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Stradbally Woodlands Railway - Ireland's only operational narrow gauge steam railway

Discussion in 'Narrow Gauge Railways' started by dingletrain, Feb 26, 2016.

  1. dingletrain

    dingletrain New Member

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    Hi all,

    This is my first post here, so might be forward of me to introduce myself.

    I am one of the few active volunteers on the island of Ireland, and part of an even fewer amount in the ROI. A group of about 15-20 volunteers are active for the Stradbally Woodland Railway in County Laois, located just off the M7/8 motorway from Dublin.

    The site originally has no railway connection and was once green fields! The Stradbally Steam Railway, the largest of its kind in Ireland has its routes here since 1965. The railway is the oldest heritage railway in the country, founded circa 1967 by the Irish Steam Preservation society. It originally started out with a Spence Guinness 1ft 10inch loco number 15 on a short stretch of rails! the only Guinnness loco to operate in preservation! We still have this loco in the Steam Museum located a short distance away in stradbally village.

    The railway then became 3ft gauge sometime in the 1970's, with a balloon loop installed by volunteers from scratch. The railway took delivery of preserved Andrew Barclay 0-4-0WT number 2 (LM44). This was one of a trio of Bord na Mona steam locos (see pictures below). Number 2 is the mainstay of operations at Stradbally, with a former Cavan & Leitrim 3rd class coach and a former Lochaber railway chassis being used as our main passenger stock. This was completed in the mid 1980's. The railway has largely run on bank holiday weekends and in conjunction with the rally weekend, along with opening during "Heritage Week".

    We have recently completed a major task of completely transforming the station trackplan to allow 2 sidings to give access to our brand new shed, to store our stock in. All work used ex mainline grade rails of 75, 85, and 90lb rails being moved by volunteers in position along with sleepers and cutting clearances. I will upload pictures here when i get the opportunity. However please look at our Facebook page for the latest progress!

    Please give us a like and comment! :)

    All pictures (C) Darragh Connolly
     

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  2. Rosedale

    Rosedale Member

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    Looks like a lovely spot. Also an interesting reminder of what 'Tom Rolt' used to look like.
     
  3. pmh_74

    pmh_74 Member

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    Ireland's only operational narrow gauge railway, though? What about the West Clare?
     
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  4. dingletrain

    dingletrain New Member

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    PMH, if you notice the title states "operational" narrow gauge railway. I am not aware if the West Clare is operational on a regular basis, I know it was for some group visits last year.......but am open to correction :) Sterling work done by Jackie Whelan, certainly a great character
     
  5. pmh_74

    pmh_74 Member

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    West Clare was certainly operating regularly 3 or 4 or so years ago when my wife and I went on it, albeit with diesel most days and steam only occasionally. We just turned up and bought tickets. I get the impression it is very much a family-run enterprise and yes Jackie Whelan is certainly one of preservation's characters. It's hard to find out the current status as the line's website seems to have expired, but last I heard they were planning to expand having finally got permission for a level crossing over the adjacant main road. I didn't get the impression they'd be giving up any time soon.

    Come to think of it the Fintown Railway is operational too, isn't it? No steam, but it uses a lovely Co. Donegal railcar (sounds like an 03 shunter!) with a small diesel loco towing it backwards in one direction since it only has a cab at one end and there are no turning facilities. A bit soggy the day I went there about 4 years ago, the scenery should be fantastic; I would love to go back on a nice day!

    I had not realised until I posted my earlier post above that the Cavan & Leitrim has ceased operating. Hopefully it will return, it was a lovely little line though very much a 'one man band' from what I could see.
     
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  6. Reading General

    Reading General Well-Known Member

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    DSC07246.JPG Was operating last August when I rode on Slieve Callion's footplate. website well out date but I had not heard anything to make me doubt it will reopen in April as usual. Steam usually at the weekend only but if you pay for a couple of sacks of coal miracles can happen.
     
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  7. andrewshimmin

    andrewshimmin Well-Known Member

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    To be fair to the original poster, I think "only operational line" in the sense of "only line which can be reliably counted on to operate, for the general public, regularly, to a published timetable" is not an unreasonable abbreviation.
    Other things are happening in Ireland and Northern Ireland including lots of exciting developments envisioned at the WCR, plans for restoring the T&B (former T&D) to operation, hopefully the return of the C&L sometime, steam again one day at Giant's Causeway, Fintown, other CD ideas - but Stradbally is the only firmly established line which is a proper setup and not mainly one person with a vision (not knocking them).
    One of the sad things about Irish NG preservation is all the half-way restorations/restorations which have fallen by the wayside: 5T, Nancy, Dromod, Drumboe, Fair Maid of Forfar, Tyrone, Shane....
    In my view (not involved in any of these schemes) a retrenchment to fewer sites and concentration of resources into most touristic areas including the available locos in the only way forward, but would require some strong characters to accept someone else's vision over their own and an honest broker type organisation.
     
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  8. Reading General

    Reading General Well-Known Member

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    Many of the other lines are trying to preserve something of the history of their lines using original locos.
     
  9. pmh_74

    pmh_74 Member

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    Both the West Clare and Fintown ran trains to a timetable on operating days they publicised on the days I visited them. Fintown seems to be quite well organised for a small railway - all of the operating stock lives under cover, for example. It would be nice if they could restore and open up their original station (it's sitting there looking disused at present), and yes a steam loco would be fantastic but I don't think they're ready for it yet. But it's well worth the trip.

    I think one of the problems with heritage railways in Ireland is the lack of local interest in volunteering to run them. It just doesn't seem to be an accepted use of leisure time in the way it is in the UK (and some other countries). Indeed when I visited the West Clare one of the volunteers on duty was over from England. Hence the situation whereby small lines struggle on due mainly to the efforts of a select few. It's not just railways though - most of the attractions in that part of the world seem to be rather low-key and local, and in some ways that adds to their charm, but you do need to combine them for a decent day out. If you're heading to the West Clare, for example, hop over to Kerry on the car ferry and check out the Tarburt Jail (http://www.tarbertbridewell.com/) and the Foynes Flying Boat Museum (http://www.flyingboatmuseum.com/), and of course the recreation of the Lartigue monorail at Listowel (http://www.lartiguemonorail.com/). All three of them are suitably bonkers in their own way.

    The T&D is possibly the 'odd one out' having been funded by the local authority originally and it was certainly very busy when I went on it when 5T was running, and a couple of years later with a hired diesel it still seemed to be pulling in the punters, so I'm sure if they can get it operating again it will be a success, even if we have to wait a while longer for the restoration of 5T.

    Dreaming... it would be really nice if one of the above could extend sufficiently to give a decent run, the West Clare might still do it but the others seem unlikely. A shame as both an extended T&D and a longer run in Co. Donegal would be pretty special, but there you go.
     
  10. Reading General

    Reading General Well-Known Member

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    as regards the T&D , all that's needed to get off the ground is permission from the County Council who own it. Restoration of 5T is seen as a priority and favourable quotes have been obtained.

    The West Clare have impressive plans for a visitor centre and have got the planning permission needed to cross the main road (itself an impressive achievement) to reach it. There are rumours of more stock having been acquired....
     
  11. andrewshimmin

    andrewshimmin Well-Known Member

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    I do take your point, but the Stradbally lot have been going since 1967, and hence have lasted much longer than most of the "original" lines.
    The preservation movement has a silly habit of letting and imaginary and probably unachievable"best" be the enemy of a real and realistic "good". In Irish/NI preservation this would be a particularly tragic thing to do.
    Given there is so little, and what progress there has been has been matched by steps backward, let's celebrate the real tangible achievements of Stradbally.
    Of course it would have been wonderful to see a preserved T&D over the summit with a few original locos, or Drumboe steaming through Barnesmore Gap every weekend, but the reality is a very few, very short, mostly steamless centres, all relying on very small teams and with huge hurdles to get over to move forward. I agree the WCR have great plans and how wonderful to see 5C in steam (especially if it is true that Lady Edith is heading there), and I am rooting for the T&B to reopen: the will seems to be there, but it is not an easy task.
    But the island of Ireland is not so rich in thriving heritage lines that we can sniff at Stradbally. It is at the very least 50% of the current Irish NG steam scene!
     
  12. Reading General

    Reading General Well-Known Member

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    no sniffing from me, I've even been there.
    I believe the Dromod crowd have a second steam loco that was very close to being rebuilt. I'm not sure what the position is there currently
     
  13. andrewshimmin

    andrewshimmin Well-Known Member

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    I think this is Nancy, originally of an ironstone (or similar) line in the (English) Midlands. As far as I know had been nearly finished at Alan Keef for several years.
    Likewise Drumboe has been on and off at Whitehead for years - haven't heard anything for a while and think it is off site.
    Anyone know where the SRPS loco (Fair Maid of Forfar) is now?
     
  14. Reading General

    Reading General Well-Known Member

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    stored in Scotland still pending Fintown building facilities
     
  15. Reading General

    Reading General Well-Known Member

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    just to make this clear, this post was answering a suggestion of centralising some surviving equipment. On the face of it that makes sense, but not in practise . The WCR, T&D C&L Giant's Causeway and Fintown people are all trying (in their own way) to keep alive the History of their own particular Railway.
     
  16. andrewshimmin

    andrewshimmin Well-Known Member

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    Of course this is the nub of it.
    The question, though, is whether a couple of thriving heritage lines wouldn't be better than half a dozen really struggling ones.
    That does not necessarily mean that joining forces and concentrating on a couple of the most promising sites would achieve this. But for how long do you just go on struggling. Keeping on trying the same things in the hope of suddenly a better outcome is not particularly astute.
    We would all like to see all if these lines doing well, running a fair length, with multiple steam locos. In my view, having ANY of these lines in this state would be a huge positive change. Perhaps concentrating on one or two now might do that. Perhaps not. Might be worth a go, though!
    Could one of the other lines help Fintown with the loco accommodation issue? Or help the T&D restart? Or the WCR extend? Would the Giants Causeway locos (or Nancy or Dromod pr Drumboe) return to steam sooner somewhere else?
    If part of the challenge is resources being spread too thin, how about focussing them for a while?
    Only my perception from afar - I'm not close to any of these groups. But I do wish them all well.
     
  17. Reading General

    Reading General Well-Known Member

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    you're missing the point. There isn't a narrow gauge preservation movement...there are small bands of people doing the best they can. They wouldn't do it anywhere else but where they are
     
  18. ghost

    ghost Part of the furniture

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    I think you are also ignoring the fact that Ireland (north and south) has a thinly spread population with relatively few large centres of population. If you closed one operation, there's very little chance that those people would be prepared to travel to another site which may be a considerable distance away. Also, as RG says, people tend to support their local group rather than preservation in general.


    Keith
     
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  19. andrewshimmin

    andrewshimmin Well-Known Member

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    I happily accept your more informed point of view. A great shame though - even one better developed site to tell well the important history of NG in Ireland would be wonderful. Even a museum to display the assembled stock.
     
  20. Reading General

    Reading General Well-Known Member

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    It's not one story though, each of these small lines has it's own history that needs telling..
     

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