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‘The North Kerry Line’ by Alan O’Rourke

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This new book provides a detailed history of the construction and operation of the lines from Limerick to Tralee, Foynes and Fenit from the 1850s to the current day. Based on ten years of original research, it includes 275 pages, over 30 maps and diagrams and over 70 photographs, very few ever published before. The book has been produced with the generous support of the Great Southern Trail (www.southerntrail.net), which has saved the track bed from Rathkeale to Abbeyfeale as a long distance walking and cycling route. The book can be ordered by post as follows:

For payment in Euros or US dollars (€20/US$30, including postage worldwide) cheques and postal orders payable to “Great Southern Trail,” from:

Liam O’Mahony,
9 Bishop Street,
Newcastle West,
Co. Limerick,
Ireland

For payment in sterling (£18 including postage worldwide)  cheques and postal orders payable to “Alan O’Rourke,” from:

Alan O’Rourke,
72 Sandford Grove Road,
Nether Edge,
Sheffield S7 1RR,
England

Alternatively, click here to pay by PayPal for £18.50 (includes 50p PayPal fee).

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Station Surveys

Alan O’Rourke

 

We seem to have neglected the NCC so far in this occasional series, so maybe time to rectify that!

Magherafelt
Magherafelt was unusual in being a double junction. Mention the Northern Counties, and most people will think of the Belfast-Derry mainline and the branches and narrow gauge to the north east, but there was a also a less well known system of secondary routes to the south west, with Magherafelt as its nodal point. In NCC days, it was the location of a permanent way inspector whose remit covered the lines to Draperstown, Macfin, Cookstown and Cookstown Junction. The first section was a short branch from Drumsough Junction (after 1856, Cookstown Junction) to Randalstown, tacked onto the Belfast & Ballymena Railway (BBR) and opened on the same day (12th April, 1848), to provide a connection with the proposed Dublin, Belfast & Coleraine Junction Railway. When this failed to materialise, the BBR extended the line through Staffordstown and Magherafelt to Cookstown in 1856. The GNR also served that town from 1879. Magherafelt became a junction in 1880 with the opening of the Derry Central Railway north to Macfin, although most services ran through to and from Coleraine. The Draperstown Railway added an eight mile branch westward, with one intermediate station at Desertmartin in 1883. Neither of these concerns was financially successful, being absorbed into the Belfast & Northern Counties Railway (as it had then become), in 1901 and 1895 respectively. Obeying the “last in, first out” rule, the Draperstown branch lost its passenger services in 1930. The only passenger timetable I have seen for that line is 1903, showing three return services, which I assume was standard for most of the time. The branch was completely closed in July 1950, and the following month saw the withdrawal of all Cookstown Junction-Cookstown / Macfin passenger trains and the total closure of the Derry Central north of Kilrea. Five years later, the Cookstown-Magherafelt goods ceased, the Cookstown Junction-Kilrea goods lingering, partly to serve the Upperlands linen mills, until October 1959, the last service of any sort on the Derry Central and Cookstown routes.

The following shows weekday services at Magherafelt in the Summer of 1939:

  • Arrive: 6.00am | Depart: 6.10am | Belfast – Cookstown goods
  • Arrive: 7.05am | Depart: n/a | Light engine from Cookstown
  • Arrive: 7.51am | Depart: n/a | Passenger from Cookstown
  • Arrive: 7.58am | Depart: 8.10am | Belfast – Portrush (via Derry Central Line) passenger
  • Arrive: 8.00am | Depart: 8.04am | Coleraine – Belfast (via Derry Central Line) passenger
  • Arrive: n/a | Depart: 8.11am | Magherafelt – Cookstown passenger
  • Arrive: n/a | Depart: 8.45am | Magherafelt – Draperstown goods
  • Arrive: 10.25am | Depart: n/a | Coleraine – Magherafelt goods
  • Arrive: 10.58am | Depart: 11.35am | Mixed from Cookstown; goods only forward to Belfast
  • Arrive: 11.05am | Depart: n/a | Draperstown – Magherafelt goods
  • Arrive: 11.14am | Depart: 11.18am | Belfast – Portrush (via Derry Central Line) passenger
  • Arrive: n/a | Depart: 11.23am | Magherafelt – Cookstown passenger
  • Arrive: n/a | Depart: 12.30pm | Magherafelt – Coleraine goods
  • Arrive: 1.01pm | Depart: 1.04pm | Cookstown – Belfast passenger
  • Arrive: 3.56pm | Depart: n/a | Cookstown – Magherafelt passenger
  • Arrive: 4.00pm | Depart: 4.07pm | Portrush – Belfast (via Derry Central Line) passenger
  • Arrive: 5.38pm | Depart: 5.41pm | Belfast – Cookstown passenger
  • Arrive: n/a | Depart: 5.45pm | Magherafelt – Portrush (via Derry Central Line) passenger
  • Arrive: 8.26pm | Depart: 8.32pm | Portrush – Cookstown (via Derry Central Line) passenger
Magherafelt

Magherafelt

The Sunday arrangements were slightly odd: morning trains from Belfast and Cookstown combined at Magherafelt and ran through to Portrush, with a reverse of these manoeuvres in the evening; a morning Magherafelt-Cookstown and evening Cookstown-Magherafelt connecting service allowed day excursions from Belfast to Cookstown. There were pathways for “as required” excursions over the Derry Central, and you can always add livestock specials, overload goods and services for some of those holidays peculiar to the north of Ireland for additional variety. This was one line where the Second World War brought much more traffic: by June 1945, there were five daily Belfast-Cookstown services, and an equal number of Derry Central trains, although only the last up Derry Central ran through to Belfast and all others were connection to or from Magherafelt. There were also several local services between Magherafelt and Cookstown; and extra Saturday trains (including a through Derry-Macfin-Magherafelt service); and two Sunday Belfast-Coleraine workings with Cookstown connections. Most of the BNCR and later NCC locomotive classes could be used, except for the Moguls and Jeeps.

The layout at Magherafelt was quite complex: a signal diagram has not yet come to light, but, especially with the need for somersault brackets, full working signalling would provide quite a challenge. The Draperstown line seems to have been worked by train staff and ticket, with the staff unlocking the points at Desertmartin, which was not a block post. The other lines were operated by electric train tablets, the block sections running from Magherafelt to Castledawson and Moneymore on the mainline and Maghera on the Derry Central. Just to the west of Magherafelt, Cookstown Urban District Council had a quarry with siding connection released by the train tablet. A telephone circuit connected the quarry with Magherafelt signal cabin, and before blasting rock there, the foreman had to call the signal man who removed a tablet for the block section to Moneymore, under the “Release tablet for intermediate siding” rule and sent this with a railway employee to the quarry, where he remained until blasting was complete, and he could return to the station, report all clear and deliver up the tablet to clear the block section.

The main two platforms had access to the Cookstown and Draperstown lines; one and the bay on the north side had access to the Derry Central. Dimensions are taken from the track plan in the IRRS archives and I did check the platform lengths: the figures quoted for the two sides of the island platform defy geometry, but are correct! Similarly, the carriage shed really was only 69’, barely long enough for two six-wheelers. The locomotive facilities were grouped off this section, and there is a photo of these in the Stephenson Locomotive Society Collection (Camwell 25553). The goods facilities on the southside were quite commodious for Irish standards, and include the unusual feature of a cattle bank with a siding on each side and a store with two roads through it. Both the original and my sketch have, I suspect, rather exaggerated the width of the warehouse. One, or at a pinch, two siding in the yard could be omitted and in view of the linear compression most modellers will need to apply, I suspect the crossover between the two main platforms could also be left out. There are a few photos in the Stations UK collection (RR7202, 6123) and the Real Photographs list (X5748, X218, but the modeller would need to do some more research on the main buildings.

Toome Bridge
Always base your model stations on a real prototype, or you may end up with a real howler… like a level crossing in the middle of the passing loop! After Magherafelt, we move two stops up the line towards Belfast to Toome: the inclusion of “Bridge” in the name was a bit variable. By whatever title, the station opened in 1856, and lost its last service, the daily Cookstown-Kilrea goods in October 1959. It was located 36¼ miles from Belfast and 11¼ miles from Cookstown Junction. The notes above on timetables give a fair idea of the train service, although Toome usually had one extra goods train, a morning Antrim or Cookstown Junction-Castledawson working, which in the 1940s ran through to and from Magherafelt. Passing places with only one passenger platform were quite common in Ireland, but usually (and it seems the case at Toome), the crossings were of a goods and passenger or two goods trains. Up and down passenger trains could be handled simultaneously, but there were usually special rules for such occurrences, involving bringing both to a halt at the home signal and flagging one into the loop, or shunting one if both were scheduled to serve the station. In the 1930s, the electric tablet block sections were Cookstown Junction-Toome and Toome-Castledawson, the sidings at Randalstown and Staffordstown being released by the Cookstown Junction-Toome tablet.

I don’t seem to have date for this track plan, so I am guessing that the NCC might have extended the loop in the Second World War and that the need to increase line capacity took priority over moving the road. Toome was the rail head for a military aerodrome during this period. The Northern Brick & Sand company had a 2’ line serving sand pits to the south of the NCC line, and Toome also handled a heavy sand traffic for wartime construction work. There were also extra troop trains: in October 1943 when many soldiers passed through Belfast, to relieve the GNR route, some troop trains to Armagh ran via the NCC Cookstown line. Another adaptation to such extra traffic was that Randalstown signal cabin, closed by the NCC as an economy, was reopened to divide the Cookstown Junction-Toome block section. Even the Draperstown branch was “called up” with a US army depot near Desertmartin and extra traffic to the terminus for mock battle exercises.

Toome Bridge

Toome Bridge

The division of goods facilities, store on one side of the running line, loading bank and carriage dock on the other is unusual. If my reading of Stephen Johnson’s atlas is correct, the three siding serve Toome Quays. So, there may have been some wharves for interchange with water-borne traffic there: the Bann joins Lough Neagh just to the south. Loose shunting on these sidings was forbidden in the appendix to the working timetable. Rather confusingly, the plan is drawn with west to the right hand side! The bridge over the river (officially one of the various Carlisle Bridges in Ireland), was a lattice girder, with a central swivel span turning on a masonry pier. This opening span was locked by a Pinkerton’s Patent Point Box and needed the Toome-Castledawson tablet to release it.

If you could track down some photographs, the river, bridge and wharf should provide the opportunity for some scenic modelling. I imagine that one of the sidings to the quay could be omitted without much loss of operational scope. No signal box diagram has come to light, but the track plan clearly showed independent traps for the pair of sidings and the one to the loading bank. There are two pictures in the Stations UK collection (RR6712, 1509).

References:
Johnson S (1997) Johnson’s Atlas & Gazetteer of the Railways of Ireland Leicester: Midland Publishing.
London Midland & Scottish Railway NCC (1946) The Operating Department in War Time 1939-1945 Belfast: W&G Baird

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Editorial: November 2012

Alan O’Rourke

 

I sometimes find myself buying books for the completeness of my library, advertised as having some Irish material, but often very disappointing: a chapter or two, which says little, or merely cribs both text and illustrations from earlier books. But, I recently hit lucky with a volume on mono-rails by Adrian Garner*. The book is substantial: 288 pages, lavishly illustrated with photographs, facsimiles of sketches; and scale engineering drawings. I suspect it is the result of years, if not decades of painstaking research, with extensive reference lists showing good use of the primary sources, often contemporary scientific journals and newspapers. For the Irish content, there is a detailed chapter on the Listowel & Ballybunion. This line already has several books to itself, but Adrian provides some new material, with drawings of nearly all the rolling stock, more detailed and to larger scale reproduction than those already published. There are also some extra pictures of the coaches, but I suspect these represent skilful enlargements from the National Library of Ireland’s glass plates rather than a previously unknown hoard of negatives.

But, I was tempted to read the rest of the book, and was well-rewarded. Early on, Adrian attempts to classify mono-rails: he gets as far as four types: post-and-rail; A-frame (as used on the Ballybunion line); bicycle (see below); and suspended from an overhead guide. However, the sheer fecundity of nineteenth century inventors means he has to fall back on a catch all “unique” category for a whole host of other odd and eccentric systems. It seems there was a never ending supply of ideas for mono-rails, but to paraphrase Dr Johnson, the good parts of these were rarely new and the original parts rarely worked! Some of the lines ran foul of legislation, which specified maximum or minimum gauge, since a mono-rail, by definition, has no gauge! The Boynton Bicycle systems had a vertical gauge of between nine and fifteen feet, measured between the ground level guide rail and an upper rail on which small balancing wheels ran. In practice of course, except for lines suspended from above, most “mono-rails” required more than one point of support to maintain balance.

Many systems never got beyond a few drawings and a patent registration; others existed only as scale model or short demonstration lines. The few which were built rarely provided more than a few years of public service. In Adrian’s terms, they were ”technically successful” (i.e. they did at least work), but financial failures, or in modern language they were effective but not efficacious. The Ballybunion line, in spite of its failure to generate a profit, was remarkably long-lived. The only line in the book which has lasted longer is the Wuppertal system in Germany, still thriving today. One can only assume that the mechanical advantages offered by the use of smooth wheel on smooth rail, and the economy of using a single rail system, powered this diversity of ideas, but that once the pneumatic tyre and the internal combustion engine arrived, the idea had had its day.

The basic motto of mono-rail designers seems to have been: “Originality before practicality!” this extended to propulsion where all sort of muscle and mechanical drives (and in one case a hot-air balloon!) were proposed, including electrical motors from the Daft [sic] Electric Light Company of New Jersey, founded by one Leo Daft. The illustration from side on often look like a fairly orthodox engine and coaches, but the head on or plan views show just how elongated and etiolated the machines were, maybe another version of the old joke about Harcourt Street station having length but no width. Although many were proposed as purely local street tramway type systems, there were grandiose plans for high-speed (up to 150 mph) inter-urban lines. Many of the illustrations are from contemporary journals, often of the “artist’s impression” variety, and some of these are a bizarre mix of the Victorian and futuristic, producing a sort of Dan Dare meets HG Wells life in the twenty-first century panorama. One of the oddest is Captain Meig’s elevated mono-rail, one of the relatively more successful design which did get as far as a one mile demonstration line. A rather conjectural picture shows what this might have looked like if Boston had ever sanctioned a commercial version: space age cylindrical carriages, but a smoking chimney and serious men in top hats and frock coats in the cab. I have a feeling the Steam Punk gang would love this!

*Garner A (2011) Monorails of the Nineteenth Century Lydney: Lightmoor Press

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Editorial: November 2009

Alan O’Rourke

What is the ideal design for a model railway layout? I suspect that there are as many answers as there are modellers, both active and armchair, and that for most, design is constrained by available space. But what if we narrow the question down to general types, rather than down to the position of each point and siding? To adapt Dean Swift’s terminology, maybe we can divide modellers into two camps: the Endists and the Rounabouters. The first group tend to be the purists, championing end-to-end layouts, on the grounds that “real” trains go from somewhere to somewhere else, and disparaging the circuit as a glorified train-set oval. The second group can retort that most end-to-end lines provide very limited runs and operating potential. Both camps are of course subdivided, and although the classical Endist design is the terminus-fiddle yard, with the hidden sidings representing the other 99.9% of the prototype network, with more space one can develop refinements like intermediate stations or even an independent branch. Some modellers will favour a through station, with fiddle yards at each end, especially if they have a very long, thin space, such as the top of bookcases. However, at this stage some two thirds of the layout may be hidden behind back-scenes, and a neater solution may be for the “snake” to swallow its tail, producing a continuous line, with one set of hidden loops at the back. Indeed, this is a common exhibition layout, but rather than tail-chasing, most operate with a sequence of alternating clockwise and anti-clockwise services.

In the early model railway press, a fair amount of space was devoted to layout designs, and at one stage, I think the old Model Railway News offered its readers a guinea for any of their ideas it published. Three things strike you about these designs of fifty years or more ago.

First, they set out to invert the old Euclidean rule about a line being the shortest distance between two points, by deliberately devising the longest run in a restricted space, typically six or eight feet by four feet. The resulting “point to point” design was often a sort of spiral, with the two termini close, or even adjacent, but possibly on different levels, and the train completed a sort of two-twist cork screw to get between them. Other variants were the “out and back” where a reverse loop (assuming you knew how to wire such a device), or a line diagonally across the circuit, allowed a train to leave the terminus in one direction, and come back pointing the opposite way. Incidentally, although in full size practice true circuits are limited to such oddities as the Circle Line, there are a number of “out and back” loops, such as the Cathcart suburban line and the North Kent. Another common design, was a circuit with a junction and a terminus, possibly high level over the fiddle yard, or if space permitted two termini, with the junctions arranged do that a train could run from one to the other, with as many runs round the circuit as the operator desired, plus “short” working (on many of these designs very short workings) between terminal and junction stations. Similarly, the classic end-to-end scheme can be twisted unto L and U configurations to fit specific sites.

The second observation is that many of these schemes were quite complex, in terms of laying out curves, calculating gradients and building embankments and bridges, to carry one line over another. Edward Beal produced a very sophisticated design in the Railway Modeller for May 1950, which packed a 00 system, incorporating a terminus, medium sized locomotive depot, out-and-back circuit, reverse loop, passing station and intermediate sidings to a factory, into 12’ x 8’ folding baseboard. Which brings me to the final point: although occasionally the magazines might feature a layout of the month which was derived from an earlier published plan, these projects rarely progressed from paper to construction. I suspect that the designs, however sophisticated and tempting they might look in terms of operation, were just too daunting in civil engineering terms for most modellers who stuck to their orthodox terminus-fiddle yard or circuit layouts.

Alan O’Rourke

 

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Editorial: May 2009

Alan O’Rourke

It is now ten years since I took over the post of editor of New Irish Lines, and I am rather aware that my little musings are usually of a retrospective nature, so it may be rather refreshing to have a future orientated editorial for a change. In short, the newsletter is joining the twenty-first century, maybe just a few years late, by going on-line. For some years, we have had a web-presence courtesy of Allen Worsley and Stephen Johnson, and these have brought many enquiries and quite a few confirmed subscriptions over the years. However, we now have our very own website, the url for which will appear on the cover from now on: https://newirishlines.org/

Most of the November 2008 issue is now up. I am very grateful to our member Patrick Conboy, who is the author of our web-pages and has spent a great deal of his time over the last few months developing the site. Please pay it a visit, look around and leave comments. As you will see, we have several add-on features, such as the chance to leave comments on specific articles and to start discussion threads.

However, to allay any fears, this does not mean that we are abandoning the printed version of the newsletter. While not wishing to create a two tier system of membership, there simply are some things that can be done on-line and which are impossible to achieve in a paper-based journal which only comes out every six-months, such as up to date press releases and notices of exhibitions. You may also note the option for paying by PayPal, which I hope to have running soon, which may solve the problem of paying in currencies other than Sterling or Euros. For this year, we will run the website along side the paper version. I will send on Patrick the text from this issue: please let me know if any of you who have kindly contributed material for this issue object to your work going on the website, and from now on, unless other wise informed, I will assume that all contributions can duly go on our website.  Just to be sure, I did check with all our authors for November 2008 before forwarding the material to Patrick! Also, in case anyone worries that we have broken the bank going on-line, the cost of registering the domain is less than £20 per annum, and not much more that the telephone expense of running the newsletter, in answering enquiries and chasing up articles.

However, as any of you who look at our annual balance sheet which appears in the November issue will know, some 90% of all the newsletter’s expenses go on just two items: postage and printing. The University Print Unit here in Sheffield has proved very competitive over the years and the cost of each issue has proved very stable. But, post is quite another matter: despite all the claims that the British economy is now entering a period of deflation, the Post Office has just increased most of its charges by about 8%. The revised subscription rates do allow us some leeway, but another substantial increase will probably require another rise in subscriptions to balance the books. But, since the main costs of the newsletter are on printing and stamps, if we move to a state where some members choose to download the newsletter from the website, we could offer a much lower subscription rate to such folk. This is not favouritism: it just recognises that we have by-passed the post-man and shifted the cost of printing to the subscriber. The other overheads for the newsletter are very modest. You will note that the website is not pass-word protected. Patrick and I discussed this, and we felt that using passwords might be un-necessarily complex; they can get shared and abused anyway. Moreover, I would like the website to be open to all, including the casual browser who may or may not want to become a regular subscriber. Again, since if at all possible I send enquirers a complementary specimen back number, access to an on-line copy will actually save me work and the newsletter postage. We do hope that most subscribers will be willing to make a small payment, either by the current means or via PayPal, to offset the annual fee for the web site and the other modest overhead for the newsletter.

So, for 2009 we will run paper and website along side. Please visit the website, explore and send comments to me or to Patrick at newirishlines@gmail.com. From 2010 onwards,we may be in a positon to offer alternative paper and web-based subscriptions, but rest assured that there are no plans to discontiue the “hard copy” for all members who prefer to continue to receive New Irish Lines in that format.

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GNR Butter Van

Alan O’Rourke

 

In the days when everything went by rail, some companies found it worth while building highly specialised vehicles for perishable traffics, which attracted premium rates, even if it meant those vehicles must have spent half their time running empty. One such traffic was dairy produce, and the MGWR, GSWR and GNR all built special “butter vans.” In the era before electrical refrigeration, these vans employed various cooling mechanisms like double roofs and  multiple small vents in the body, presumably to make full use of the draft when in motion. I have not seen detailed plans of the internal layout of these designs, but I am guessing that they may have been “double-layered” with ice between two skins of planking, or may have used some sort of system where the evaporation of water from a porous surface (as in the older type of terra cotta milk or wine cooler), by taking latent heat of vaporisation from its surroundings, could effect considerable cooling.  I seem to recall a school physics experiment which demonstrated this phenomenon rather well. It involved bubbling air through ether in a copper beaker, the beaker sitting in a small pool of water on a wooden block. By the time all the ether had evaporated, the whole apparatus was so cold that the beaker was frozen to the block by a lump of ice! Alphagraphix now make a 7mm and possibly a 4mm kit for this vehicle. I am grateful to the IRRS archives and Mr Brendan Pender for access to the GNR drawing and permission to reproduce it.

GNR butter wagon

GNR butter wagon

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Lineside Details: GSWR Mileposts

Alan O’Rourke

 

Irish railways used a number of methods to mark distances: the symbolic steel sheet squares, diamonds, triangles and arrow-heads of the MGWR were probably the most original design. Other companies used metal, stone or wooden markers. The GSWR used substantial granite mileposts on its original lines, but later, and on the absorbed WLWR routes, used the smaller cast iron patterns shown here.  These diagrams come from drawing in the IRRS archives. I am grateful to the Society for permission to reproduce this and Brendan Pender for his help in accessing the archives.

Quarter-mile marker

Quarter-mile marker

 

Half- and three-quarter-mile posts

Half- and three-quarter-mile posts

Side and front elevations of the top section of a whole mile marker

Side and front elevations of the top section of a whole mile marker

Side and front elevations upright. Height from bottom surface of base plate to lower edge og the numeral plate is 3ft 4.5in

Side and front elevations upright. Height from bottom surface of base plate to lower edge og the numeral plate is 3ft 4.5in

GSWR stone milepost and cast iron quarter milepost, both from near Nenagh

GSWR stone milepost and cast iron quarter milepost, both from near Nenagh

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