Some Early Lines (Plus locos) Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway

Some Early Lines (Plus locos)

 Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway

Lough Swilly trains familiar in Inishowen

Lough Swilly trains familiar in Inishowen

The Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway Company (The L&LSR, the Swilly) is an Irish public transport and freight company incorporated in June 1853. Despite its name it operates no railway services. It formerly operated 99 miles of railways but closed its last line in July 1953. Its successor company, the Lough Swilly Bus Company, still operates bus services over much of its former railway routes between Derry and northern County Donegal, as well as some services in County Londonderry

toobanjcn Dr.J.W.F.ScrimgeourThe narrow-gauge Londonderry & Lough Swilly had proper signalling (albeit rather basic), as can be seen here in this view of a goods train leaving Tooban Junction. The box is a brick-based example of the Railway Signal Company’s standard architecture.  (Dr. J.W.F.Scrimgeour


Initially planned as the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway Company when an application for incorporation was filed in 1852 after spurning the construction of a canal network to connect the two inlets, the company opened its first line, a 5 feet 3 inches (1,600 mm) gauge link between Derry and Farland Point on 31 December 1863. A branch line between Tooban Junction and Buncrana was added in 1864 and much of the Farland Point line was closed in 1866.

In 1883 the three foot (914 mm) gauge Letterkenny Railway between Cuttymanhill and Letterkenny was opened and the L&LSR connected with it by reopening the Tooban Junction – Cuttymanhill section of its Farland Point line. The L&LSR worked the Letterkenny Railway and in 1885 it converted its track from 5′ 3″ gauge to three foot gauge to enable through running. In 1887 ownership of the Letterkenny Railway passed to the Irish Board of Works, which continued the agreement by which the L&LSR operated the line.

Carndonagh was reached by an extension completed in 1901 and Burtonport by an one completed in 1903. Both lines were constructed as joint ventures with the UK Government, with ownership and liabilities shared between the two parties. During this period the company did not make a profit, and struggled to meet its debts.

Owencarrow ViaductOld piers of Owencarrow Viaduct

This railway viaduct stood on the Burtonport Extension of the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway, a 3ft gauge line which ran almost 50 miles from Letterkenny, encircling the Donegal Mountains. On 31 January 1925 a severe gale sweeping down through the Barnes Gap caused a serious accident when part of a train was blown off the viaduct, causing the death of four passengers. The line was later repaired, but closed finally in 1941. If this line could ever be reinstated it would be a major tourist attraction for this part of Ireland.  © Copyright Dr Neil Clifton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

 Loco Classes

1905  4-8-0 and 4-8-4T

No. 12 at Gweedore in 1937No. 12 at Gweedore in 1937

Both of these classes can be considered together, as one was in effect a tank version of the other.

There were two engines of each class: the 4-8-0s came first, in 1905, Nos. 11 and 12 in the Company’s stock, and the 4-8-4Ts followed in 1912, Nos. 5 and 6. All were built by Hudswell Clarke & Co.

They were noteworthy in several respects. They were the first engines in Ireland to have 8-coupled wheels (and apart from two later 4-8-0 shunting engines on the GS & WR remained the only ones). The 4-8-0s were the only Irish narrow gauge tender engines, and the 4-8-4Ts were the largest and most powerful engines to run on any gauge as narrow as 3’ 0” in these islands:in fact from their massive appearance at close quarters they might well have been taken for standard gauge machines. In one other respect both classes were also unique, in that they were the only examples of a 4-8-0 tender engine or a 4-8-4T ever to run in Great Britain and Ireland. They were built primarily for working over the long 74-mile line from Londonderry to Burtonport, although in later years the 4-8-4Ts were not often seen on this section. No.11 was scrapped in 1933, No.12 remained to the end, but was little used after the closing of the Burtonport extension in the early 1940s. Nos. 5 and 6 were also retained until the complete closure of the remainder of the line in 1953, when they were cut up. The Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway Company still exists (1959) under its own name, but its railway ivities have now ceased entirely and it operates only road services.

4-8-0   Driving wheels – 3’ 9”, Bogie wheels – 2’ 2”, Cylinders (2) 15½”x 22”, Pressure – 170 lb., Tractive effort – 17160 lb., Weight – 37 tons

4-8-4T   Driving wheels – 3’ 9”, Bogie wheels – 2’ 0”, Cylinders (2) 16”x 20”, Pressure – 180 lb., Tractive effort – 17400 lb., Weight – 51 tons


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