The Island of Ireland Tracker 2
Thursday 18th May 2017 to Sunday 21st May 2017
Report by Stuart Hicks
I joined this second BLS Island of Ireland tour (18-21 May 2017) arranged by Kev Adlam for the two 'miniature days' and other attractions, with some museums. Travelling by rail-sail (exceptionally good value); Stena still has a connecting bus to Dublin city centre run by Morton's. With tickets picked up at Paddington the previous day, I arrived at Euston in good time for the 09.10 to Holyhead on the Friday morning. It ran punctually throughout and I continued to the Stena check in for the 13.50 'Stena Challenger' to Dublin Port. Morton's single decker bus 07 KE 5293 was overwhelmed by boisterous passengers but eventually set off for the city centre where it was delayed by heavy traffic. The fare from the port was €3 single (or €5 return).
Sat 20 May 2017: Leaving my hotel 06.00 our executive coach set off from the Ashling Hotel near Dublin Heuston at 06.50 to arrive in plenty of time for our 8 o'clock appointment at Stradbally. Our transport for the two days was a large Dublin-Belfast-Newry Mini Coaches (road) coach 12-D-31941.
At the 3ft gauge, 880yd, Stradbally Woodland Express (to the right off Stradbally Hall drive) the guys were ready and waiting for us. (Normal operation is 12.00-16.00). It is the oldest heritage railway in Ireland, constructed in stages between 1969 and 1982 entirely by voluntary labour and the railway is one of few in Ireland to operate steam power. Our tour left behind 'Rusty' from the platform, shunted back into Shed Road 1 (right hand side looking in) then went clockwise (unusually, but what else do you expect?) round the circuit before returning to do Shed Road 2 and then the circuit anticlockwise. We then had time to explore the shed and other sidings, with their steam locomotive (LM 44), other diesels (including LM 167, Nippy and No.4, also LM 55 & LM 191) and a Bord na Móna personnel carrier.
In Stradbally village the party then briefly looked round the Steam Museum, which was also open especially for us. As well as local fire engines and farm equipment, it had a Guinness locomotive (used around the Guinness Brewery streets for over 50 years) and a 1' 10" gauge locomotive dating from 1912, made by Spence (although it incorrectly carries an 1895 work plate).
Next call was Bilberry station on the 3ft gauge Waterford & Suir Valley Railway (W&SVR) (MR p27). (Pictures of visit BLN 1282.1183.) This new station is only used by special parties (of which we were the first to JOIN a train here) and not public running. This is because there is only one train with no passing facilities and the run would be too long to maintain the hourly frequency. It is the eastern W&SVR track limit, about a mile west of Waterford along, and south of, the River Suir on the trackbed of the former Grace Dieu Jn to Waterford South 5' 3" gauge branch off the Mallow - Fermoy - Ballinacourty - Waterford line, now a 45km 'greenway' path/cycleway to Dungarvan. The Waterford South branch became a siding to the goods depot on 1 Feb 1908 and was disconnected in Sep 1976; a lucky Quinton (Birmingham) member arranged locally for a special light engine trip when there was no traffic just before closure! It was certainly of great interest; we were honoured to be joined by our well known PSUL compiler even. The railway aspires to continue further into the city - but this won't be easy or practicable. From Grace Dieu Jn the severed viaduct that used to carry the main line across over the river to the present Waterford station is in situ and makes an interesting sight. https://goo.gl/1EWybF has some amazing pictures/further information. The missing river bridge span is on the north bank.
Our train was formed of loco 9904 (of 2011) and the railway's only two passenger vehicles, each with closed and open saloons. One is configured as a driving trailer (with a camera and horn on the end displaying on a screen in the cab as the train is propelled from Waterford Bilberry - there is no loop).
At the other end of line, Kilmeadan, our train ran through very rare track, the loop and to the depot (a quite long non-passenger extension on the original 5' 3" line trackbed) before returning to the usual platform at the station. Sandwiches drinks and refreshments were included in the charter fare and all the railway volunteers very most friendly and helpful. A depot walking tour (LM 348 was present) included the long term storage containers behind which housed two more locos (179 and 256), before returning to the station for a ride on the first service train at 12.00 for 4¾ miles to Gracedieu Jn (where they only operate to on Saturdays as even that run at 50 minutes non-alighting return is considered too long for most families!) and back. The future new Mount Congreve Gardens station platform was noted awaiting business. However, it might generate much new traffic and the Railway could have difficulty coping without more coaches and two trains running. [The station has still not opened.]
The next destination was the seaside - Tramore, for three circuits of the 15" gauge 400yd Tramore Miniature Railway behind Rio Grande 278. Some then had ice creams and eyed the other attractions in the amusement park. The driver had just made a public run and as we did not fill the whole train he stopped to pick up some 'normal' passengers after the second circuit.
Our penultimate visit on the Saturday was to the 7¼" gauge 650yd JF Kennedy Arboretum Miniature Railway near New Ross which only runs on summer afternoons. It has an outer and rare inner loop. To reach it involved an interesting walk through part of the arboretum (luckily guided by our host). We had to split into two groups to take our ride so the others could then photo the train, which was Santa Fe diesel hauled. Then it was back to the café and toilets (in no particular order) to re-join our coach.
The sixth Saturday visit was to the Irish Traction Group site at Carrick-on-Suir station. There were four locos - the two outside (226 & G 617) securely boarded up from both the elements and the locals. Inside their shed were the two locomotives (G 601 and B 103) which they had been working on. One was fired up and made an impressive site and sound. Near Waterford station 22201/2 was seen and there was a brief view of 227 in a yard from the adjacent road before returning to Dublin at 20.30.
Sun 21 May 2017: Leaving 08.15, the Dublin Society of Model & Experimental engineers at Marlay Park site was visited first. There are elevated and ground level circuits, each 3½/5/7¼" mixed gauge. After finding the entrance we were welcomed and given rides on both lines; some had two different locos on the elevated line. It was evident how the ground level circuit had been diverted because the Council had tipped a load of rubbish across part of the previous circuit! Then our party was propelled over the branch across the impressive turntable into the running shed (it was too steep for the loco to pull a train out loaded). Tea and coffee in the clubhouse and thanks to our hosts competed that visit.
Next was a fleeting visit to the 2ft gauge 490yd Tayto Adventure Park 'Steam Train Express' (with no steam!) after an extended wait to gain admittance as the computer systems had to be rebooted! Two laps of the 490yd 2ft gauge circuit were made; partly in the roadway tramway style. Some then rode an elevated railway on horseback - one horse even carried a Society headboard. I was fortunate to do the full circuit; later riders were refused the section between alighting and boarding platforms.
Malahide was next on the agenda. Due to an equipment failure the planned Road Train ride did not happen to the great disappointment of the operator (the €4 fare was donated to Railway Children instead). Some participants 'Darted' off from P2 to Portmarnock, the next station south, to do the trailing crossover; others enjoyed a short walk round the pleasant coastal town or had a bite of lunch.
We returned to central Dublin visiting the Guinness Storehouse, the most popular tourist attraction in the City to see the remains of the railway system in the cobbled streets. The exhibition tells the history of stout making and the site, ending up on the rooftop bar with a free soft drink or pint of Guinness and a fantastic 360 ° Dublin panorama. The target was the two diesels: blue livered No.47 and yellow 17.
Our coach dropped us for the final time at St Stephens Green tram stop where some left for home, others took a trip to Brides Glen at the southern end of the Luas Green Route, much on the former Harcourt Street to Shanganagh Jn 5' 3" gauge line (CP/A 1 Jan 1959); St Stephens Green - Sandyford ROP 30 Jun 2004 as a 4' 8½" gauge tramway. I alighted at Sandyford depot and saw all but one of the 50xx trams not in service that day then walked along the footpath on the course of the old line. An excellent couple of days, over a year in the planning, thanks to all involved particularly Kev Adlam.