This is part two of the tribute to the famed County Donegal narrow gauge railways which closed on the very last day of 1959. In the first part we took a look at the CDRJC’s route to Ballyshannon and Killybegs. In this second part we look at the CDRJC’s other stations including Derry and Letterkenny, plus the aftermath of its closure and whats left of the system. The closure of the CDR left a huge part of NW Ireland without any proper public transport. Part one is here.
Victoria Road, Derry
Victoria Road was perhaps the most important of the CDRJC’s stations because it was in the city of Derry. However that important distinction didn’t prevent the line from here to Strabane closing in 1954, seven years after the line to Glenties had shut and five years before the rest of the system closed for good. The reason for this early closure of the Derry line was the fact there was a parallel line 5′ 3″ from the other side of the river between here and Strabane.
In many ways this other line was rather more convenient as it did not necessitate crossing the bridge as one would have had to to in order to reach Victoria Road. Not only that if anyone wanted to reach other parts of the CDRJC it was probably quicker to catch a 5′ 3″ gauge train and change at Strabane. The closure of the Derry to Strabane section enabled the CDRJC to focus its resources on the remaining lines to Letterkenny, Ballyshannon and Killybegs, but ultimately did not prevent the system from closing in 1959.
Blanche, with Columbkille behind. Super power perhaps for a single coach and guards van – or maybe the latter had suffered some fault – and Blanche was put in charge of the train? Source: Derry Journal
Victoria Road station, Derry. Note the standard gauge freight train crossing the Craigavon bridge. Source: Twitter
Craigavon bridge is one of the very few double deck bridges to have been built in Europe. The lower deck carried a railway until 1968 when it was replaced by a new roadway.
The Derry Journal explains in this thoughtful article that that the city’s railway heritage should be developed for this was once a railway town – yet there’s very little left of this former industry. The paper says the city needs something that can be a draw for tourists and businesses – as well as support jobs and the city’s railway heritage could be part of this. The paper also notes the importance of Victoria Road station and the fact the city still has two of its rail termini intact.
CDRJC no.5 at Victoria Road. Source: Twitter (Note: As of May 2020 the account ‘RailwayanaUK’ has been suspended/deleted thus an archived image is used here.)Embed from Getty Images
A bit further out from the environs of Victoria Road station is this class 5 (looks like no.5 again) on a train going possibly as far as Donegal Town circa 1935. Source: Gettys
No.3 Lydia at Victoria Road. Date unknown.
Stations from Victoria Road to Strabane were at New Buildings, Desertstone, Cullion, Donemana and Ballymagorry.
Strabane – Letterkenny
This was the northern branch of the CDRJC, nevertheless it was an important line. It connected to the Lough Swilly Railway at Letterkenny and until the closure of the Lough Swilly system, there was through freight between the two systems. The combined lenght of the CDRJC and Lough Swilly was around 235 miles in its heyday, and was the biggest narrow gauge network in Europe.
Stations were at Lifford Halt, Ballindrait, Coolaghy, Raphoe, Convoy, Cornagillagh Halt and Glenmaquin.
Raphoe station in the early days. Source: Whyte’s
Raphoe in its final years. Note how the tracks have been rationalised. Source: Facebook
Last freight train at Raphoe. 31st December 1959. Source: Twitter
The final passenger working to Letterkenny 31st December 1959. Railcar 19’s driver, Michael Gallen, poses for photographs. Source: Twitter
Letterkenny station. Source: Donegal News
Letterkenny station. Source: Boards IE
One of the CDRJC’s Class 5 locomotives at Letterkenny. Source: Boards IE
This is Letterkenny station (Lough Swilly railway.) An interesting view because most of the carriages on this train are from the CDRJC. The excursion went from Strabane to Burtonport. This would have been sometime in the late 1930s as the Burtonport line closed in 1940. Picture is from Edward Patterson’s Lough Swilly Railway.
The County Donegal Railways had a number of observation coaches which were used on certain trains. These were unusual that the cream and red livery went all the way round – normal coaches had full red ends. This and other interesting stuff can be read in an article on the CDRJC in Meccano November 1950. The CDRJC was also featured in several other Meccano magazines. The front cover of the Meccano January 1964 magazine featured its most modern railcars which had been bought by the Isle of Man Railways after the CDR had closed.
The CDRJC railcars in their new role on the Isle of Man Railways.
The County Donegal Railways closes
Newspaper report published just after Xmas 1959 detailing the County Donegal Railways – to close just a few days later… Source: Twitter
Donegal Town station after closure – a fair amount of track is lifted and stored on the platforms. September 1960. Source: Flickr
Erne was prepared ready for preservation – but it instead got scrapped. The location is a short distance from the disused platforms at Letterkenny, about where the present Aldi car park is. May 1963. Source: Flickr
Practically ten years after closure a fair number of rolling stock could still be seen about the former system…
Dereliction at Strabane – ‘Meenglas’ & a couple of carriages seen in December 1968. Source: Flickr
Strabane signal box still quite complete – the smashed windows being an almost mandatory condition of such relics lasting well beyond their final proper use. Source: Flickr
A number of CDRJC locomotives have been rescued – Blanche, Columbkille, Drumboe, Meenglas, Phoenix, plus quite a few railcars, wagons, and carriages. Some were destined for America but never made it. A number of rolling stock lay derelict at Strabane until the mid 1970s when they were finally rescued. Some of the stock made it to Shane’s Castle Railway and was used there between 1971-1995. Below is a list of the CDRJC’s locomotives:
In the 1990s I made a visit to several of the former Irish narrow gauge railway sites and the CDRJC too was included. As the pictures below show, at Ballyshannon I was fortunate to see the inside of the former station.
The former CDRJC station at Ballyshannon. The platform is still evident as are both station buildings. This is 31 years after the last trains had run.
Despite this part being used as a store room/outbuilding for the main house, the ticket window was still there as was the hole where the former station clock once was.
The CDRJC’s station’s ticket office with ticket window and hole for the clock.
The former ticket office building is no longer there. The station house however still exists but is much modified as this scene from Google Streets shows. In this earlier Google Streets view (2012) the former platform can just be seen – whilst the rubble in front is all that remains of the former ticket office.
I also visited the transport museum in Belfast where there was a considerable amount of museum dedicated to the CDRJC. Not the much heralded new museum in Hollywood but the older one at Witham Street. During research I was surprised to find the building still exists and its sign largely intact for all to see! The downside of this place was the rather poorly lit and cramped layout. It was fascinating though and a couple of hours were spent here.
The former transport museum in Witham Street, Belfast. Source: Google Streets
The CDRJC’s Phoenix in the old museum.
One of the CDRJC’s railcars.
The County Donegal Railways today
The old 3 foot gauge route, now a pathway, between Stranorlar and Meenglas. Source: Twitter
The old line at the Barnesmore Gap. Source: Twitter
Aerial view of the Barnesmore Gap looking west with the old railway alignment quite visible. Source: Twitter
Lovely station name board from Strabane. Names include the Lough Swilly Railway’s Burtonport extension. The northernmost and southernmost terminus of this once vast 235 mile long Irish narrow gauge system are absent – Ballyshannon and Carndonagh. Source: Twitter
Drumboe some years ago after partial restoration. Source: Twitter
Meenglas on a rail wagon at the RPSI Whitehead base before partial restoration. Source: Twitter
Meenglas at the Foyle Valley museum in Derry after its cosmetic restoration. November 2019. Source: Flickr
Bus 273 from Derry passing the CDRJC’s former Victoria Road station. Source: Twitter
The CDRJC’s 1908 built Letterkenny station’s still in use – as a bus terminus. Picture from 2017. Source: Google Streets
Walking along the old railway between Derry & Strabane. Source: Twitter
There have been several attempts to restore the old railway. The most successful has to be the Fintown operation. Then there’s the museum at Donegal. This was established as part of the drive by the South Donegal Ralway Society to restore part of the line, and their first focus was to restore the section through the Barnesmore Gap. However that fell though and eventually they acquired the former station buildings and land at Donegal. There’s also the Foyle Valley Railway in Derry. Its been closed to the public for some time however there are plans to reopen it.
The Glenties branch was partially restored as the 3 mile long Fintown Railway – a very picturesque line. Source: Twitter
Nice view along the Fintown Railway. Source: Twitter
News about the 60th anniversary of the CDRJC’s closure and a special badge. Source: Facebook
The very first copy of The Phoenix magazine, 1991.
Why do I have an interest in the Irish narrow gauge? I’m a fan of the narrow gauge for a start and also knew people in Ireland so it was sort of an inevitability interest in the three foot gauge would arise. I still have my back copies of the society’s magazine The Phoenix. Nowadays its published by the Donegal Railway Heritage Centre.