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Visit to Northern Ireland plus a bit of the Republic

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Calthrop

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Notes on holiday in Ireland (chiefly the North, with “Republic excursions”) 20 / 4 – 3 / 5 / 2016 – basically touring by car; with time taken to travel over all remaining passenger rail routes in Northern Ireland.

All passenger lines north of Belfast were covered on Sun. May 1st, via the “Sunday Day Tracker” bargain £9 day railrover offer. Everything served by three-car DMUs of the 30** and 40** series. The relatively short Belfast – Bangor and Belfast – Larne routes covered quite quickly – noted that Bangor line double-track throughout; Larne line double as far as, if I’m correct, Downshire; after that, single with a couple of passing loops, to Larne Harbour.

Belfast – Londonderry route double-track from Belfast to a point near station of Mossley West; from then on, single with a number of passing loops. I am bad with Googling and with “numbers” in general: from best could do working things out, reckon the Belfast – Londonderry via Coleraine route, as about 100 miles. Timetable requires a fraction over two hours for this run – roughly 50 mph, not horribly slow but not lightning-fast. Delightful journey, “whatever”; felt particularly, though, that the 20-odd miles between Cullybackey and Ballymoney seemed to take forever to traverse. Coleraine – Londonderry section of this line certainly scenic, but perhaps not so much as to live up to some of its most-“rave” reviews in this department.

I travelled Belfast Central – Dublin Connolly by the 0800 “Enterprise” express on last day of holiday: for reasons of economy, we plus car sailed both ways between Liverpool and Dublin; my companion, less of a line-basher than me, drove Belfast – Dublin, rendezvousing at pre-arranged location.

On our first day in Ireland, we drove Dublin – Belfast by an indirect and rather eccentric route (combination of “whim and circumstances”) – taking us through Navan and Kingscourt. We’d been out of touch re recent-ish rail matters in the Republic: had had the impression that the branch-line route Drogheda – Navan – Kingscourt had been out of use for a number of years, since gypsum from the Knocknacran mine near Kingscourt’s having ceased to be conveyed by rail; though track still in situ throughout. We were surprised and pleased to find track at Navan station still in good repair, and functioning semaphore signals: learned from friendly staff encountered there, that the line is still in freight use between Drogheda and the Tara zinc-ore mine near Navan – usually some three workings each way per day. Time did not allow of waiting for the next train; but, truly a joyous discovery. Track onward to Kingscourt found indeed in situ throughout, but in dreadfully overgrown condition – wondering prompted, why is this so? – restoring to usable condition would seem to be a truly major operation.

With all rail lines not still in traffic in Northern Ireland ("give or take" the “mothballed” Lisburn – Antrim stretch) having been abandoned between about 50, and 85, years ago: situation was found to be as expected – mostly, no trace now to be seen of abandoned lines – for instance, we drove close alongside the greater part of the Bundoran branch (a minority of same, in the Republic), abandoned 1957: found no vestige of the line to be discernible. Remains are occasionally still there to be seen: a particularly spectacular example is the 11-arch Tassagh viaduct (a “listed” structure) of the Armagh – Keady line, also abandoned 1957. And, a fairish length of the course of the Belfast & County Down main line between Dundonald and Comber (abandoned 1950), largely on embankment, to be seen clearly from the closely parallel road. Quite often, a community will still have a “Railway Street” or “Station Road”, but with all former rail installations which same once led to, now obliterated.

With my companion being a bus enthusiast: we drove one day to Wrightbus International’s factory at Galgorm near Ballymena, for a look “over the fence”, at LT (“Borismaster”) type double-decker buses produced there for London Transport.
 
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Techniquest

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Sounds quite a nice little adventure, fair dos. It used to be more interesting when the 450s were still running, and I didn't see you mention Portrush, I assume you did it?
 

Calthrop

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Portrush branch was indeed done (Belfast departure GVS 1410, Central 1420, arriving Portrush 1555). Wanted to cover all routes ! Found the branch in itself, pretty uninteresting -- not a lot to say about it !
 

Techniquest

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Indeed, a most uninspiring branch indeed. There were still semaphores controlling the line when I went, although this was some years ago. I'd not be surprised if they were still there though!
 

Calthrop

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One semaphore signal observed on Portrush branch -- actually on Portrush station platform. Semaphores also noticed in passing, at some point between Coleraine and Lodonderry. I'd forgotten that the old Northern Counties Committee went in -- like England's Great Northern Ry. -- for somersault signals.
 
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