Dingle - Tralee Railway
Its formal and official title was the Tralee and Dingle Light Railway. It had the most hazardous route of any rail line in Ireland, traversing, as it did, the mountains of the Dingle Peninsula. In its day it was probably the most photographed railway line in the world attracting light railway enthusiasts from all parts. Its life span was a bare 62 years, but in that short space it carved for itself an unfading niche in the history of the railways of Ireland.
Work Begins on the railway line
The building of a railway line from Tralee to Dingle was sanctioned by the Privy Council in the year 1884, but it got no further than the council chamber of local government. Four years later with the strong support of Sir Maurice Fitzgerald, Knight of Kerry, sanction was again sought for the line. Again it was granted and because of the presence of a suitable and experienced contractor to undertake the project preliminary work began. Mr. Robert Worthington was the contractor and he had considerable experience in the laying of railway lines in other parts of Ireland.
The standard wide-gauge rails of 5ft. 3ins. were in general use in Ireland at the time, and Mr. Worthington was anxious to use this type for the Dingle line. The company overruled him and for the sake of economy the 3ft. narrow-gauge rails were used.The laying of this particular railway line presented a tremendous challenge because of the natural contours of the Dingle Peninsula. There were 31 miles of steep ascents and rapid descents to be negotiated. The line was to have the steepest gradient of any Irish railway.
Late in 1888 the laying of the line began. Surprisingly, the contractor began at Blennerville edging westwards towards Dingle. The workmen assembled at 6am and continued working until 6pm. There was a break for breakfast at 9am and for dinner at 1pm, and they were paid two shillings, around 10p, with no pay for wet time. It took three years to build the line. The thirty-one miles to Dingle and the six miles of branch line to Castlegregory were completed in March 1891 at a cost of £2700 per mile. This was cheap compared to the cost of laying railways at the time. Dingle Tow had become the most westerly train terminal in Europe. Twenty-seven of the thirty-one miles of the line ran along the public road with no protecting fence. Because of the nature of the route to Dingle there was a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour. This may seem very slow to the modern mind, but it was vastly superior to the horse-drawn carriages which proceeded the coming of the train. The passenger coaches were lighted by oil lamps until 1917 when they were replaced by electric lighting.
Most hazardous route of any rail line in Ireland
There were a few accidents on the line; the most serious one occurring on may 22, 1893, when three persons were killed. On that day there was a pig fair in Dingle and a special train left for Tralee hauling seven wagons of pigs. There was also one passenger coach, in which there were 38 people, mostly pig buyers. Nine others travelled in the guards van and the engine had a crew of three. Descending the steep gradient from Glounagalt (Gleann na Gealt - the Valley of the Mad) to Camp the train went out of control, careered down the hill and crashed over the bridge at Curraduff, Camp. The engine tumbled 40ft down the slope into the Finglas river. The three crew members in the engine were killed. They were Alfred Redshaw, the driver, Richard Dillon, the fireman, and Barney O'Loughlin, a permanent way inspector.The coach with the passengers hung precariously over the edge of the parapet, but miraculously it did not tumble over. Many of the passengers received minor injuries and some suffered from shock. Carcasses of pigs were strewn along the embankment. An interesting point regarding the engine involved. It was salvaged from the wreckage, repaired and actually served on the line until its final closure in 1953.
The Great Southern Railway
The Dingle railway line was not paying it's way and in an effort to keep it alive, it was taken over by the Great Southern Railway Company on January 1, 1925. It survived both for passenger traffic and for freight for a further 14 years. The death knell began to sound clearly for the line when, on April 17 1939, the Castlegregory branch line was closed altogether, and the Dingle line continued but for freight only. There was one goods train daily between Tralee and Dingle. This situation prevailed for most of the WWII years until the general fuel shortage caused a further curtailment - from 1944 to 1947 the train only ran "as required". From 1947 onward, there was one train per month - on the Dingle Cattle fair day, which was the last Saturday of the month
The End of the Line.
The final deathblow to the gallant little line came as a result of an enquiry held in Tralee on May 27, 1953. An order was made by the Transport Tribunal closing the line for good. The last cattle train left Dingle station after the fair of Saturday, 26th June, 1953.There was one final outing for the train. It was a special journey from Tralee to Dingle station organised for the benefit of the Light Railway Transport League and the Irish Railway Record Society. A group of 45 people, which included Dermot Kinlen, grandson of Dingle's last MP Tom O'Donnell, travelled the thirty one miles of the line from Tralee to Dingle, with the late Bill O'Hanlon of Dykegate Street at the controls. The occasion was a nostalgic one and at the same time a gala one. To see the train once again arrive from Tralee and passengers disembarking at Dingle Station revived memories for many Dingle people present, and gave rise to regret at the definite end of an era. There was a welcoming party on the platform, headed by Parish Priest Canon Lyne, and the Rev. Mr. McCann, Church of Ireland Rector. A choir of school children sang a welcoming song, and were taken on a short trip out the Mail Road for their first and last Experience of travel on the celebrated Tralee and Dingle Light Railway.
Dingle histoyian, Fr. Jack McKenna
With thanks to Dingle histoyian, Fr. Jack McKenna. The Dingle -Tralee Railway history is taken from Fr. McKenna's book Dingle
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