Narrow Gauge Lines
The Causeway Tramway – Ireland
This 3ft gauge line is built over part of the trackbed of the former Portrush and Giant’s Causeway Tramway, a pioneering electric line similar in many respects to the still-existing Manx Electric Railway. The P&GCT was at least 100 years ahead of its time, as it planned to generate its electricity by tidal power, so having zero carbon footprint. This line survived until around 1951. It is a pity that the B&GCR was not built as an electric line to reflect this history. The steam locomotive shown here is No 3 ‘Shane’, previously at the Shane’s Castle Railway in Antrim City. © Copyright Dr Neil Clifton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
The Causeway Tramway was re-opened in Spring 2002, The locomotives and rolling stock which operate on the track were once used at Shane’s Castle and include a Peckett 0-4-0 WT ‘Tyrone’ built in 1904 for the British Aluminium Company, Larne, a Barclay 0-4-0WT ‘Shane’ built in 1949 for Bord na Mona (incidentally the same year that the old tramway closed) and a Simplex ‘T’ class diesel locomotive (Rory). An interesting fact – ‘Shane’ was one of three locomotives built by Andrew Barclay of Kilmarnock for use on the peat bog rail by Bord na Mona at Clonast and was specifically designed to burn peat.
Prior to the initiation of the original Giants Causeway Tramway in 1883, there had been several meetings, engineer surveys and costing done to evaluate the feasibility of constructing a railway line along the coast from Portrush to Ballycastle, the idea being to link the commercial coal, bauxite, iron, limestone, liganite and basalt industries along the north coast with the commercial harbour of Portrush. The ambitious proposal was shelved due to a lack of finance and doubts about the returns from such an investment. A narrow gauge railway was eventually built from Ballycastle to Ballymoney via Armoy and Dervock.
The Giants Causeway tramway was brought into being by the vision and enthusiasm of Col. William Traill of Ballyclough who himself was a keen advocator of the railway and kept well informed on technological development in engineering. It was this fact coupled with the Siemens Company showing the first electric railway system at the Berlin Trade Fair in 1879, that lead to that company being commissioned to incorporate their technology into the Giants Causeway Tramway system. Col.Traill built the generating station at the Walkmill Falls (still there but minus the equipment) and installed water turbines to produce the necessary electrical power for the tram line.
Sir Macnaghten of Dundarave was very opposed to the construction of the railway to the point that he diverted water from the river Bush above the Falls in an attempt to lessen the flow. However, the tramway opened in 1883 and was hailed as the world’s first commercially run ‘hydro-electric’ powered tram system. The initial electric cars were Midland Carriage and Wagons which were later followed by GEC and a Peckham car. Although hydro-electric power was used, most of the time two Wilkinson steam locomotives hauled the carriages. It originally ran from Portrush to Bushmills with a later extension added to the Giants Causeway. In 1899 the live rail which ran alongside the track, was replaced by an overhead electric wire, steam haulage ended in 1916. The tramway ran for 65 years before finally closing down in 1949.
This two mile stretch of 3ft gauge railway runs from Bushmills to the Giants Causeway and was opened in 2002. It utilises the old track bed of the Portrush to Giants Causeway electric tramway which closed in 1949. Most of the current track and rolling stock was used on the Shanes Castle Railway which closed in 1995. © Copyright Wilson Adams and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.