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Journal 191

Forty Years of the 071 Class

Compiled by Ciarán Cooney

September 2016 marks 40 years since the arrival onto Irish railways of the much vaunted 071 Class locomotive fleet, of which all 18 members remain operational to this day. During their time in service, they have worked almost every kind of passenger traffic, from prestigious Intercity expresses, including the Dublin-Belfast Enterprise, to intensive suburban workings in Dublin. From the mid-1990s onwards, they also became regular performers on a variety of freight traffics, notably on the then new timber operations as well the main bulk loads such as cement and liner trains. Following the demise of the A Class engines, the Tara Mines ore workings have been the sole preserve of 071 Class haulage, with very few exceptions. In a similar vein to the Tara Mines flow, the 071 Class became commonplace on the intense seasonal sugar beet operations after they had displaced the remaining A Class engines. For the last two decades, the 071 Class have survived changing patterns in traffic and alterations in traction policy on the IÉ network and although regular locomotive-hauled passenger trains are few and far between for the class, the 071 fleet still puts in regular appearances on freight and Permanent Way trains. Having regard to the significant impact of these locomotives during their forty years of service, a brief survey of the story of the 071 Class to date is therefore now appropriate.

On 2 September 1976, the MV Tillie Lykes anchored in Dublin Bay, having arrived from New Orleans with the 18 new locomotives for CIÉ. For the journey from the GM plant in Illinois to New Orleans, the locomotives had been conveyed by barge down the Mississippi River. At New Orleans, the barges, still containing the locomotives, were lifted on board the Tillie Lykes for their trans-Atlantic voyage. Due to its size and weight, the vessel was unable to enter Dublin Port, so the barges were off-loaded and towed by tug to the North Wall. There the locomotives were unloaded by the 100-ton quayside crane adjacent to the Point Quay. After being placed on their bogies on the quayside, the locomotives were towed away, firstly by one of the Dublin Port tractors into the Point Yard. From there to Inchicore, they were hauled by a re-engined Metrovick 201 Class engine, usually in pairs (and still covered in their GM-branded tarpaulins).

Locomotive 084 was the first engine to take to the rails under its own power, when it departed Inchicore light-engine on a loco inspectors' familiarisation run on 28 September. Another engine to make a foray in these early days was 074, when it worked a clearance trial onto the erstwhile Dún Laoghaire Pier branch. However commissioning of the entire fleet was unfortunately delayed due to a protracted industrial relations dispute; the introduction of the 071 Class into revenue earning service did not occur until 23 May 1977, when locomotive 082 worked the 14:30 Dublin-Cork service. Prior to this, a very intensive programme of trial trips was conducted for driver training. Trials commenced on Wednesday 27 April 1977, and the week from May 23-28, for example, saw trial running usually conducted from Dublin to Portlaoise and back. These trial trains were generally formed of Dublin suburban stock of the Park Royal and laminate varieties. Once in regular traffic, the 071 Class took over many top link duties on the radial routes out of Dublin - the notable exceptions being the Belfast and Rosslare lines. By the end of 1977, the class was also noted on Knock and other special workings.

The first passenger working of a 071 locomotive on the Sligo line occurred on Friday 3 June 1977. Mid-1979 also saw the appearance of 071 traction on the Rosslare line, while the Dublin-based Enterprise workings went over to 071 haulage in 1982. For working on single line ETS sections, three locomotives in the class, numbers 073, 081 and 083, had cab-side staff-snatchers fitted in January 1979, required for the Dublin-Mullingar section of the Midland, but the use of mechanical staff exchange was discontinued from Spring 1982. Although the snatchers were removed from the engines, the base-plates remained on the cab-sides. Both the Rosslare and Sligo lines’ association with the 071 Class was short in their initial careers, the small GM locomotives mainly working services on these lines from the early 1980s until the mid-1990s. However, when displaced from the majority of frontline trains out of Dublin Heuston by the arrival of the GM 201 Class in 1994 and 1995, the 071 Class locomotives subsequently became standard motive power on the routes to Rosslare and Sligo, the trains being usually formed of AC MkII stock.

The introduction of further diesel railcar sets, initially of the 2700 and 2800 Classes and then later the 29000 and 22000 ICR fleets, saw the 071 Class bowing out from the Dublin-Rosslare and Dublin-Sligo lines in 2003 and 2008. The arrival of the 22000 ICR fleet in 2007 was a pivotal moment in regard to locomotive-hauled passenger trains on the IÉ network. The introduction of the ICR fleet saw a gradual reduction of 071 locomotives (and also the 201 Class) on passenger workings out of Dublin Heuston. Since then, the 071 Class have proved themselves no less reliable when working for the Permanent Way Department, an area where their appearance on ballast (HOBS), weed-spraying and Sperry train duties have become well established, these having been formerly the domain of the small GM classes. That said, they continue to share the remaining freight duties with the younger 201 Class fleet, which, from an enthusiast perspective, still provides an element of variety, particularly on the IWT liner trains operating between Dublin and Ballina. In recent years, 071 traction has become much-desired motive-power for enthusiast specials, with the ITG, IRRS and RPSI all making use of the fleet, and 2016 will have seen three diesel railtours commemorating the forty years in service of the 071 fleet.

Not surprisingly, with a career of forty years behind them, there are few lines and locations which 071 Class engines have not yet reached, especially with the gradual improvement of the permanent way during the last two decades. The prohibition on the use of the class on the Ballina branch was lifted following the rebuilding of the River Moy bridge in 1996. A notable route now lost from the current operational network is the Youghal branch, where the 071 Class made fleeting appearances on excursion traffic. However, prior to the rebuilding of the Western Rail Corridor, 071 Class locomotives seldom operated trains between Limerick and Athenry. Other more obscure locations now completely disappeared from the network which saw 071 Class traction were the quayside section of the Sligo Quay branch and the Boyne Road branch north of Drogheda (see Journal 181). While their use on the cross-border Enterprise and freight trains was a regular occurrence, their appearance on the lines north of Belfast was, and still is, extremely rare. An exception to this was for six weeks during October 1999, when a Coillte timber flow from Derry to Waterford brought 071 Class locomotives onto the ex-NCC line to Derry, the trains working from Adelaide via the ex-GNR(I) Knockmore Junction to Antrim branch. Apart from freight traffic, enthusiast railtours and charter trains have brought 071 Class locomotives on passenger duties to Derry, Portrush and Coleraine.

Few of the class have been involved in mishaps throughout their forty years, however those that did occur were serious. An early accident befell locomotive 082, when it collided with a cement train at Arklow on the evening of 8 October 1979 while working the 17:40 from Rosslare Harbour, injuring approximately 30 passengers. Locomotive 075 has had the misfortune of having being involved in two accidents, the first when it derailed at speed at Buttevant on 1 August 1980. Although the locomotive remained intact, three of the following coaches were shattered, resulting in 18 fatalities. The second was when 075 rear-ended the 04:30 liner from Dundalk at Finaghy while working an 04:35 Dundalk to Belfast bulk cement train on 7 April 1998. 075 suffered minor damage, re-entering traffic in March 1999.

For a fleet of 18 locomotives, various liveries with intricate features, sometimes unique to one locomotive, have been noted throughout their years in service. Upon delivery from General Motors, the locomotives featured the standard 'Supertrain' livery style, albeit with a darker shade of orange tan (the shade similar to the original black/tan colours), along with an 'off-white' CIÉ broken wheel logo and numerals. The arrival of the air-braked BREL built MkIII coaches in 1984 heralded a change in livery, when the tan colour was superseded by a brighter shade of orange to match the new passenger stock in service, as well as a change of logo to the standard orange-coloured CIÉ roundel. In addition, the letters SA were applied to the locomotive numerals to indicate their air-braking capabilities (although locomotive 075 received this while still carrying the original livery). When Iarnród Éireann was established in February 1987, locomotive 078 was the first to be repainted into the new corporate livery, featuring the white 'tippex bands' and IR 'point' logo, this being gradually applied to the rest of the fleet. Locomotive 086 briefly carried the new IR logo but without stripes during the Summer of 1990. When fully repainted, it further featured a unique characteristic in having larger logos of the style applied to the MkIII push-pull trailers. During the early 1990s, some of the fleet received the standard luminous day-glow panels, but others did not, including locomotive 077, which uniquely featured shaded numerals. Various different livery intricacies persisted into the era of the IÉ plug & socket logo, with locomotives 076, 078 and 086 featuring small logos on their body-sides. A black & silver livery 'railfreight' livery with full yellow ends was applied to the fleet from 2007 onward, although this has since been more recently superseded by a slate grey colour, featuring an aesthetically-pleasing narrower yellow warning panel along with the new IÉ logo introduced in 2013. This new livery was applied in conjunction with a refurbishment program to extend the life of the 071 Class fleet. Interestingly locomotives 084 and 078 never received the previous silver & black colours, going straight from the old black & orange livery to the current railfreight colours.

Further aspects of the 071 fleet, including invaluable in-depth technical and operational details from which this text has been derived, can be found in Journals Nos. 74 and 118. The Journal hopes to return to the subject of this most reliable and popular class of locomotive in a latter issue, but for now the following illustrations we hope will be of interest to members in demonstrating their versatility in service.


The New 071 Class Locomotives, P.Walsh, B.Carse, IRRS Journal Vol.13, No. 74.

GM Locomotives - 10 Years On, D.Renehan, IRRS Journal Vol.18 No. 188.

The remainder of this article appears in IRRS Journal number 191, published October 2016

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Revised: May 19, 2017 .