the site now forms part of the extended car park for the station. The adjoining container sidings remain and are used for storing most of the withdrawn 2700 class railcar sets and some rolling stock from the wagon maintenance facility.

The sphere of influence of the Station Cabin ends at the fine bowstring girder Roxborough Road Bridge (Meagher Viaduct), Bridge No. 1, under which six  tracks now pass. Attached to the bridge was a joint signal (Station Cabin 72, Check Cabin 5), which acted as a Down advance starter for the Station Cabin and Down home for the Check Cabin.

Immediately east of the bridge there was a series of crossovers from north to south over which a vast amount of shunting was done. East of these crossovers the six roads are known as:

1.    The Well Siding, later known as the Guinness Wall Siding which is alongside the asylum wall and was a continuation of the “Back of the Store” but now ends as a short siding

2.    Beddoe’s Siding, continuing the Ennis Road

3.    Old Departure

4.    Down Main

5.    Up Main

6.    The Running Shed Road – Some track alterations in 2011.

The Running Shed road dates from the days up to 1911 when the locomotive shed was south of the running lines here. Even when the new shed was opened right up to the advent of diesels, locomotives always used this line to return to shed, but they used the Running Road to get from shed to their trains. The Locomotive Cabin was sited here on the Up side until 1910 when the Check Cabin took over its functions. The workshop at the rear of the shed continued in use up to 1936 when it was destroyed by fire.

 

LIMERICK SIGNALLING

There were primitive arrangements regarding signalling prevailing in 1870, but later there were no fewer than six signal cabins within a mile of the terminus. These were:

1     Limerick Station; W&L Cabin; at the end of the platforms 1 and 2, modernised in 1971 and still in use today.

2     Locomotive Shed Cabin; was on the Up side at the entrance to the old locomotive yard.

3     Limerick Check Cabin: The nerve centre of Limerick, which controls the exits from the yard and formerly also the Foynes Loop and Cement Siding points. It is also on the Up side.

4     Ennis Junction Cabin; Its name explains its function. It was again on the Up side and also worked the exit from the Munster siding opposite. All four of the above cabins were always open.

5     Cork Direct Cabin. This controlled the exit from the entrance to No. 4 platform and was open only as required for trains.

6     Foynes Junction Cabin. Again the name is self-explanatory as to location. The Cabin was open except between 08:00 and 19:00 on Sundays, unless there were special Sunday workings. Even after Foynes Junction was established, the practice of backing Foynes and Kerry trains to the Check Cabin continued

In 1898, when the shadow of amalgamation was spreading over Limerick, the GS&WR had made a detailed survey of the area. This was a prelude to the extensive track alterations of 1909/10, which changed the face and operating techniques of Limerick completely. In brief they achieved the following:

1.    Connection of the C&LDR and W&LR lines at the Station and abolition of the C&LDR Cabin.

2.    Institution of double (instead of triple) line working between the Station and Check Cabins.

3.    Closure of the Locomotive Shed Cabin and rearrangement of the crossovers there.

4.    Provision of a new Check Cabin, the abolition of the separate Ennis Junction and the closure of the cabin there.

5.    Through running from the Foynes Loop to the Down main and Ennis lines.

6.    The new locomotive shed opened in 1911.

The Check Cabin was so called because on the Up side of the Up line stood a timber platform 130ft. long. This was the last survivor of the once numerous Check platforms in Ireland. The Check Cabin was the east end of this platform. The 19:00 Galway-Limerick, due at 22:45, stopped daily for checking. The 22:00 night mail to Waterford also stopped at the Check Cabin, but for attaching wagons. The Check controls the junction to Ennis, the double line to Killonan, and formerly the junction between the main line and the Foynes Loop, the exits from the Goods Yard, the Works, and the Locomotive Shed. When the Foynes Loop was disconnected in 2005, the ETS apparatus was removed. The present Cabin dates from July 1910 and replaced the former one, which was a little further east and on the opposite side of the Foynes Loop, adjoining the wall to the south of the line. The layout at Limerick Check has altered very little since 1910, when the major innovation of through running via the Foynes Loop was instituted by the insertion of a crossover (Check Cabin 24) in the Up road inside the Ennis line points (No.29/33). This crossed the Down main by a switched diamond with single slips to the Killonan line. The Check Cabin has 45 levers of which 9 are spare. Rationalisation of trackwork in the spring of 2013 has rendered some of these levers as out of use.

At the other end of the Foynes Loop, Foynes Junction cabin controlled the various connections from Limerick Station. When this cabin was dispensed with in 1931, the crossover from the Shed Road became worked by a ground frame in a hut on the Down side, while the Junction points were  worked by power from the Station Cabin. The points were normally set for the line from the Check Cabin to Patrickswell, but when it was required to run a train into or out of the Station, the “switching over” signal (2-2-2) was given by either the Station or Patrickswell Cabin and the Check and Patrickswell “holding down” the keys of their E.T.S. The Station signalmen operated two slides in a separate point instrument, which reversed and locked the points at Foynes Junction.

This operation released a staff from this instrument which was inserted into the Station–Patrickswell instrument and allowed either of these Cabins to ask for the road in the normal way. The procedure was reversed to restore the points to normal. As a further precaution, trap points (No. 35) behind the Check Cabin, which governed entry into the Check–Patrickswell section, were locked by the ETS. It could not be denied that this method was cumbersome in such a busy place as Limerick, particularly in view of the 6½ mile length of the section to Patrickswell. This was complicated by the fact that by virtue of the number of subsidiary instruments, there could be, in an extreme case, three staffs out of the Cabin instruments at one time – one in the Carey’s Road subsidiary, one in the Cement Junction subsidiary, and one in use, as well as a Station staff in the point machine if a Check Cabin staff was the one in use.

Bridge No. 2 in the Limerick-Newcastle West series carries the Roxborough Road over the Foynes Loop. North of this and on the Down (east) side of the line was the eight road Locomotive Shed which had a northlight roof. This was reached through a siding trailing from a headshunt east of the Check Cabin leading to the “Grid” of tracks in the locomotive yard. In steam days, the turntable was very busy with no fewer than 32 engine turning movements on a normal day. A raised siding alongside the Foynes Loop allowed coal to be delivered to a concrete bunker and reloaded onto the engines on a lower level in the shed yard. Outside this was the Ash Road and the fan of eight roads into the shed. The layout allowed only one engine to enter or leave the shed at any one time. The locomotive shed was closed in 1976 and was converted to a bus garage which is now the Bus Éireann Depot. The “Grid” roads continued in use for fuel oil to the bus garage until at least 2008 and for the scrapping of cement and beet wagons. The head shunt was disconnected in April 2013.

Within the “triangle” there are the red brick offices and the Locomotive Works, which is one of the oldest of the buildings, although there has been some rebuilding. The entrance façade is now a protected structure. Not all of the buildings remain in use and some of the roofing has been removed. In its time, Limerick Works produced fine engines and rolling stock, which included the short lived electrically operated passenger coach lighting in the days prior to the 1901 amalgamation with the GS&WR. These workshops have remained active throughout the history of the railway at Limerick and continued to complement Inchicore Works into diesel days. Today, the fleets of 2600 and 2800 railcars are maintained in Limerick, coming from Cork and Ballina via the Junction, with some light movements and exchanges with service trains. In 1985, the works produced a fleet of vacuum braked beet wagons using an ingenious design, which involved welding one coal truck body on top of another and mounting this structure on 4-wheeled former Guinness flats. This ended loose coupled operation of this traffic, but the beet traffic itself ceased at the end of the 2005/06 campaign when sugar production was abruptly terminated and the remaining factories closed.

 

THE SHANNON SCHEME (1925 – 1929) & THE ARDNACRUSHA BRANCH (1929–1977)

For the construction of the Shannon Scheme between 1925 and 1929 and because of the poor state of roads at the time, the great German engineering firm of Siemens-Schuckert built a 900mm (2ft 11½in) gauge railway 8 miles long to O’Brien’s Bridge in County Clare. The railhead was located at a field near the Watchhouse Cross, in the Thomondgate area, on a site that was later occupied by Kileely housing estate. The Germans brought their own trains which were off-loaded at Limerick Docks and brought to the site by road. The lack of a rail connection to the Limerick Docks made this operation quite difficult; as the heavy equipment was brought by road through the streets of Limerick. In all, over 100 miles of track were laid including loops and sidings. There were also subsidiary branches of 600mm (1ft 11½in) gauge used further up the Shannon, particularly near Meelick and Banagher, where a few engines of the narrower gauge worked.

The 900mm gauge line ran from Watchhouse Cross along the east side of the Parteen Road and crossed the Limerick–Ennis railway on the level by a separate gated crossing, which was protected by signals worked from Longpavement Cabin. After 1928, the narrow gauge made a junction with a new standard gauge 1¾ mile branch, built under the direction of the Minister for Industry and Commerce and transferred to ESB ownership in 1930. The mixed gauge had with right hand rail common to both gauges, 5’ 3” and 900mm. The broad gauge branched from the Ennis line and the junction was worked by a ground frame lever locked by a key on the Longpavement–Ennis Junction ETS. There were no signals except for a disc. Operation of a single lever actuated the junction points and closed trap-points, all with one movement. Just beyond the trap-points, a gate of normal level crossing pattern marked the transition from GSR to the later ESB-owned track. Curving sharply, the line came alongside the Parteen Road; at this point the mixed gauge track began. Many sleepers bore evidence of these, the two holes in which the spikes holding the narrow gauge rails were fixed being evident. The narrow gauge line was removed in 1930 and the materials returned to Germany.

The line curved through some trees, crossed a small stream on a girder bridge, and, one mile from the junction, crossed the road on the level. The crossing was fully gated, but had no keeper and was worked by the train crews. The line then passed through a grove of coniferous trees and behind a house, crossed a lane at another fully gated crossing and swung left alongside the tailrace from the power station. There was a run round facility at this point. It was common practice to run round first and the propel trains on into the power station proper.

The line was rarely used in later years, although three passenger trains ran over it in 1961, 1962 and 1968 respectively, the latter for a Walt Disney film; “Guns in the Heather”. The filming took place over a period of 10 days. GM Locomotive B151 did the honours throughout and was fitted with a telephone for the purpose, something unusual at that time. From 1975 to 1977, scrap metal was loaded on the branch. As the junction faced Limerick, the empty wagons had to be brought to either Ballycar or Ennis for running around before being propelled onto the branch. Compared with the Shannon Scheme days, when the section was Limerick Check to Longpavement, the ground frame was operated using the Limerick–Ennis or Ballycar ETS, this manoeuvre involved splitting the train on the east side of Longpavement Station gates, with the brake firmly secured in the Guard’s van. The laden wagons were first removed from the branch and then the empties were propelled in for loading collection the following day. In 1977, this traffic finished and the ground frame was removed. Some of the embankment was still visible up to the 1980s when it was levelled to make way for the expansion of the city dump beside the line. The branch was finally lifted in the late 1990s and with road widening in subsequent years, there is not the slightest trace to be found that this branch line ever existed.

 

CASTLEMUNGRET BRANCH (1957 – 2009)

The Castlemungret branch, which was in essence a 4 mile long siding, was built in 1957. Prior to this Cement Ltd used to truck cement to Carey’s Road Yard for loading. This was an extremely laborious operation. The construction of the railway link was first mooted in 1953 and CIÉ made an application under the 1950 Transport Act. The plans deposited envisaged a line further to the south than the one built and it would have had to negotiate five public road level crossings and two farm track crossings in its 2.93 miles of length.

Initially CIÉ secured the agreement of Limerick Corporation and Council to its plans, but when several landowners became antagonistic CIÉ, at a Public Inquiry of 24 and 25 August 1955, agreed to a deviation, which would cross the main Cork-Tralee Road on the level near Ballinacurra. This deviation reduced the number of level crossing by one. The local Authorities, however, wanted this road to be carried over the line on a bridge, at a cost estimated by CIÉ as at least £20,000.

CIÉ made it a condition that if this crossing was made it would be on the level and was successful in obtaining agreement. The Minister for Industry and Commerce (with the consent of the Minister for Finance) made an Order entitled “The Transport Act, 1950 (Additional Powers) Order 1955”, which became law on 30 November 1955 and entitled CIÉ to build the line, now 3.01 miles long, to a gauge of 5’ 3”. An Order for the compulsory acquisition of land was made on 10 February 1956 and construction started on 3 September 1956. The contract for the earthworks was awarded to Messrs Murphy Bros. of Cork. The laying of the permanent way was undertaken by CIÉ. The method employed was to pre-form track lengths, which were towed into position on a ramp or sled some 50’ long.

By the end of July 1957, earthworks were complete and almost half the track was laid. The cost including compensation to landowners, was approximately £53,000. The line was opened on 1 October 1957 at a ceremony near Castlemungret Factory, attended by the directors of CIÉ and Cement Ltd, the Mayor of Limerick, Dáil Deputies and representatives of Local Authorities The Chairman of Limerick Co. Council, Mr J.J. Collins TD cut the satin ribbon with a golden scissors to permit C204 to haul the first train of 15 laden wagons under a decorated arch bearing the arms of Munster and Leinster. Perhaps the fiinal grand opening on such a lavish scale!

The line was laid with flat-bottomed rail throughout, with second-hand rail being used extensively. Some of it bore “6/94 W&LRly T.C.R”, but as if to show the provenance, track at Rosbrien Junction or more correctly “Cement Factory Junction”, included “W&LR 1900” on the Kerry line, “W&LR 89lbs” on the branch, “GSR 1927“ trap points, and a Moss Bay 1889 MGWR check rail! An ecumenical colocation!

The Foynes Loop was a single line until 1968 when a 2nd track was laid all the way to Rosbrien where it diverged to the Castlemungret Cement Works. Thus the Cement Branch had an independent track all the way from the Check Cabin running parallel to the Foynes line as far as Rosbrien, where it diverged sharply. There were ground frames at Foynes Junction and Rathbane level crossing, allowing cross-over between the Cement branch track and the Foynes line. These were removed in the 1980s, and the Cement siding became a totally separate entity,. A staff token was no longer required in this new arrangement. This was a busy line and often saw up to three or four locomotives on site at any one time. When a train was ready to return to the Check Cabin, the shunter telephoned the signalman to get permission to proceed. With the arrival of the shale traffic in 1982, additional track was laid at the Factory site. What was most unusual in the operation here is that trains did not have to display a tail light or tail piece in either direction.

The twice weekly Gypsum workings from Kingscourt ended in October 2001. During the boom, the Cement Factory was at times unable to produce enough cement to keep up with demand. The shale traffic finished suddenly in 2009, but there were some movements for a short time to recover stabled wagons from the site. In 2012, the track across Rathbane level crossing on Childers Road was tarmacked over and the line fenced off in both directions. In 2013, the barriers & bells were removed from both Skehacreggaun and Dock Road crossings and the track on the Dock Road was also  tarmacked  over. The turnout to the Cement Factory siding at the Check Cabin was disconnected and removed during Easter weekend 2013. The connection to the former Grid roads was also removed and track work rationalised.

While an important railway centre from the early days, Limerick is less busy than it was in the past. There is much evidence to be seen of its former glory. However, it has modernised and adapted to major changes in the industry, applying old skills and embracing new technologies, while moving forward to provide for a modern railway infrastructure for the 21st Century. Its solid future is without question.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

A paper titled Limerick as a Railway Centre by Les Hyland appeared in Journal 33, Vol. 6, Autumn 1963. The present paper incorporates much of Les’s material, but brings the story forward for a further 50 years, during which the railways of the Limerick region have changed vastly, for better and for worse. The author is most grateful to Les, now living in Queensland, Australia, for his enthusiastic approval of and support for, this project.  The author is also grateful to the many photographers whose contributions have enhanced the present paper, and to the Journal photographic team for ensuring that the images are displayed to best advantage.

 


[1] The modern village is Pallasgreen or Pallasgrean and nearby is an older settlement, Old Pallas, but the station was always Pallas.

[2] Spelled “Caher” in WTT until at least 1868.

[3] The GS&WR referred to the location in 1848 as Tipperary Junction, whilst the W&LR appeared to call it simply Junction for many years.

[4] The line was mileposted from Limerick station via the Check Cabin and the Foynes Loop, the link from the Check Cabin to the later Foynes Junction, where the Cork Direct curve to the station branched off from 1863.

[5] The turntable is not shown on the Traffic Dept’s Diagram but does appear on the historic maps accessible via the Ordnance Survey Ireland website, link

maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,558220,656647,7,9 The site is quite user-friendly, even to search without the link.

[6] This direct connection is also not shown on the Traffic Dept’s Diagram but does appear on the historic maps mentioned under footnote No. 5.

[7] See Journal 163, June 2007, p101, for more on the Darkie, and its accident on the Killaloe branch in 1914.

[8] The origins of the name “Tobin’s” could not be determined even in 1963. It would seem that it must have been known as such since well before 1901.

 

The remainder of this article appears in IRRS Journal number 182, published October 2013

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Revised: November 06, 2015 .