Some Early Lines
Narrow Gauge – West Clare Railway, Ireland
The West Clare Railway (WCR) originally operated in County Clare, Ireland between 1887 and 1961, and has partially re-opened. This 3 ft (914 mm) gauge narrow gauge railway ran from the county town of Ennis, via numerous stopping-points along the West Clare coast to two termini, at Kilrush and Kilkee (the routes diverging at Moyasta Junction). The system was the last operating narrow gauge passenger system in Ireland and connected with the mainline rail system at Ennis, where a station still stands today for bus and train services to Limerick and Galway. Intermediate stops included Ennistymon, Lahinch and Miltown Malbay. A preservation society maintains a railway museum, and has successfully re-opened a section of the railway as a passenger-carrying heritage line.
The Famine was over and there was a new growth in local businesses. The British Government determined that an improved railway system was necessary to aid in the recovery of the West of Ireland. The West Clare Railway and the South Clare Railway were built by separate companies, but in practice the West Clare Railway operated the entire line. The lines met at Miltown Malbay. In due course the entire line became known as the West Clare Railway.
West Clare Railway
The 43.4 km (27.0 mi) West Clare Railway between Ennis and Miltown Malbay was built a few years’ earlier than the South Clare Railway. The first sod was cut on 26 January 1885 at Miltown Malbay by Charles Stewart Parnell, M.P., although actual work on the line had begun in November 1884. The line was opened on 2 July 1887.
South Clare Railway
The South Clare Railway built the extension from Miltown Malbay to Kilrush, Cappagh Pier (Kilrush Pier) and Kilrush docks with a branch to Kilkee from Moyasta, with work starting on the extension in October 1890 and opening on 11 May 1892. The extension was worked by the West Clare Railway and was initially dogged by poor service and time keeping, but this later improved.
Amalgamation and nationalisation
In 1925 the company was merged into the Great Southern Railways. In 1945 the GSR was taken over by Córas Iompair Éireann. In the same year, a survey of local businesses was conducted with a view to the possible replacement of the railway by road services. Local campaigners urged that the railway be converted to the standard Irish gauge of 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm), but CIÉ rejected this on cost grounds.
Despite the dieselisation of passenger services in 1952 and freight in 1953 the system was still closed. On 27 September 1960, CIÉ gave notice of its intending closure with effect from 1 February 1961. CIÉ said that the West Clare was losing £23,000 (€1.2M 2006 equivalent) per year, despite the considerable traffic handled. In December it was announced that the line would close completely on 1 January 1961. Eventually the line closed on 31 January 1961 with CIÉ starting work on dismantling the line the day after closure on 1 February 1961.
By the time of its closure the West Clare Railway was the last narrow gauge railway in Ireland offering a passenger service; various lines operated by Bord na Móna continue to operate in connection with the peat industry.
Preservation and re-opening
Starting in the mid 1990s, efforts were made by a preservation society to recreate part of the original route. This group succeeded in acquiring Moyasta station, and 5 km (3.1 mi) of track bed. Passenger services were resumed using two new steel coaches with bench seating, parallel to the direction of travel, built by Alan Keef Engineering and outfitted locally in wood by WCR engineers. A small but powerful diesel locomotive built for Channel Tunnel construction work hauled the trains.
On 5 July 2009 the West Clare Railway’s original steam locomotive No 5 Slieve Callan was returned to the West Clare Railway at Moyasta Junction following restoration in England by Alan Keef Engineering Ltd of Ross-on-Wye. This engine had previously been a static exhibit at the mainline railway station in Ennis. The locomotive was steamed for the first time on 14 July marking the return of steam to the West Clare railway after an absence of over 57 years.
The railway has since acquired a number of redundant diesel locomotives, mostly from the Irish Bord na Móna; these are being gradually restored and returned to service.
Rolling stock today
In addition to the steam locomotive Slieve Callan, the railway owns twelve diesel engines, of which two are currently in service, the others awaiting restoration. Those in service are a 4-wheel Channel Tunnel shunting engine and a four-wheel former Bord na Móna shunter. Awaiting restoration are a further nine such Bord na Móna shunters, plus a six-wheel mine shunting engine dating from around 1948.
N67 – West Clare Railway Moyasta Junction Rail Station – Two Railway Cars. View is to the northwest from N67 railway crossing between Kilrush & Kilkee. © Copyright Sue Mischyshyn and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Two passenger coaches are in service, and assorted maintenance vehicles including a tank wagon, four flat trucks, and four tipper wagons.