Monthly Archives: April 2019

The Stinkwood Railway

The featured image above shows a  ‘Coffee Pot’ at work on the Stinkwood Line. Scratchboard/ Scraperboard Art by Solly Gutman, ‘The Colour of Black and White.’ [20]

I have been reading through old copies of the Railway Magazine from 1951. The 600th Edition of the Magazine was published in April 1951. A fascinating 2ft narrow gauge railway in South Africa is covered by a short article in the magazine and I have been doing a little research into the line.  First a copy of the article which is legible in its scanned form and does not need repeating [1]The line ran into the forest from the town of Knysna on the South Coast in the area known today as ‘The Garden Route’. It was used to bring felled Stinkwood timber to the port at Knysna.The line between George and Knysna was until 2009 the last remaining steam hauled mainline service in South Africa. There are renewed hopes that the service will open again provided major repairs are completed on the route. That line is shown schematically by the line of grey diamonds on the pictorial map above. [2] And can be seen on the Google Earth Satellite image below. This line was built some 20 years after the 2ft-gauge line into the forest.The railway from George approaches Knysna across the river estuary.The construction of the estuary bridge in the late 1920s. [21]The construction of the estuary bridge in the late 1920s. [23]Looking West along the river bank towards the estuary bridge. The image comes from Google Street view.Looking East towards the terminus in Knysna.The station approach.The station buildings.The station site viewed across the turntable from Waterfront Drive.Another view from Waterfront Drive which shows the station buildings and watertank.The line to the East of the railway station. The picture is taken on Gray Street looking East.Further East looking South across the lines from Waterfront Drive.Even further East, this time looking East from Waterfront Drive.Looking back to the West from Long Street.Looking East from the same point on Long Street. Long Street is the extension of the causeway from Thesen Island into Knysna and was the route of the old 2ft gauge line from Thesen Wharf to Knysna Station. 

The Stinkwood Railway, as the line is named in the Railway Magazine article above, was affectionately known locally as the Knysna ‘Coffee Pot’. It was owned and operated by the South Western Railway Co. Ltd and built over a period of three years from 1904 to 1907. [3] It ran from the pier-head in Knysna to Diepwalle in the forest and served for 42 years until its final closure on 30th April 1949. The story of the line as recorded locally is quite different from that in the introduction to the Railway Magazine article which suggests that the line was built around 1920 or thereabouts. One wonders whether R.A. Butler was misled.

The ‘Coffee Pot’ was also the nickname given to the locomotives with their cone-shaped chimneys that ran along the line. The pier-head was actually a government wharf (commonly known as Thesen’s Jetty) on Thesen Island. The line ran through the present-day suburbs of Costa Sarda and Old Place (alongside the Knysna Lagoon) and up to Brackenhill and Deep Walls (Diepwalle) in the Knysna forests. [4] It connected the port of Knysna with sawmills in the Tsitsikamma Forest and had a length of 31 kilometres. [5]

The Cape Colonial Government promulgated an act: the South Western Railway Co. Ltd. Act. (Act No. 16 of 1904), which provided a subsidy of £800 per mile for the construction, and stipulated various conditions. These included the gauge (2 feet or 600 millimetres), and that the quality of the construction materials had to be equal to that of the Government’s own narrow gauge lines. [4].

The company’s directors included local businessmen – these included the saw millers C.W. Thesen (who served as its chairperson for a thirty-five years) and George Parkes. The directors realised that ox-wagons (and Parke’s own steam-driven tractor  – which tended to get stuck in the mud on rainy days) – couldn’t meet the demand for timber and that a railway was required. [4] The Wikipedia article on the line says: “In the late 19th Century, during the Second Boer War the timber transport with the help of mules and oxen reached its capacity limit, as many mules and their drivers had been drafted into military service. The 1898 replacing attempt using a steam tractor failed because the machine sank in the muddy roads. For this reason it was decided to build a railway.” [5]

The railway was built between 1904 and 1907 by Carl Westveldt, a Swede, and on its completion, when Westveldt turned down the offer of the post, Mr H. Noren was appointed General Manager. [3][6] It was owned by local businessmen, Messrs. Thesen, Parkes (both named above), Templeman, Morgan, Noble, and others. [4] The railway cost £49 858 : 30% less than the estimate. That cost included compensation for land. All the materials were imported. “The financial position of the Company appeared to be secure enough : in 1913 the [Union] Government [1910] bought over £20 000 worth of the 5% debenture shares, in order to obtain controlling interest in the line. This 73% interest was the source of a certain amount of discontent at later dates, for the affairs of the Railways slowly slid onto the downgrade.”[16][17: p155]

Three Orenstein & Köppel side-tank locomotives (0-4-0T, 0-6-0T and 0-8-0T) providing the motive power. A fourth, British-built model was added in 1930. [4]

The 2ft. narrow gauge railway line transported timber (mostly Stinkwood [7] and Yellowwood [10]) from Diepwalle to Knysna for milling and shipment. It ran three times a week 22 miles (31 kilometres) into the forest, to Diepwalle and back. Spark arrestors were fitted on the engine to prevent forest fires and gave the engines their “coffee pot” look. They were fat, bulbous fittings over their funnels, hence the name. There were 33 trucks designed to carry up to 70 tons of logs.

In Knysna, the line linked Parkes’ Mill to Thesen’s the jetty. There were three stops in the forest, Bracken Hill, Parkes Station and Diepwalle (Deep Wall). The Knysna station was a little corrugated iron building with a pitched roof and lean-to’s on either side lined with wood on the inside. [4]

“The railway also afforded a wonderful means of entertaining visitors and for those who grew up in Knysna, the “Coffee Pot” was part of the holiday fun. Passengers were treated to very leisurely journeys – the train rarely exceeded 6 miles an hour, and beauty spots would be pointed out to the passengers along the way.” [4] If the weather was good, the passengers would sit on benches and chairs set up on an open carriage. The route ran from Knysna to Thesen’s Shop and Sawmill at Brackenhil; then to Parkes Station at Veldman’s Pad (where Mrs. Perks, the ‘Forest Fairy,’ ran a little trading store), and finally to J.H. Templeman’s sawmill at Templeman Station, Diepwalle. The Coffee Pot transported about 28,000 tons of timber a year, and its rolling stock covered about 349,400 miles in total – all without a single serious accident. [26]

The following comments in italics together with the pictures included within the text are taken from notes researched and compiled by Mrs Margaret Parkes & Mrs. V.R. Williams on “South Western Railway Co. Ltd.” on the website [6] The smaller photographs alongside the text in italics are courtesy of Millwood House Museum, Knysna, SANParks, Department of Forestry.

By 1911, the running costs of the railway were a constant worry to the Directors of the Company. There was a general depression in the timber industry, and the distance and costs of transport inhibited local prosperity. But there was a sudden wave of optimism with the discovery of deposits of lignite. The Knysna Lignite Syndicate was formed and hoped to be able to supply locally mined “brown coal” to fire the boilers of the ‘Coffee Pot’ engines. Hopes were high, but sadly, the quantity or quality was inadequate, and by mid-1911 the whole venture fell away.

In May 1916, Knysna was flooded after torrential rains. The flood not only washed away the brand-new concrete bridge over the Knysna river but also some of the railway bridges in the forest. In some places, tons of earth were washed away. Filling and repairs were started immediately and a mere month later, when the first train was again able to run to Diepwalle, approximately 16,368 tons of material had been excavated and deposited to replace what had been washed away.

The railway had to be put out of action during repairs which meant a further loss of revenue. It was a bad year for the Company with World War I and the loss of trade due to the reduction in the number of visiting ships at the port. Meanwhile maintenance and general repairs had to continue to keep the railway line in good order.

At last, in 1919, the Company made a profit! But unfortunately, in that same year the Government moved the sleeper factory from Knysna to Mossel Bay. This was a real blow as the railway would be used even less, with many a repercussion to the fragile economy of the town.

Throughout the 1920s’ and 30s’ maintenance costs and taxation took their toll and soon another engine had to be bought. The S.A.R. provided a 2nd-hand engine no longer required on the Umzinto line. The engine was in good condition and gave many years of service.

But in 1927 perhaps the most serious blow which fell was when the S.A.R. finally connected Knysna with George by the standard 3 ft.6 ins. gauge line and any hopes that they would eventually take over the forest railway were dashed as all narrow gauge lines were considered to be obsolete. Revenues from the wharf had also decreased dramatically as it became so much cheaper to bring goods to Knysna by train than by sea and shipping activities at the wharf died down with fewer ships coming into port.

Financial concerns over the company had still not abated.In 1944 a Committee from the S.A.R. & H. came to Knysna to examine and report on the state of the “Coffee Pot” railway with a view to closing it down. Corrosion was very bad on the line and “broken rails” were likely to become a major problem, and it had already been stated the line would carry no more passengers. Although the S.A.R. & H. recommended closing down the railway due to the deterioration of the line, they were forced to keep it going at least temporarily, because of the shortage of motor transport caused by World War II. It was then decided to have the line re-conditioned with old rails from South West Africa.

In 1946 the re-laying of the track was completed with the second-hand rails and pronounced good for another 20 years. It was a difficult task and took over a year to complete. A modest tribute remains however, in the foot or two of rail set in the pavement on the right hand side of Long Street diagonally opposite Thesen House. But safer rails were not the answer to the problems of the railway. After the end of the war it was used less and less, as it became uneconomical to rail timber and the forestries, merchants and ship owners used private lorries instead. This meant another drop in the Company’s earnings.

The historic decision was taken on 7 November 1947 to liquidate the South Western Railway Company and close down the railway by S.A.R. & H., and was sold to a sugar mill in Natal. The official closing date was fixed for 30 April 1949, and it was Tom Botha who drove the last train on the line. It was a sad day for the people of Knysna to have to bid farewell forever to their unique and beloved little “Coffee Pot” railway and Knysna certainly lost one of its quaint old characters. [6]The fate of the locomotives from the Knysna ‘Coffee Pot’ Line. [22]

The Route of the Line

The Knysna terminus of the line was located on Thesen Island. Thesen Wharf was, at the time of the construction of the railway in the early 1900s, a timber structure which was already showing its age. In 1910, the wharf came under the jurisdiction of the Department of Railways and Harbours. From 1911, the South Western Railway, under agreement with the new administration, took on responsibility for handling all the landing and shipping of the cargo on the wharf. [14]

In 1911, the construction of a concrete wharf (popularly known as Thesen Jetty) was authorised
to replace the worm-eaten wooden one. According to Parkes [15, p132] only three
reinforced concrete wharfs were built in South Africa, the first being at Robben Island, the
“White Jetty” at Mossel Bay and the Knysna wharf. She maintains that the Knysna wharf is
the only one of this type remaining on the continent (Parkes [15], p132).

Thesen Island only started being industrialised in the 1920’s with the re-erection of the sawmill of Thesen & Co which was originally situated at Brackenhill. Among the Thesen papers at the Cape Archives is a letter referring to the power station which generated 13300 KW of power per day for the use of the Industry as well as an additional 23 000 KW per day which supplied the municipality of Knysna. According to M. Parkes [15, p132] at first this was not located on the island but situated in premises next to the Thesen and Company Offices in Knysna. [14]

By 1933, the industrialisation of the island was well underway. The “sawtooth” building housing
the hard wood mill was complete along with a small power station, stores, some residential
structures, workshops and a small pole yard. The wharf is just on the right-hand edge of the picture and the 2ft narrow gauge railway enters centre-left and curves down to the wharf. [14]The much later picture above was taken in 1947 and shows the ongoing industrialisation of Thesen Island. The concrete wharf features strongly in the bottom right of the photograph. The railway feeding the wharf is evident once again entering the image centre-left. [14]

This final monochrome image (adjacent) shows the island later still in its development. The year is 1977 and although the railway is now long-gone its route is still evident and used as an access road. [14]

As we have seen above, the 2ft- gauge line commenced at the wharf and served Thesen’s plant on Thesen Island before crossing the causeway to the mainland.

The adjacent Google Earth satellite image shows the remaining tracks in the wharf road surface. These have been retained into the 21st century as evidence of the existence of the old railway. The Boat-shed visible in the monchrome photo above shows up clearly on this satellite image, right of centre at the top of the picture.

The next image shows those same lines in 2005. They are the last remnant of the 2ft gauge line in the town of Knysna. [6]

In the early 1980s Barlows, one of South Africa’s industrial conglomerates, purchased Thesen Island and its timber treatment plant from Thesen and Company. Barlows soon realized that the timber processing activities could not be continued on this island located in the midst of such a scenic and eco-sensitive lagoon. At the same time there was growing community concern about the environmental and industrial pollution caused by the factory’s activities. As a result the plant’s doors were finally closed. In the ensuing years the abandoned derelict buildings, machinery and waste dumps increasingly turned into an eyesore and a health hazard.

In 1991 Dr. Chris Mulder, a South African environmental engineer who received his doctorate in environmental design in Houston, USA, proposed a complete redevelopment of the island into a unique residential marina. As the Knysna River estuary is one of the most sensitive ecosystems in the country and a major tourism attraction, the development of Thesen Islands called for extremely careful and sensitive planning covering ecological, architectural, engineering, aesthetic, social and cultural criteria. After eight years of research and planning by Dr. Mulder and his team, approval was finally granted in December 1998 – but with over one hundred strict and complex conditions. In all, ten years passed from initial concept to final approval, involving twenty-five alterations to the master plan! [19] The site of the works, and indeed all of the Island, is now part of a luxury villa complex based around a series of canals.The wharf on Thesen Island. [18]

The causeway north from Thesen Island to the mainland appears in the adjacent Google Maps excerpt. At the half-point along its length there is, today a raised section (shown below) which allows access by boats and which also allows for tidal flows. There was a bridge at this location in the past, but at the time of the railway the causeway level was maintained across the structure.The old trains used to trundle along what is now Long Street north of the causeway and crossed Waterfront Drive before drifting away to follow the line of Mortimer Street and St. George’s Street to reach the location of the old Knysna Station. It appears that the station was located close to the timber merchants visible in the picture taken from Mortimer Street looking towards St. George’s Street below.The image above is a Google Streetview picture taken from Mortimer Street looking North.

The adjacent schematic map highlights the location of the station building. It suggests that it was on the West side of St. George’s Street just to the north of the timber merchants. [2]

The next few pictures show the Knysna Railway Station which was a corrugated iron structure on relatively open ground on what was then the north side of the town of Knysna.

Pictures of Knysna Railway Station on the 2ft gauge line. These were found on the website of the Knysna Museum. [23]

The adjacent sketch map suggests that, from Knysna Station, the line turned East to head towards Park Station. [6] The validity of the location on this map is suspect. The only plan of the route that I have been able to find in published material is that below which is superimposed on a Google Earth satellite image. It places Brackenhill on the N2 road far to the south of the location on the sketch map. The light blue line was known locally as ‘The Siding’. The image above can be found in the archives of as RHG_Bulletin No.129 Part 2. [16] “There was indeed a branch line in the forests which was part of the SWR’s original track construction. This branch line of approximately two kilometres ran in an extended loop via a cutting (±5m at its deepest) and a wooden bridge from Brackenhill station to the Thesen saw-mill – at the western end of the Brackenhill village – and  Thesen’s large general dealer’s store which was part of the village.” [16]

The RHG Bulletin indicates that most of the route of the Knysna Forest Railway is now on private land. I have used the image above as a reference point to follow the route of the old railway both to the West towards Knysna and to the North towards Diepwalle. The first satellite image below shows the length of the route which as of 4th April 2019 I have not been able to identify.Knysna Forest Railway Station is approximately at the location shown by the green arrow on the left of this image. Thesen Island and its causeway are visible to the south of that location. The red arrow shows the most westerly point of the Knysna Forest Railway that I have been able to identify from satellite images. The images below show the route from that point East at a larger scale.A train takes its ease at the end of the branch-line next to the sawmill. [16]Thesen’s sawmill at Brackenhills. [27]

The adjacent satellite image takes the extrapolation as far Northeast as it will go without being in any way forced.

From the place known as ‘The Siding’, “the main line continued to
Veldmanspad (see the next satellite image below) ….. At the siding there was a single switch point which could divert the train along a branch line which, because of the topography, ran in a wide loop to Brackenhill where Thesen & Co. owned ……… a General Dealer’s store which by contemporary standards was a fairly large
country store.” [16]

The line from Brakenhills to Veldmanspad is not easily visible on Google Earth and it runs far from any highway. The possible route of the line is shown dotted on the Google Earth Satellite images below.The alignment above seems likely from what can be picked out from Google Earth. North of the top edge of this satellite image it is very difficult to identify any particular route for the line until close to Veldmanspad Farm. The route shown below is however speculative. At Veldmanspad, Route 1 follows the line of the modern road. Route 2 seems less likely, but the location at which it leave the R339 is shown in the photograph below.The point where the possible alignment of the old railway leaves the line of the modern gravel road, the R339. The satellite images below assume that the route of the old railway line followed the modern gravel road.At the top of the satellite immediately above the line reached Templeman Station. The location is set aside for a short hike by the forestry authorities. The station served Templeman’s Mill. Both the adjacent picture and the one below show parts of the information boards at the site of the Station

I have been unable to establish beyond doubt the route of the line travelling on to Diepwalle. It seems to me that the most likely route is one which follows the road through the forest.

I hope to continue research on this line to confirm the route taken between Brackenhill and Diepwalle. Please, therefore treat the notes about the remaining length of the route with a degree of caution. …..

Given the layout of the land, it seems highly likely that the old railway followed the shoulder of the modern gravel road as shown on the adjacent satellite image. Towards the top of the image there a road junction. Turning left leads the explorer to the site of a large and old indigenous tree, the “Big Tree.” Heading straight-on keeps to the main gravel road. Bearing right takes on along what appears to be the old track-bed of the railway into Diepwalle.

The Google Streetview picture below shows the junction.The route from here travelled approximately northwards and the curved a little towards the East as it entered Diepwalle.

The satellite image below shows the whole Diepwalle site. The railway terminated here. Sadly, I have so far been unable to determine the layout of the railway at Diepwalle.

The two images above are display boards at Diepwalle. [28]Elephant Walks are provided from Diepwalle today. [29]

The weekday schedule  was for the train to depart Knysna at 8.30am and to visit Brackenhill where it would arrive at about 11.00am and leave ten minutes later, arriving at Diepwalle at about 1.00 pm. The locomotive would then return via Brackenhill, to Knysna by about 5.00 pm. [16][24][25]




The South Western Railways ex Natal Government 2 foot Railway narrow gauge 4-6-2T – SAR class NG.3 No.4 – is seen here with a load of timber from the Knysna Forest. The image comes from the South Western Railway Co. Ltd. web-page and it is used there with permission from the Transnet Heritage Foundation. Neg. No. 049638. [6]


  1. R.A. Butler; The Stinkwood railway; The Railway Magazine No. 600, April 1951, p249-250, p271.
  2., accessed on 23rd March 2019.
  3., accessed on 23rd March 2019.
  4., accessed on 23rd March 2019.
  5., accessed on 23rd March 2019.
  6.;id=64;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eherman%2Erula%2Eco%2Eza%2F, accessed on 23rd March 2019.
  7. Stinkwood: Stinkwood (Ocotea bullata – in South Africa Stinkhout) is the common name for a number of trees or shrubs which have wood with an unpleasant odour. [8] Stinkwood occurs from the Cape Peninsula to the Eastern Transvaal, but is absent in the Eastern Cape. It is a Protected Species, and is listed as Endangered in the South African Red List. Stinkwood is considered one of the most highly prized timbers in the world. The Tree is a medium to large evergreen tree, and can grow up to 30m in height. The bark is grey and mottled with white and orange circular patches, becoming rough and scaly. It has horizontal ridges and corky spots when young, but becomes flaky and dark grey-brown with age. The tree usually has a single stem, but sometimes shoots develop from the base of the stem or from an old stem, and these may grow into trees. The bark is greatly sought after for use in traditional medicine. The simple, alternate, leathery leaves are large and a glossy dark green with wavy, entire margins, with paler green below. They have conspicuous “bubbles” (bullae) in the axils of the lower lateral veins. This makes it very easy to identify the tree. Young leaves and leaf stalks can be quite red. Flowers are male, female or hermaphrodite. The small, yellowish-green or creamy flowers are in loose clusters in the axils of the leaf stalks near the tips of the branches. December – February. The fruit resembles an acorn. It is yellowish green to purple when ripe, with a large soft seed – about 20mm long. March – June.  [9]
  8., accessed on 24th March 2019.
  9., accessed 24th March 2019.
  10. Yellowwood: Yellowwood is distributed across East and South Africa (Podocarpus latifolius, family Podocapaceae [11][13]), it is an easily worked wood which makes little demands on tooling. Trees are slow -growing and can easily reach 600 years of age. [12] Timber has a fine texture and straight grain. Colour is yellow and turns a rich ochre when finished. [13]
  11., accessed on 24th March 2019.
  12., accessed on 24th March 2019.
  13., accessed on 24th March 2019.
  14., accessed on 24th March 2019.
  15. Margaret Parkes & V.M. Williams; Knysna, the forgotten port: The maritime story; EMU Publishers,1988, 2004.
  16., accessed on 24th March 2019.
  17. Sidney Moir; 24 Inches Apart; Janus Publishing. Second Edition Revised. 1981, (originally published in 1961).
  18., accessed on 24th March 2019.
  19., acccessed on 24th March 2019.
  20., accessed on 25th March 2019.
  21., accessed on 25th March 2019.
  22., accessed on 25th March 2019.
  23., accessed on 25th March 2019.
  24., accessed on 3rd April 2019.
  25., accessed on 3rd April 2019.
  26., accessed on 3rd April 2019.
  27., accessed on 4th April 2019.
  28., accessed on 15th April 2019.
  29., accessed on 15th April 2019.


The West Clare Railway – Part 2 – Corofin to Lahinch

The Line of the West Clare Railway from Corofin to Lahinch

We recommence our journey at Corofin Station with the three photos which concluded the last post about the line.


Corofin Station in June 1961, just after closure earlier inn the year, (c) IRRS. [3]Google Streetview image of Corofin Station buildings in 2009.Corofin Station in 2017. [2]Looking back from the R460 through Corofin Station towards Ennis in April 2009.This image is taken  in 1956 from a little further away form the station. Several passengers and some goods in sacks await the next train. The loop can be seen beyond the platform and careful inspection of the image shows that there is at least one wagon in the short siding beyond the station buildings. [6]Corofin Station. [25]A view showing a well loaded down goods, hauled by locomotive No 6C, waiting in the loop at Corofin in 1950. Notice that because of the length of the train, being too long for the loop proper, it has had to draw forward into the head shunt. After the other train has passed, it will have to propel back, so as to gain access to the main line. The second vehicle in the train, is horse box No 28C. As none of the South Clare stations had two platform faces, all the loops on this railway were away from the platform, so that passing passenger trains could both use the single platform, (c) Kelland Collection. [20]The Up morning service to Ennis unloading mail at Corofin on 20 August 1959. The train, consisting of one of the railcars, a railcar trailer and luggage van, waits to cross the 9:40 am down goods from Ennis. The loop at Corofin, dating from after the opening of the line, was at the Ennis end of the platform, (c) John Langford. [20]

Corofin Station was the first block post on the line and was 8.75 miles from from Ennis. It was provided with a platform and goods store, with a short siding and passing loop all on the up side. A water tank (145 gals.) was also situated here, and on the Willbrook side adjacent to the platform the railway crossed a public road and level crossing gates were provided. That road is now the R460 noted below. The line from Ennis was fairly level. After Corofin it rose continuously as the country became more hilly and there was a stiff ascent of 1 in 61 from the platform end, although it eased shortly to 1 in 169. [7]Looking ahead from the R460, West-Northwest along the West Clare towards Kilkee in April 2009.Loco. No. 6C approaches Corofin from the West with the afternoon Up goods bound for Ennis in May 1950, (c) P.B. Whitehouse. [6]The line travelled over open country.Looking back East along the line from the next road-crossing.Looking ahead towards the coast. In 2009, the crossing-keeper’s cottage was being renovated.

We are in the townland of Roxton now. Roxton level crossing was beyond the 9.75 mile point. A short platfrom existed on the up side  but it was not used after the earlier years. Roxton bridge (No.19) was under the approach embankment to the crossing.  The crossing cottage can be seen above, inhabited and, until recently, relatively unchanged from railway days, but a shed was built on the line of the old railway by the side of the cottage. Edmund Lenihan says: “Roxton crossing was once a place of more than passing interest, especially to train crews in steam days, because it marked the beginning of a 2-mile section of almost continuously rising ground. The gradient here is 1/61 and is even worse further on towards Willbrook, so it was a severe test for down trains fully laden. At least 100 pounds of steam was needed to get up here, and that this was not always forthcoming is well attested to by many stories of unscheduled stops.” [4]The old line curved round to the Southwest following the valley of the River Fergus.

This view looks West along the line in 1953 and shows the approach to the Crossing at Willbrook, (c) IRRS. [4]

Views from the at-grade crossing of the minor road in Willbrook at the bottom left of this satellite image are shown below.Willbrook Crossing, looking back towards Corofin.Willbrook Crossing, looking West towards the coast.

Near Willbrook House the Cragganbuoy River (marked as the Fergus River on Google Maps) was crossed twice (bridges No. 22 and 24). From Newton level crossing at the 10.75 mile point to Willbrook halt one mile further on, gradients at 1 in 50 to 1 in 71 had to be surmounted. An up platform was provided at Willbrook halt which opened for traffic in 1888, but was closed in 1898 It reopened in 1904 only to be closed again in 1921. It was finally reopened once again by the G.S.R. in 1929. Willbrook halt was built on a 1 in 59 gradient and it was a formidable start for heavy down trains in steam days, but the lighter diesel units had no difficulty. [7]

On the ascent from Willbrook the Craggounbuoy River was again crossed twice at Upper Willbrook (No.27) and Tullyloughan (No. 28) bridges and the sound of the waterfall here was welcome as it was just before the gradient eased at mile point 12.75. The “Square Bridge” (No. 29) carried a laneway over the line (the first over-bridge since Ennis) before Clouna Halt at mile point 14 was reached. Beyond Willbrook, the railway closely followed the line of the now much reduced River Fergus. At least that is Google Earth’s name for it. Edmund Lenihan refers to it as the Cragganbuoy River. [5]The forested area above was only small trees at the time Edmund Lenihan walked the line in the 1980s. [5]Clouna Halt, one of two stops before Ennistymon was roughly at the centre of this satellite image. [5]

Clouna Halt was a railcar stop. It opened for traffic on 4th May 1954 and was a quarter of a mile before the summit level of 250 feet above sea-level was reached at mile point 14.5. The gradient facing a down train at this point, 1 in 58 was as severe as those facing an up train on the opposite side of the hill, 1 in 62/64/58, and, in the %miler years in particular, the 0-6-0T locomotives often stalled on this section when hauling heavy trains. [7]The two pictures below show the line from location ‘1’ in the satellite image above. The first looks back towards Corofin, the second forward towards Ennistymon. North of this point is Russa Cross which leads me to suspect that the Russa Bridge referred to by Edmund Lenihan must be close to this location.It is difficult to believe that Russa Bridge was at this location (‘1’) as the road and the surrounding land suggest that there was an un-gated crossing at this location. There is certainly no sign of a bridge. However, on the OS Map from the 1940s a cutting can be seen either side of this road – see the image below. The location is to the South of Russa Lough at the right-hand side of the map.Lenihan says that the line passed through some boggy moorland with a gradual fall and under Russa Bridge (No. 31) before reaching Monreal Halt opened 14th December 1952 at the level crossing of the same name (15.75 m.p.).  The most likely location for Monreal Halt is marked by the number ‘4’ below. At this point there is a track crossing the line at an oblique angle. Sadly I cannot get a photograph at this location as the track is not covered by Google Streetview.There is an excellent description of this length of the line  from Russa Bridge through Monreal Halt and Crossing in Edmund Lenihan’s book. [8] 

Lenihan talks of the fast flowing stream in the cutting at Russa Bridge of depths of over 12 inches in the winter months which could be seen easily from the bridge deck. Russa Bridge was once a a hump-backed stone arch bridge which he says that even a Morris Minor could not negotiate ‘without getting caught amidships.’ [9] The bridge had been replaced by the 1980s with what Lenihan describes as ‘not pretty, but at least it is functional’ [9]. It seems that it has now been completely removed and the cutting infilled.

Along the length of the line in the above satellite image Monreal Halt was encountered as noted above (‘4’). In the 1980s, Lenihan and his son were welcomed by the resident in the crossing cottage and treated to tea, bread and jam. She confirmed that the kitchen in which they were sitting was in the Crossing-keeper’s cottage. The location of the crossing was, she said, defined by the fact that it was at the meeting point of the townlands of Monreal and Cullenagh. [10]On the descent to Ennistymon the Corofin-Ennistymon road was crossed at Cullenagh Bridge (No. 33), which is location ‘2’ above. It is intriguing in the early 21st Century. The bridge over the road which used to carry the railway has been retained but the embankment to the West of the bridge has been removed to allow the construction of a large modern house and landscaped gardens. The two pictures below show this location and are taken from Google Streetview.The view from the Southwest.The view from the North East. The modern house can just be seen on the right of this picture. The bridge parapets and steel beams supporting the old railway decking remain in place as doe the track-bed itself over the bridge. The line continues towards Ennistymon increasingly hemmed-in between roads. The picture below is taken from the single track lane at location ‘3’ and shows the route of the line close to the road.Two level crossings Knockdromagh No.1 and No.2 were only 100 yards apart close to the 17.5 mile post. Their location has been lost under the junction between the N85 and the Corofin to Ennistymon road.The old railway route crossed what is now the N85 road at a very shallow angle and followed the north bank of the meandering River Cullenagh into Ennistymon.A closer view showing the old road alignments and the two rail crossings.The line approaching the N85.

Lenihan comments that by the 1980s a house had been built across the line of the railway close to the N85 and the location of Knockdrummagh No. 1 level-crossing. However, he does provide a picture of the line at the crossing. [10] The picture was taken by Mrs Collins of Knockdrummagh back in the 1950s. Lenihan comments that, in the 1980s, the crossing keeper’s cottage shown in the image above was still in existence, little altered from when it was used for its original purpose. As far as I can establish, the house still exists and in a much improved condition in the 2010s. The Google Streetview image below shows it in 2018.The old railway ran to the rear of the cottage in this image.The line continues towards Ennistymon. Just to the North of the line and South of the N85 are the remains of Glan Castle, just visible in the centre of the satellite image above.Glan Castle in 2018.An old postcard of Glan Castle which was to the North of the railway line East of Ennistymon. [19]

After passing Glan Castle, the line curved round into Ennistymon staton. The location of the B&B below marks the old station building which has been much extended.Ennistymon, just over 18 miles from Ennis a was one of the largest stations on the system and the second blockpost. It was noted for its livestock fairs and butter markets. The station building was on the up platform and the station had extensive accommodation including a large yard, loading bank, goods store and car park. It was the first two platform station on the journey from Ennis. Water was supplied to cranes on each platform from a 2860 gallon tank on the up platform. This was filled by a hydraulic ram from a reservoir on Bleakeys Hill, but at times it had to be augmented by hand pumping from the river Cullenagh. There was a pump-house beside the river behind the down platform at the west end of the Station site.

Entering from Ennis, on passing the down home signal the line veered to the left for the down platform and to the right for the goods siding, with the main line continuing on to the Lahinch side of the up platform. Three further sidings on the up side were provided, one for the front of the loading bank, the second for the rear, and the third connecting with the main siding and running parallel to the main line terminating close to the down home signal on the opposite side.

On the left hand side of the down line, the up starting signal and signal cabin were situated, and past the station on the Lahinch side were the water column and down starting signal. On the up road, again at the Lahinch end was the water tank, with another water column at the Corofin end of the platform. The up home signal was placed on the up side on the Lahinch end of the river bridge. A verandah protected the up platform which was separated from the goods store by a short wall. [24]Ennistymon Station. [25] Diesel locomotive No F502, on an Ennis working at Ennistymon on 22 September 1960. Latterly, when the availability of the railcars declined, one passenger working each way was invariably formed of a locomotive and coaches, the coach here is ex Cavan & Leitrim No 1L, after rebuilding at Balinamore works, and transferred to the West Clare section in June 1959. An ex-Tralee brake van brings up the rear, and the driver, looking round his engine, is Jim Murphy., (c) Roger Joanes. [22] Two images above from 1960 taken at Ennistymon Station by Roger Joanes. [12]

The adjacent image shows Loco. No. 3C at Ennistymon. [13]At Ennistymon on 28 July 1952, locomotive No 9C is on the 9:58 am goods from Kilrush, taking water. Driver Tom Reidy is on the engine, (c) C.L. Fry. [21]Loco. No. 1C, on an Ennis working taking water at Ennistymon in 1933. The train consists of an ex West Clare third, a composite, and full brake – the latter is either No 37C or 38C – note clerestory roof (c) Patrick Taylor. [21] Railcar No. 3388, forming the 1:50pm Ennis to Kilrush, calling at Ennistymon on 17 July 1957. The up goods, which it passed here, can be seen leaving in the distance, (c) Colin Bobcock. [21]Ennistymon Station in 1953 with Glan Castle and Blackwell’s road bridge in the background. [18]The station building in the 21st Century. It has been much extended to provide a large B&B. [17]

Ennistymon has a certain notoriety as far as the history and popularity of the West Clare Railway is concerned as it is believed that the particular saga of the acrimonious relationship between Percy French and the West Clare started because river water was being used to fill the water tank at Ennistymon. The story is provided as an Appendix to this post – Appendix 1 below.

Immediately to the West of Ennistymon Station the West Clare crossed the Inagh (Cullenagh) River and the Mill Road in the townland of Ardnacullia North by a three span bridge (No. 37). Immediately beyond, the Bogbere Road crossed over the line on bridge 39. This is the “Town Bridge” and the West Clare continued through a cutting and around the flank of a hill before traversing some open country.Ennistynon Railway Bridge. [15]The North Clare Road Bridge Survey picks up a few railway bridges. This is a copy of the record relating to the railway bridge over the River Inagh at Ennistymon. [16]

The railway travelled West on the South side of the Cullenagh River and passed over Ardnaculla on a steel girder bridge. The image below in the North Clare Road Bridge Survey is taken from the South on Ardnaculla. [16]The same bridge taken from the North in 2009.At the access road to Deerpark the alignment of the railway comes very close to the N67, Ennistymon to Lachinsh road.

Just over 19 miles from Ennis the line crossed a minor road at Madigans Bridge, or Graham’s Bridge and a quarter mile further Workhouse Halt was reached. In the year 1887, a small platform was built close to the Workhouse on the down side to facilitate the guardians of Ennistymon hospital, and certain trains called here at that period. It was closed in 1925 but was reopened for diesel working on the 29th June 1953.

The Ennistymon Union Workhouse is now the Ennistymon Community Hospital. It can be seen on the satellite image above. It was rail-served in that there was a halt on the West Clare Railway next to the site. The adjacent plan shows the site in 1915 and includes the railway and level-crossing. [23]

Ennistymon Poor Law Union was formed in August 1839 and covered around 238 square miles of territory. It was overseen by an elected board of 21 guardians representing the 13 electoral divisions it served. The Workhouse was erected on a 6-acre site to the West of Ennistymon and was ready for use in July 1842. The site is shown in the image above. [23]

Edmund Lenihan write of the Workhouse: “To look at it today, a sleepy district infirmary, one could never imagine the suffering and death that were part of daily life in the years of the Famine. Originally intended to house 600 people, it quickly became grossly overcrowded, as did every other workhouse in thise years. For example, in late 1848 there were 1,150 inmates, between sick and able-bodied. Neglect and disease soon reaped their grim harvest in such conditions. Little wonder! In 1847 a mere 1/11d per week was the accepted cost of maintenance per inmate, and early in 1848 a report by the vice-guardians of the union found dirt, filth, squalor and vermin to be the norm. [27] The death toll spiralled. In 1848 it was 424, in 1849 977, in 1850 1,048 and by 1851 it had reached 1,589. [28] In spite of this, people still clamoured to get in, which is a fair indication of what conditions were like on the outside. Many of the dead were buried in the workhouse cemetery, but who knows where others found their last resting place? Local tradition has it that Calluragh, north of Ennistymon holds its share of them and that they were buried wrapped in straw. The yellow meal distributed by the Poor Law Commissioners at the old courthouse in Parliament Street may have reduced the mortality somewhat, but it was only a morsel to the starving thousands, whose primary need was an adequate land-tenure system, not hand-outs in time of crisis.” [26]

The alignment of the West Clare travelling West from Ennistymon is imposed on a modern image taken from the Hospital access road. There was a level-crossing just to the left of this image.Looking forward from the location of the level-crossing towards the coast. The bungalow looks modern but is either a replacement for or an extended version of the station building at Workhouse Halt.The railway ran through what is now the driveway of a modern bungalow. The high walls of the workhouse/hospital can be seen in the back ground of this view of Workhouse Halt in 1953, (c) IRRS. [26]

As we have already noted the crossing cottage or a successor is still a domestic dwelling. There is, however no sign of the little platform on the up side that was used in the early years when occasional trains stopped to facilitate the workhouse guardians. This sen ice was discontinued in 1925, and only reinstated in mid-1953, with the coming of the railcars. While it was in operation, it is doubtui whether the inmates were much facilitated by it. …. Workhouse Halt, 19.5 miles from Ennis, was the last crossing under the jurisdiction of Ennistymon block-station. [26]

The onward journey to Lahinch is shown on the OS Map from the 1940s below. The Workhouse is close to the centre of the map.It is only a short distance to the modern outskirts of Lahinch from the Hospital. Lahinch Station site is just off this satellite image at the bottom left corner. After passing two further level crossings Lahinsey No.1 and No. 2 between mile post 20 and 20.5, the Station for the seaside resort of Lahinch was reached.Looking back East towards Ennistymon.Looking ahead towards Lahinch Station.Between Lahinch and Ennistymon. facing towards Ennistymon. The switch-blade of the point at the East end of Lahinch Station just features at the bottom of this picture. [14]This satellite image is to a smaller scale which allows the whole of the Lahinch area to be included. The area in the curved red box in the station area and is represented below in a sketch plan.Lahinch Station. [25]Lahinch Station around the turn of the 20th Century. [26]Lahinch Station in 1961. [26]

There is good coastal scenery on either side of Lahinch, and inland are some pretty glens among low hills, with the Glen of the Cullinagh river particularly attractive. Lahinch possesses a beautiful golf course, ideally situated behind the beach on the northern side. The Cliffs of Moher – one of the out standing features of the country, rising sheer above the sea to nearly 700 feet and extending for about five miles along the coast, form one of the grandest stretches of Cliffs in these islands and afford magnificent views along the Atlantic coast. [29]

Lahinch station building is on the up side and as originally built had only one platform and a short siding which was situated on the Miltown-Malbay side. This siding ran on to the goods store at the end of the platform. In August 1911 the layout at this station was rearranged. A second platform was built and a new line of rail laid down turning this station into a passing place. A verandah was built on the up platform, and a signal cabin similar to Ennistymon but with only five levers was also built at the Miltown-Malbay end of the down platform. Electric staff instruments were installed and it became a block post. In August 1953 a turntable was installed which came from Kilmessan on the Clonsilla-Kingscourt branch and which was suitably converted for the turnround of diesel railcars on excursion trains. During steam days, prior to this arrangement, the engines had to run six miles to Miltown-Malbay where a turntable was provided to enable them to turn. [29]A railcar being turned at Lahinch. [26]

We end this part of our journey at Lahinch.



  1. P.B. Whitehouse; The West Clare Railway; in The Railway Magazine Volume No. 601, May 1951, p296-298, p320, p345.
  2.—to-galway.html, accessed on 9th April 2019.
  3. Edmund Lenihan; In the Tracks if the West Clare Railway; Mercier Press, Dec. 2008, p80-85
  4. Ibid., p89-99.
  5. Ibid., p97-108.
  6. Patrick Taylor; The West Clare Railway; Plateway Press, 1994, p38.
  7. Ibid., p39.
  8. Edmund Lenihan; op.cit., p110ff.
  9. Ibid., p111.
  10. Ibid., p112.
  11. Ibid., p118.
  12., accessed on 13th April 2019.
  13., accessede on 13th April 2019.
  14., accessed on 13th April 2019.
  15.,10881484p, accessed on 13th April 2019.
  16., accessed on 12th April 2019.
  17., accessed on 13th April 2019.
  18. Edmund Lenihan; op.cit., p123.
  19., accessed on 13th April 2019.
  20. Patrick Taylor; op.cit., p58.
  21. Ibid., p60.
  22. Ibid., p61.
  23., accessed on 13th April 2019.
  24. Patrick Taylor; op.cit., p39.
  25. Ibid., p48.
  26. Edmund Lenihan; op.cit., p130-136.
  27. Michael Mac Manon; A History of the Parish of Rath; Clare Archaeological Society, 1979, p72.
  28. Seosamh Mac Mathuna; Kilfarboy: A History of a West Clare Parish, Milltown Mallbay; S. Mac Mathuna, 1976, p47.
  29. Patrick Taylor; op.cit., p40.
  30. Percy French; Are Ye Right There Michael. King Laoghaire: The Home of Irish Ballads and Tunes;, accessed on 15th April 2019.
  31., accessed on 15th April 2019.
  32. Edmund Lenihan; op.cit., p122,124.
  33. From the evidence of Mr Hopkins, Locomotive Superintendent of the West Clare Railway, at the hearing of French -V- The West Clare Railway Company at Ennis on 15th January 1897, reported in the Irish Independent on 13th November 1975.


Appendix 1 – Percy French and the West Clare Railway

Are Ye Right There Michael? is a song by the 19th-century and early 20th-century Irish composer and musician Percy French, parodying the state of the West Clare Railway system in rural County Clare. It was inspired by an actual train journey in 1896. Because of a slow train and the decision of the driver to stop for no apparent reason, French, though having left Sligo in the early morning, arrived so late for an 8pm recital that the audience had left. The ballad caused considerable embarrassment for the rail company, which was mocked in music halls throughout Ireland and Britain because of the song. It led to an unsuccessful libel action against French. [30]

It is said that when French arrived late for the libel hearing, the judge chided him on his lateness. French reportedly responded “Your honour, I travelled by the West Clare Railway”, resulting in the case being thrown out. [31]

In 1898 Percy French sued the directors of the West Clare Railway Company for “loss of earnings” when he and his troupe of entertainers were late for a performance in Moores Hall, Kilkee. He had advertised a concert for 8 p.m. on the evening of 10th August 1896, in Kilkee. He left Dublin that morning and arrived in Ennis on time for the 12.30 train which was due to reach Kilkee at 3.30p.m. The train slowed up approaching Miltown Malbay and when it got to the station there did not go any further. Five hours elapsed before a replacement train arrived and as a result he did not get to the hall in Kilkee until 8.20 p.m. His magic lantern, which was with his luggage, did not arrive until 9.00.

When he reached the hall most of the audience had gone home and the receipts were only £3 instead of the usual £14. A railway company official explained that when the engine took on water at Ennistymon weeds got into the boiler. This became apparent after a few miles and by the time Miltown Malbay was reached the driver decided to put out the fire because of the possibility of an explosion. No further progress was possible and a replacement engine was requested.

French was awarded £10 expenses. The Railway Company appealed but the award stood. The incident led to the song “Are ye right there Michael?” which became one of the most popular numbers in his repertoire. [31] The song is produced below. [30]

Are Ye Right There Michael?

You may talk of Columbus’s sailing
Across the Atlantical Sea
But he never tried to go railing
From Ennis as far as Kilkee
You run for the train in the morning
The excursion train starting at eight
You’re there when the clock gives the warnin’
And there for an hour you’ll wait
And as you’re waiting in the train
You’ll hear the guard sing this refrain:

Are ye right there, Michael, are ye right?
Do you think that we’ll be there before the night?
Ye’ve been so long in startin’
That ye couldn’t say for certain’
Still ye might now, Michael
So ye might!

They find out where the engine’s been hiding
And it drags you to Sweet Corofin
Says the guard: Back her down on the siding
There’s a goods from Kilrush comin’ in
Perhaps it comes in two hours
Perhaps it breaks down on the way
If it does, says the guard, be the powers
We’re here for the rest of the day!

And while you sit and curse your luck
The train backs down into a truck

Are ye right there, Michael, are ye right?
Have ye got the parcel there for Mrs White?
Ye haven’t, oh begorra
Say it’s comin’ down tomorra
And well it might now, Michael
So it might

At Lahinch the sea shines like a jewel
With joy you are ready to shout
When the stoker cries out: There’s no fuel
And the fire’s tee-totally out
But hand up that bit of a log there
I’ll soon have ye out of the fix
There’s fine clamp of turf in the bog there
And the rest go a-gatherin’ sticks

And while you’re breakin’ bits of trees
You hear some wise remarks like these

Are ye right there, Michael? Are ye right?
Do ye think that you can get the fire to light?
Oh, an hour you’ll require
For the turf it might be drier
Well it might now, Michael
So it might

What are the underlying facts?

It is beyond dispute that there was a significant delay of around 5 hours  in the journey undertaken by Percy French. The delay occurred when the driver of Locomotive No. ……….. realised that something was significantly awry with his charge and decided to stop the locomotive at Milltown Mallbay rather than risk a possible boiler explosion further along the route to Kilkee.

The problem seems to have been caused by a practice, which was common at Ennistymon in time of low water supply, of taking water from the River Cullenagh. The water tank at Enisstymon was usually supplied from a reservoir on Beakey’s Mountain by gravity flow. But in very dry weather this supply was often inadequate, and men would be detailed to a little pump house to hand-pump water from the river into the tank. [32]

One old hand recalled those days: “Well, the drier summer’d come the better we’d like it. We used to love being in there. An’ often we’d keep pumping when there was plenty of water int he tank.” Under cover int he pump house they could smoke and talk to their hearts’ content, and two small holes in the walls facing the station and the bridge allowed them to keep an eye out for the supervisor. [32]

On 10th August 1896, the 12.20pm train from Ennis to Kilkee, hauled by the new 2-6-2T Locomotive No. 8, ‘Lisdoonvarna‘ took water at Ennistymon. But weeds in the water choked the boiler, and by Lahinch the driver, Michael O’Loghlin, found that he was having troble proceeding. He managed to nusre the tain to Milltown Mallbay but no futher progress was possible. [32]

Another locomotive No. 4, Besborough, was procured to haul the train to Kilkee but there was an excessive delay and the train did not reach Kilkee until 8.25pm. [33]

The TNL Tram Network – The Beginning of the Decline (1927-1934) (Chemins de Fer de Provence 84)

This post continues a series of reflections on the tramway network in and around Nice which are based on Jose Banaudo’s French language book “Nice au fil du Tram Volume 1: Histoire.” The text below is translated from Jose Banaudo’s book with some minor alterations to the automatic translation to better reflect English idiom. [1]

From 1921 onwards the TNL was increasingly inspired by the practices of the prestigious Parisian STCRP (Societe des Transports en Commune de la Region Parisienne) in choosing its rolling stock and operating methods. After several years of rapprochement, the Nice network was definitively integrated into the Parisian group in 1927. The TNL’s head office was transferred to 4 rue Las Cases in Paris, in the premises that previously housed the offices of the Compagnie Zénérale des Omnibus (CGO) and the Compagnie générale parisienne de Tramways (CGPT).

The new Board of Directors was chaired by Mr. André Mariage, who was in charge of the STCRP, from which most of the other members came: Mr. Georges Bouton, administrator of l’Est-Parisien;  Julien Péridier, Director of Studies and Technical Control of the STCRP; Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Binder, administrator of the CGO; Ferdinand Maillot. Mr. Louis Régnier, head of the STCRP’s accounting department, was auditor.

Mr. Jacques Schopfer, formerly a rolling stock and traction engineer, was appointed Director of the TNL. He was replaced a few years later by Jean Baudouin, Chief Operating Officer, assisted by Alfred Gallais, Chief Administrative and Accounting Officer; Bernard Kergall, Chief Technical Officer; Emile Rigal, Chief Rolling Stock and Traction Officer; René Vinet, Chief Electrical and Track Officer.

The TNL was now tied to the dictats and intentions of the STCRP, for better or for worse! At the end of the 1920s the tramway was no longer seen as a fast, safe and efficient means of transport, but rather as an obstacle to traffic and an obstacle to progress, the latter being represented by the car. After initially supplementing their existing network with buses, the public transport operators in both Nice and Paris tried to convert most of the existing lines to buses. They were encouraged by public opinion, the press, tourist information offices, car clubs and many elected officials, both in the Alpes-Maritimes General Council and in the city of Nice. It is not surprising that the new mayor elected in December 1928, Jean Médecin, made the removal of the tracks in Place Masséna and on Avenue de la Victoire one of his election promises.

While these debates were taking place in the city of Nice, work to extend the ‘departmental’ lines at Levens and L’Escarène was suspended and the General Council considered using the infrastructure built to establish roads there.

In the autumn of 1926, the valleys behind Nice were hit by torrential rains. On the TAM network, the lines in the valleys of l’Estéron, Haut-Var, Tinée and especially the Vésubie were broken. A massive landslide engulfed the village of Roquebillière and about twenty of its inhabitants died. Although closer to the coast, the TNL lines of the Paillon basin were not spared by the conditions. On 18th November, the flooded river damaged the permanent way on the La Grave-de-Peilie branch, but tram traffic was able to resume on a temporary detour on 15th December.

Along the main road, a large landslide blocked the stretch between Contes and Bendéjun. The road was rebuilt in January 1927, but despite several reminders, the TNL did not carry out any repairs on the track and the overhead line, taking advantage of this case of force majeure to stop the operation of the tramway between Contes and Bendejun. This section of the tramway experienced disruption due to landslides and was also from the outset little used by passengers.

Faced with a fait accompli, the General Council accepted this closure. The forthcoming expiry of the agreements gave the TNL the opportunity to review the extremely complex administrative control of its network, which fell under five different legal jurisdictions. The urban lines in Nice were offered to the State by the municipality. The State passed responsibility to the TNL. However, one line, that to Cimiez, was granted directly to the TNL by the city authorities. He lines to Cagnes, Contes and Menton which formed the coastal network alongside the tramways in the port were within the gift of the State and were granted to the TNL to run, with the exception of one line which crossed the principality of Monaco which was innthengift of that sovereign state. In addition, the lines to Levens, Cap-d’Antibes, Cap-Ferat and Bendejun, La Grave and Sospel were conceded by the State to the Transports des Alpes-Maritimes and in turn passed to the TNL.

On 1st December 1927, a new agreement replaced the city of Nice with the State as the licensing authority for the urban network and ratified the creation of new bus lines. This agreement was not approved by a ministerial decree until 5th March 1929. At the same time, negotiations were undertaken in the spring of 1928 with the General Council to group the coastal and departmental lines into a single network where tramways would only be maintained where absolutely necessary, particularly when the freight service so required; otherwise, tramway routes would be replaced by bus services.

The result was a decision to keep only the lines to Contes, La Grave and Sospel – all others would be replaced by bus services. Passenger numbers were dropping rapidly and there were very few signs of hope. On 30th October 1928 the PLM inaugurated its international service Nice-Breil-Cuneo. The construction work for this line had been a major part of the freight traffic on both the La Grave and Sospel lines for years. The new line provided a much faster link to the communities served originally by the trams. In Sospel alone, the average number of tram passengers fell by 51% and the tonnage of goods by 58%!

The Closure of the Lines

The year 1929 marked the beginning of the end for the departmental tramways. After the TAM lines to Estéron, Vésubie, Haut-Var, Grasse and Bar closed in April and May, the TNL network closures began in the autumn. Growing car traffic made the closure of the coastal tramways a priority. With the development of car traffic, the elimination of the tramway was considered a priority on coastal arteries. The first line hit by the road-building programme was Nice – Antibes, the Bridges and Roads Department wanted to widen the RN7 onto the shoulder occupied by the tramway.

Tram traffic ceased on 29th October 1929 between St. Laurent-du-Var and Antibes. The service was replaced by buses -two new coach lines. As the quantity of road vehicles available was still insufficient, the Antibes-Gare – Cap-d’Antibes shuttle remained temporarily provided in a mixed form by tramway and by a new coach line. The few power cars kept in Antibes for this service were isolated from the rest of the network, sheltered and briefly maintained in the shed near the PLM station. After seven months of this arrangement that service closed on 1st June 1930. 

In April 1930, the General Council decided to continue the removal of the departmental lines, starting with the Monte-Carlo line, where pressure to “free” the Basse Corniche and the streets of the principality from tramway lines was becoming increasingly insistent. The TNL had been competing with a private contractor who used comfortable coaches and frequent departures, every ten or even five minutes during rush hour!The line between Villefranche and Beaulieu along the Based Corniche [2]

The coastal line was gradually converted to buses. On 9th March 1931, the tramway was closed between Villefranche, Pont-St. Jean, St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat, replaced by a road service. On 18th June the length between Nice and Villefranche gave way to a suburban bus service.

Ligne Nice-Villefranche [3]

Two lines which took so much effort to build and operate were then closed. The first was the Menton to Sospel line.The snaking route of the Menton to Sospel tramway viewed from behind the Viaduc du Caramel. [4]

For more information about the Menton to Sospel tramway please see the following links:

The traffic on the Menton to Sospel line collapsed after the opening of the Nice to Cuneo railway line. It was closed and replaced by a bus service. Only a short suburban section in the lower Careï valley was temporarily preserved. The route had only been in service for 19 years.

The next to close was the Nice to Levens line. Details of the route to Levens  can be found on the following links: Two shots of the station at Levens. It had been intended to extend this line from the station into the village of Levens and a tunnel was built to make this possible. after all 5hat expenditure the extension was never opened. [5][6]

The Principality of Monaco did not want to be left out of the trend towards the use of buses. On 8th May 1931, the TNL signed an agreement with the Monaco government to replace two tram services, No. 41 (between Visitation, place d’Armes and St. Roman) and No. 42 (between Monaco Station, place d’Armes and the Casino) with new bus services. Three bus services replaced the two tram routes and a further two bus lines were soon added.Trams in Monte Carlo. [7]

However, the tramway was not yet totally excluded from Monegasque territory since the TNL line to Menton, now isolated from Nice, still crossed the eastern part of Monaco between the Casino and St. Roman.  This stay of execution was only temporary because from 28th May 1931 the TNL signed an agreement with the authorities in Menton to prepare the town for the end of tramway services and in January 1932 both the remainder of the Sospel line and the line from Monte-Carlo to Menton were closed. A tram approaching Monte Carlo from Nice. [8]

The bus fleet was not yet up to full strength and it took some months to completely close the tramways around Menton. On 2nd October seven motor trams which were no longer needed were sent to Nice. The last vestige of the trams in this area were abandoned in 1933.

For a short period of transition, the TNL organized a bus route between Beausoleil and La Turbie to replace the rack railway whose operation had just been suspended following a fatal accident in March 1932. The service operated from 25th April to 31st July 1932 before is was passed to a local company.

In less than three and a half years, large parts of the TNL tram network had been closed with the full support of various statutory bodies and the local press. Thesevcactions were approved by decree on 20th June 1933, which ordered the downgrading of the closed lines: St. Laurent-du-Var – Antibes, Antibes – Cap-d’Antibes, St. André – Levens, Contes – Bendéjun, Pont- St. Jean – St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Villefranche – Monaco, Monte-Carlo – Menton, Menton – Sospel and the Menton station branch (closed since the war), as well as the two unfinished tramway sections: Levens-Station – Levens-Village and La Pointe-de-Contes – L’Escarène.


  1. Jose Banaudo; Nice au fil due Tram Volume 1: l’Histoire; Les Editions de Cabri, 2004.
  2., accessed on 11th April 2019.
  3., accessed on 11th April 2019.
  4.à_Sospel, accessed on 11th April 2019.
  5., accessed on 11th April 2019.
  6., accessed on 11th April 2019.
  7., accessed on 11th April 2019.
  8., access on 11th April 2019.

The West Clare Railway – Part 1 – Ennis to Corofin

Another article from The Railway Magazine in May 1951! This time we are in the Republic of Ireland, specifically in County Clare.

The May 1951 edition of the magazine carried an article on the 3ft gauge light railway which ran from Ennis to Kilrush and Kilkee. The total length of the railway was about 53 miles. [1]The Railway Magazine article only touches the surface of the story of the line. This post seeks to pull together available information and provide a survey of the line.

Edmund Lenihan, in his book, “In the Tracks if the West Clare Railway,” says: “Merely to get the first train moving took almost four decades and labyrin-thine proposals, counter-proposals, false starts, politicking, bankruptcy and natural disaster. It certainly reads like a saga, and, for good measure, it was largely a family affair between the people of Clare, Catholic and Protestant, landlord and peasant, priest and layman, town and country, with a few important outsiders thrown in to lend spice to the mixture.” [8]

Many attempts were made to provide railway transport connections to West Clare but the area was just too remote for investors to take the risk of spending their money on such ventures. They could not imagine there being enough freight or people for a railway to make a profit. Then, in answer to exactly this problem in such areas of Ireland, Parliament passed an Act called “The Tramways Act” in 1883 the provisions of which included clauses to permit a narrow gauge track (thereby more than halving the building costs) and giving guaranteed returns to the investors. [5]

The 43.4 km (27 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. [4]

Although some of the list below feels like we are getting ahead of ourselves, Edmund Lenihan provides a list of the major stages in the development and life of the West Clare railway: [8]

  1. 1845: First KiIkee—Kilrush/Cappagh rail link propose(‘ by Col. Vandeleur.
  2. 1858: First scheme to reach the stage where ground was actually broken to lay a railway in west Clare.
  3. 31st July 1871: Ennis and West Clare Railway receives Act of Incorporation and is authorised to build a narrow-gauge line (the first company in Ireland to get such permission).
  4. 24th August 1883: Tramways Act passed by Parliament.
  5. 15th December 1883: West Clare Railway Company registered.
  6. 9th June 1884: South Clare Railway Company formed.
  7. 26th January 1885: First sod of West Clare Railway turned by Parnell at Miltown Malbay.
  8. 2nd July 1887: West Clare Railway opened for regular services.
  9. 9th October 1890: First sod of South Clare Railway turned by Mrs Reeves at Kilkee.
  10. 23rd December 1892: South Clare Railway opened for regular services.
  11. 1st January 1925: Amalgamation of West Clare Railway and Great Southern Railways.
  12. July 1927: ETS signalling introduced on Ennis-Miltown sections of the West Clare line.
  13. 1945: CIE takes over the West Clare line.
  14. 1948: Milne Report. First official mention of possible closure of West Clare branch of CIE.
  15. 1952-55: Dieselisation.
  16. 31st January 1961: Closure of West Clare line.

Back again to the story! The section in italics below comes from ‘In the Tracks if the West Clare Railway’ by Edmund Lenihan. [8][9]

In the years after the Famine a sort of railway fever gripped Ireland, but it was merely an extension of the tremendous upsurge in railway construction in Great Britain in those years. [9] In the four decades from 1845 to 1885 no fewer than a dozen railway-building schemes were mooted for Clare alone, as well as various plans for tramlines. The large population of the time may have justified such proposals, but much of the impetus certainly came from landlords whose travels abroad demonstrated to them the advantage of fast and comfortable transport, and emphasised the shortcomings of their own home areas. [10] But other possible advantages would not have been lost on them — the boost to their status and the enhancement of their incomes. A glance at the proposed schemes shows the main movers to have indeed been a combination of landed proprietors and businessmen.

All these plans were similar in some vital respects: they all included as their terminus points Ennis, Kilrush and Kilkee. At that time traffic on the Shannon was considerable, and Cappagh pier had to figure large in any route that hoped to be profitable, but how Cappagh might be made accessible was the subject of widely varying proposals. Essentially, though, there were three mutes: from Limerick to Foynes by rail, then to Kilrush by steamer; from Ennis via Kildysart, Killimer and Carrigaholt or Querrin to Kilkee; from Ennis via Ennistymon and Miltown Malbay, then southward.

The various plans formulated in the 1840s and 1850s foundered on one common rock: finance, and this largely because they proposed crossing Poulnasherry Bay rather than going round it. Certain progress was made in each of these early schemes but all failed to reach the construction phase. The first to achieve this distinction was the Cappagh—Kilkee line, for which discussions began in 1858 and on which work actually commenced in 1863. From its remains today it can be seen to have started on the western end at Lisdeen cutting, extended for 400 yards south-eastward before coming to a dead end facing slob-land in a tidal valley approximately 11/4 miles long. It continued on the higher ground in the townland of Termon West, north-east of where Termon school stands today, and ran along the southern shore of the bay through Termon East, Leaheen and Kilnagalliagh, passing through a deep cutting to reach the tide at the mouth of the bay. [11] From here it was intended to link the two shores by an embankment, with a bridge in the middle to allow the passage of turf-boats up to Moyasta, Bohaunagower and Blackweir quay.Across the channel on the eastern shore, in Carrowncalla South, the remains at Ilaunalea make it clear that this would have been the main junction of the Ennis—Kilkee and Kilrush—Kilkee lines — in effect, what Moyasta Junction was to become on the 1887 line — had not bad planning and even worse weather intervened to bring to nought the whole venture. For, after repeated stoppages during the mid-1860s, the embankment across the bay was almost completed by the winter of 1868-69, and the two sides had even been linked by a boardwalk. But though it was advised that no more should be done until the bank had solidified and the winter passed, this was not heeded, the various gaps were closed and a violent storm later that winter destroyed much of the earthworks, bringing the whole scheme to a halt not just for the time being, but for nearly twenty years. [12]

During these twenty years there were very many meetings and proposals, both for the Kilrush—Kilkee section and for the Ennis—Miltown route, including, in 1871, one for a line from Ennis to Miltown via Corofin, Ennistymon and Lahinch — exactly the route later taken by the West Clare Railway. But practical developments had to await the passing of the Tramways Act in August of 1883, a measure that allowed the interest on capital to be guaranteed by the baronies through which a railway passed. [13]

The directors appointed W.M. Murphy [8] as contractor to build the railway. (Murphy was later to become a major newspaper owner and caused the infamous worker’s lockout in Dublin in the early years of the 20th century.) [5]

Early in 1887 locomotives nos. 1 and 2 arrived, and no.3, Clifden and no. 4, Besborough, had been completed by their builder, W.G. Bagnall of Stafford, and all seemed fair for the completion of work in a short time. [8][14] In fact, various legal and other obstacles had to be overcome and the line only opened on 2nd July 1887. [4]

Whilst the West Clare was being built, a number of the directors who owned lands in the far west of the county decided to form a second company to promote a similar railway serving the towns of Kilrush and Kilkee. These towns had always been the targets for the original railway plans. However, no agreement could be found as to the direction of the railway with many believing that the line could be built across the tidal Poulnasherry Bay with the resulting land reclamation providing rental incomes which would largely defray the costs of building the line. However desirable the plan looked in theory, it was not until Murphy explained that he could not calculate the costs of making the line sea-resistant and could not guarantee the results anyway that the directors finally decided that the South Clare Railway should go to Moyasta where the necessary division of the line would take place and a line built to connect with the West Clare Railway at Miltown Malbay. [5]

Although the South Clare was formed as a Company in June 1884, it was not until 6 years later in 1890 that work started on the extension. [15] 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. [4] There appears, however, still to have been work to complete after the opening, as one source suggests that the South Clare was not completed until December 1892. [5] The extension was worked by the West Clare Railway and was initially dogged by poor service and time keeping, but this later improved. [4]

“The two companies worked closely together from the very start and many of the officers were common to both. Such was George Hopkins, appointed to design and supervise the rolling stock. Hopkins came to give Dubs & Co of Glasgow a specification for three locomotives the detailed design of which would be left to Dubs. The first of these was Number 5 named “Slieve Callan” which arrived in March 1892. These locomotives were designed to pull the expected loads at the timetabled speed of 25 mph over gradients as fierce as 1 in 50 along a track of 48 miles in length. They were therefore large and powerful engines built to the limits of the permitted loading gauge.” [5]

“The railway timetable for three trains each way between Ennis and Kilkee with branch line connections to Kilrush was published under the sole name of the West Clare Railway in June 1893. From then on, the railway trundled on gaining new passengers as its services became better known. It is, for example, no accident that the Lahinch golf course was laid out at this time – British Army officers could use the railway to travel to the course easily. The Lisdoonvarna Festival each September gained a new lease of life as passengers could get as near as Ennistymon from all parts of Ireland. The Burren cattle trade was enhanced by the ease of transporting the cattle away from the market. The Kilrush Horse Fair and the Lahinch Garland Day celebrations took on a new significance. Kilkee, always a popular resort, became known as the “Brighton of the West” whilst new goods and services were brought to the shops by travelling salesmen, postal services quickened by degrees and newspapers from Dublin became available on the day. By the turn of the century, the timetable was showing 5 trains each way. More than 200.000 passengers travelled the line and 80.000 tonnes of freight and livestock were carried each year with 2/3rds of the passengers travelling during the summer months.” [5]

On 1st January 1925, the rolling stock and locomotives became the property of the Great Southern Railways (GSR). Efforts were made from time to time to modernise the system, and to make it safer and more cost-effective — for example, by the introduction of ETS working in July 1927 and the purchase of two Drewry railcars in 1928. [15][20]

With control being exercised from Dublin inefficiency was no longer tolerated and local sentiment was of much less significance. “A large part of the Ennis carriage-building works and maintenance depot was closed down, and ballast ceased to be quarried locally, all supplies now coming from the GSR quarry at Newbridge, Co. Kildare. [21] The only link with tradition preserved in this regard was that the 1908 decision of the West Clare Company to ballast the line annually in May, June and October was adhered to until the time of the closure of the system in 1961. A proposal was made in 1936 to widen the gauge from 3 feet to the standard 5-foot-3-inches so as to avoid the necessity for transfer of all goods at Ennis Station, but this came to nothing in spite of a lively debate on the matter in the local press which lasted well into the 1940s. The cost would have been out of all proportion to any prospective benefits.” [15]

In subsequent years steam passenger services were replaced by railcars but the financial position did not significantly improve and closure became more and more likely. “And so it was that on 27th September 1960 the death sentence was pronounced: it was declared publicly that the line would close on 31st January 1961.” [16] The line closed on that date.

The Route of the West Clare Railway

We start our survey of the line from the station In Ennis where the West Clare Railway connected with the national railway network. The adjacent image shows the station looking to the South. [4]

The following image shows the view North from the station platform.Ennis railway station in September 1950, with the West Clare Railway carriage in the foreground. The carriage works are in the rear to the left, the engine shed in the centre and the two span Quin Road bridge to the rear right. [2]The same set of carriages, this time looking south towards the station buildings. Both pictures were taken in 1950, (c) O’Dea Photograph Collection via [2]The West Clare platform at Ennis Station, date unknown.Ennis Station in 1952, (c) IRRS. This picture and that below were taken from approximately the same position but 10 years apart. Just visible on the right-hand side of the picture is the West Clare Engine Shed. In the immediate vicinity of the engine shed were a turntable and carriage works. [16]Ennis Station in 1962, just a short time after the closure of the West Clare Railway. No trace remains! [6]The same location in June 2006, (c) Francoise Poncelet. [3]Ennis Station in June 2017 is shown above looking from the North, Google Streetview. The adjacent satellite image shows the station in 2017 with Quin Road to the north passing over the railway.

Ennis Railway Station is today the terminus station of the Limerick to Ennis Commuter service and a station on the Limerick to Galway intercity service. Passengers for Dublin/Cork or Waterford transfer at Limerick. The station forms part of the Western Railway Corridor, the name given to a group of lines in the west of Ireland between Limerick and Sligo. Five services pass through Ennis on the Limerick–Galway service with more just running Limerick–Ennis. [7]

In the past it was also the terminus of the 3ft-gauge West Claire Railway which ran North from the station alongside the mainline. North of Quin Road the land is shown on the adjacent 1917 OS Map as being used by a rail-served sawmill.

South of Quin Road, the grass triangle on the satellite image above provided facilities for the West Clare Railway. These included a carriage-works a turntable and an engine shed. A platform extended under the Quin Road bridge and a water tank could be found on the North side of the abutments of the bridge.

It is interesting to note that the Sawmill was rail-served by both railways with the broad-gauge having a siding crossing the 3ft-gauge lines.

The facilities shown to the South of the station buildings were those for the main-line. [29]

The adjacent map  is the best excerpt that I could find from the GSGS 1-inch map from around 1940. [17]

The map below that is an extract from the Bartholomew quarter-inch map from 1940. Which shown Ennis station and the 3ft-gauge West Clare line leaving the mainline to the North. [18]

The picture immediately below these maps shows the line of the West Clare which ran on the West side of the mainline. The West Clare is long-gone by the time this picture was taken and the mainline track layout has been streamlined

The following monochrome picture looks back through Quin Road Bridge to Ennis Station and shows the two 3ft-gauge lines passing under the bridge.


Two lines of the West Clare Railway originally passed under Quin Road Bridge and served engine shops, a goods shed, loading bays and a transfer bank with a 3-ton crane all in a compound on the North side of the bridge. [16]A diesel railcar about to leave Ennis Station on 25th July 1954, (c) IRRS. The West Clare had its own bridge span under Quin Road. That span has now been blocked off. [16] This general view of Ennis Station was taken in May 1950 by P.B. Whitehouse. The 3ft-gauge Engine Shed can just be seen on the very right of the picture. [30] Loco No. 6C is shunting in front of what is marked on the OS plan as a sawmill at Ennis. Taylor records that building as being a transshipment shed. The year is 1954 or 1955. The broad-gauge siding can be seen crossing the 3ft-gauge to access the shed. Taylor also talks of a loco-repair works being to the right of the transshipment shed, (c) L. Hyland. [31]Loco No. 3C is taking on water in the above image. This is an image from the early 1930s and the loco was less than 10 years old at the time, (c) A.W. Croughton. [31]A ‘Walker’ of Wigan railcar travels north from Ennis Station on the West Clare, alongside is the Irish standard gauge line. [27]This monochrome image shows the two railway lines running parallel across the twin bridges over the River Fergus at Clonroad, around a mile North of Ennis Station, in 1953. The picture is taken looking back towards Ennis. (c) IRRSThis map is another extract from the GSGS 1-inch map from around 1940. It shows the West Clare line leaving the mainline just to the North of the modern R352 Tulla Road which is then pictured in Google Streetview image which follows. The bridge over the Tulla Road is shown in 2017 and clearly shows a modern reinforced concrete deck spanning masonry abutments. [17]Tulla Road Railway Bridge from the West. The West Clare crossed this bridge on the near side of the mainline railway.

Over a distance of about 300 yards north of the Tulla Road the two lines curved gently to the right taking a more northerly path. As they did so they crossed a small stream on a fine stone-arched bridge. One hundred yards further on, at Corrovorrin level crossing, the old road to Ballycoree crossed the two railways. The road is now very much a minor road but was once one of the main roads out of Ennis. [19]

Just beyond this crossing the West Clare Railway diverged from the mainline. Its route is shown approximately by the red line on the satellite image above.The line curved around to travel almost due East before crossing Shaughnessy’s bridge just a stone’s throw from the boundary wall of Our Lady’s Hospital. The curving line through what is now the hosuing estate was known as Tank Curve after the huge hospital water tank.The West Clare continued in a westerly direction crossing the R458 Gort Road. The old road can be seen on the left of the above satellite image joining the alignment of the modern road at the top of the picture. The line continues West towards the River Fergus as shown below.The West Clare crossed the River Fergus on the ‘Lifford Bridge’ as it was called in the Clare Saturday Record report of 20th August 1887, which described an attempt to blow up the bridge that week. Edmund Lenihan comments: “The job was bungled, however, and the bridge still survives, though somewhat the worse for wear. All that remains is the skeleton of girders which once supported the metal deck, and these have not weathered the years well since their laying down in 1886. They are seriously corroded at many points and gave us several heart-stopping moments as we picked our way carefully across. Testing our luck and our balance, we hopped from girder to rotten girder, while under us the Fergus flowed fast and deep. No person in his sane senses would wish to fall in here, but the children of the town often thought otherwise, for on hot summer afternoons the more daredevil among them, bent on mischief, would climb onto the last carriage as the train pulled slowly away from Lifford Halt, ready themselves as it approached this bridge, and then jump off into the river as it crossed.” [19]A few hundred yards further along the old line it crossed Drumcliffe Road on a low girder bridge. The abutments still remain (above). The line then continues to curve round from west to North and crosses a narrow point on Lough Cleggan (on the satellite image below).

We arrive next at a level crossing, the first since Lifford Halt – Erinagh Crossing, in the townland of Reascaun, 3.5 miles from Ennis. The picture above shows the railway formation arriving at the Crossing.

The adjacent satellite image shows that crossing at the bottom of the extract from Google Earth.

The adjoining house no longer looks like a crossing cottage. It has been too much modernised and altered to be recognisable as such. [22]

The picture below shows the bungalow that was once the crossing-keeper’s cottage. North of the extended cottage the line crossed open fields and then, on an embankment, a boggy marsh which is evident at the top of the adjacent image and at the bottom of the satellite image below. North of the marshland the route of the line has been re-landscaped and is very indistinct on the ground and on satellite images. [22]

North of the marshland the West Clare crossed the road running Northeast from Ballygriffey at grade right next to Ballygriffey Castle and on the West side of the small stream which it had crossed on a bridge a couple of hundred yards short of the road crossing.

The monochrome image below shows Ballygriffey Castle and the minor road crossing close by.

As a gated crossing there was a crossing keeper and cottage. Once again the cottage has been so reconstructed that none of its railway features remain.

The crossing, 4.75 miles from Ennis, and we are now entering the 7-mile length to Willbrook that was once under the jurisdiction of Corofin Station. Ballygriffey Castle and railway crossing gates in 1953, (c) IRRS. [23]The extended crossing-keepers cottage is seen above from the Southwest in April 2009.

North of the cottage, a ballast siding was established in 1904 and a quarry opened alongside to supply the needs of the railway after the siding at Skagh Point near Kilrush was closed because of a dispute with the Crown over royalties. Edmund Lenihan comments: “One would be hard put now to say where the siding was, since not alone has it vanished, but the line, too. Yet if some of the survivors of the backbreaking slavery undergone here are to be believed, its obliteration is little loss to the world.To be consigned to ‘duty in Ballygriffey’ was akin to penal servitude, it seems, for even the gangers in command were more truculent here than else-where, as if the place exuded some baleful influence of its own.” [23]

The railway gradually turned towards the Northwest as shown on the adjacent satellite image running to the East of the hamlet of Ballygriffey North and then crossing another marshy area on embankment.The railway crossed open limestone grassland on its way towards Ballycullinan Lough. On the way it crossed three roads. The first of these was the site of Ruan Station and Level-Crossing. The third is now the R476 which itself is heading for the next village on the line, Corofin. [24]Ruan Crossing Gates and Crossing-keeper’s cottage in 1953. [25]A Google Earth image of Ruan Station in the early years of the 21st Century.Looking back along the line towards Ennis in April 2009. The stone pilasters in the centre of the image are the pillars which held the crossing gates.Ruan Station Building. The picture is a Google Streetview image and was taken in April 2009.

Ruan station-house is, “resplendently restored and transformed into an elegant dwelling quite unlike the general run of modern country houses. From the boundary wall to the road, where the crossing gates once stood, the line is now a neat garden and lawn, but even more noticeable is the surrounding stonework, for much care has been taken to preserve it, especially the level-crossing piers. It is altogether a credit to its owner. Hard to believe, looking at it now, that this same building was sold by CIE in October 1962 for the princely sum of £15.” [25]

Properly speaking, this station should not have been called Ruan Station, since it is in the townland of Kilkee East, and the village of Ruan is a good 2.5 miles away. However, it would have been highly confusing, even on the West Clare, to have two destinations of the same name. So Ruan Station it had to be, and Kilkee remained the western terminus of the line.

“Ruan Station was first made a halt in 1888, but only after some rather novel persuasive tactics by the parish priest, Fr Garry. It seems that the railway company had no intention of providing even a halt at Ruan, let alone a station, so the priest (who is described as ‘a tall, powerful man and a forceful character’ who got his own way in most things) took to driving his pony and trap onto the line, forcing the train to stop. The company at last got the message; since it looked as though they would have to be constantly stopping anyway, they decided to make it official in 1888. Ten years later, however, it was closed, only to be reopened in 1904 — whether by Fr Garry’s efforts we do not know. That worthy man continued as parish priest in Ruan until 1912, and is buried there.” [25]

In 1921, the halt was closed again, and the platform removed. [25]

Heading on from Ruan, the line continued in a Northwesterly direction and met the modern D476. The crossing was at grade and at a very shallow angle as can be seen on the satellite image below.For a short distance, the road and railway ran parallel to easch other in close proximity. The road then turned North to Corofin and the railway turned gradually to the West and on the way entered Corofin Station. [24]

Corofin Station in June 1961, just after closure earlier inn the year, (c) IRRS. [28]Google Streetview image of Corofin Station buildings in 2009.Corofin Station in 2017. [26]

We complete the first part of our journey along the West Clare Railway at Corofin.


  1. P.B. Whitehouse; The West Clare Railway; in The Railway Magazine Volume No. 601, May 1951, p296-298, p320, p345.
  2., accessed on 6th April 2019.
  3., accessed on 6th April 2019.
  4., accessed on 6th April 2019.
  5., accessed on 6th April 2019.
  6., acessed on 6th April 2019.
  7., accessed on 6th April 2019.
  8. Edmund Lenihan; In the Tracks if the West Clare Railway; Mercier Press, Dec. 2008, p16-19.
  9. Ignatius Murphy; The Kilrush-Kilkee Railway and Reclamation of Poulnasherry Bay; in The Other Clare, Volume 6, 1982, p16.
  10. Ibid, p17. But note also the Clare Journal of 26th March 1849, and 2nd April 1849, which berated the gentlemen of Clare for their lack oof interest in ensuring that the proposed branch line from Limerick to Galway should pass through the county, whereas their Gaway counterparts were suitably active in this matter.
  11. In July 1866 a case of trverse in thye matter of Kilrush and Kilkee Railway Company came to court. A Mr. Shannon was claiming £600 compensation for land that was to be taken by the railway in Leaheen and Kilnagalliagh. The company was offering £200. See the Clare Journal,12th July 1866.
  12. Munster News; 29th May 1869 and 25th August 1883.
  13. Clare Saturday Record; 6th March 1886, and L. Hyland, Twilight of the West Clare, 1961, p1 (pamphlet distributed on the day the line closed).
  14. H. Fayle; Narrow Gauge Railways of Ireland;  Greenlake Publications Ltd., London, 1946, republished 1970, S.R. Publishers Ltd., London, p78
  15. Edmund Lenihan; In the Tracks if the West Clare Railway; Mercier Press, Dec. 2008, p21-25.
  16. Edmund Lenihan; In the Tracks if the West Clare Railway; Mercier Press, Dec. 2008, p29-32.
  17., accessed on 7th April 2019.
  18., accessed on 7th April 2019.
  19. Edmund Lenihan; In the Tracks if the West Clare Railway; Mercier Press, Dec. 2008, p40-43.
  20. H. Fayle; Narrow Gauge Railways of Ireland;  Greenlake Publications Ltd., London, 1946, republished 1970, S.R. Publishers Ltd., London, p81.  These cars, No. 395 and 396, were, in fact, found not to be powerful enough to handle the gradients on the West Clare section of the railway. They were as a reult restricted to use on the more level Kilrush to Kilkee service.
  21. Of all the carriage works, only a carpenters’ shop, employing three men, was left by 1941.
  22. Edmund Lenihan; In the Tracks if the West Clare Railway; Mercier Press, Dec. 2008, p51-54.
  23. Edmund Lenihan; In the Tracks if the West Clare Railway; Mercier Press, Dec. 2008, p57-58.
  24., accessed on 9th April 2019.
  25. Edmund Lenihan; In the Tracks if the West Clare Railway; Mercier Press, Dec. 2008, p63-65.
  26.—to-galway.html, accessed on 9th April 2019.
  27., accessed on 9th April 2019.
  28. Edmund Lenihan; In the Tracks if the West Clare Railway; Mercier Press, Dec. 2008, p80-85.
  29. Patrick Taylor; The West Clare Railway; Plateway Press, 1994, p37.
  30. Patrick Taylor; The West Clare Railway; Plateway Press, 1994, p35.
  31. Patrick Taylor; The West Clare Railway; Plateway Press, 1994, p36.

The Bere Alston to Callington Branch

Two previous posts have looked at the East Cornwall Mineral Railway.

This post concludes the story of the line by looking at the standard-gauge line which replaced the narrow gauge line. The narrow gauge line was the subject of an article in The Railway Magazine in May 1951. The standard gauge branch line was covered in the July 1951 copy of The Railway Magazine in an article by R.E.G. Read and is provided in full below. [1]

These articles in The Railway Magazine prompt further research and they usually lead to discovery of interesting stories and information.

The rolling stock consisted of 5 locomotives, 4 first-class saloons, 12 third-class coaches and “compo.” brakes, and 52 goods vehicles. [7, (& Appendix 1)] The locomotives included: an 0-6-0T that became No. 3, “A.S. Harris”; two 0-6-2Ts, No. 4, “Lord St. Levan”, and No. 5, “Earl of Mount Edgcumbe”, a picture of this is shown above [1, p466]; one of the ECMR 1871 narrow gauge Neilson tanks, which had received a new boiler in 1899, was converted around 1908 to a standard gauge 0-4-2T, No. 2. [11]

Most of the wagons used by the ECMR on the Calstock incline and the Kit Hill incline were built in local boat yards. [6]

Bere Alston Railway Station is now an unstaffed halt situated near the village of Bere Alston in Devon, 10 14 miles (16.5 km) north of Plymouth on the branch to Gunnislake. The branch has survived in a truncated form into the 21st century, almost entirely because Bere Alston, Bere Ferrers, and Calstock are situated in an area which, for geographical reasons, has relatively poor road connections. [3]

Bere Alston Station in April 1964: view westward towards Devonport, Plymouth and Callington, © Copyright Ben Brooksbank [4]Bere Alston Station in 1970, © Roger Griffith. [20]

Bere Alston station opened 2nd June 1890, built by the Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Railway (PD&SWJR) as part of the company’s line from Lydford to Devonport. Being in effect an extension of the London and South Western Railway’s (LSWR’s) main line from London Waterloo it made it possible for the LSWR to reach Plymouth independently of the Great Western Railway and as such was immediately leased to the LSWR. [5] Unlike the SDR branch, which ran from the east of Plymouth, the PD&SWJR line ran from the west of Plymouth close to the River Tamar and Bere Alston station was situated on this section of line. [13]

It was not until after the Light Railways Act was passed in 1896, that the PD&SWJR looked into a branch line to Calstock to connect to the East Cornwall Mineral Railway (ECMR). The Bere Alston and Calstock Light Railway Order was confirmed by the Board of Trade on 12th July 1900. The Order also included authorisation for the acquisition of the ECMR line and its operation as a passenger light railway, except the rope-worked incline. It was intended that the gauge would remain at 3 ft 6 in, but finance proved impossible to obtain. Eventually the LSWR was persuaded to guarantee borrowings. [5]

The Bere Alston and Calstock Railway (BA&CR) was formed as a subsidiary of the PD&SWJR, and a new Act of 23rd June 1902 authorised it to build the connecting line and to acquire the ECMR. The upgrading of the ECMR was to have been carried out under the General Manager of the ECMR, Capt. Sowton who had been in post since 1883. He lacked light railway expertise so  Col. H.F. Stephens was approached and in 1904 became a consultant engineer to the PD&SWJR. In 1905 the board decided to convert the line to standard gauge (probably on advice from Stephens). [5]

The branch opened on 2nd March 1908, with stations at Calstock, Gunnislake, Latchley, Stoke Climsland (later renamed Luckett) and Callington Road (later renamed Callington, despite being a good mile from the village). A halt was opened at Chilsworthy in 1909 and another serving the Seven Stones pleasure ground existed from 1910 to 1917. All were classic Stephens’ stations and demonstrated his firm stamp on detailed constructional and operational features. [11]

There was now considerable local pressure for the railway to be extended from Kelly Bray to Callington proper, but the company would only undertake this if the land were given free.  The extension was never undertaken and in 1961, the opening of the Tamar road bridge meant that a bus service from Callington to Plymouth was feasible. The poorly sited Callington station lost all purpose, but the residents of the more inaccessible villages fought the Beeching inspired cuts and gained a limited victory. Although freight trains were withdrawn on 28th February 1966 and the Callington branch was closed completely beyond Gunnislake from 7th November 1966, a Gunnislake–Plymouth via Bere Alston passenger service was retained and still continues. This is apparently the last survivor on the national network of all the Stephens influenced passenger light railways. [11]Loco No. 41275 waits with a Callington train at Bere Alston in March 1962, (c) Mike Roach. [2]

Bere Alston Station: The original PD&SWJR station had seperate Up and Down platforms on the double-track main line. To cater for the Callington branch line a new platform face was built at the back of the Up Main platform, which then became an island, although the branch platform face did not extend as far towards Tavistock as the main line side. At the Tavistock (east) end of the branch platform face was the zero mileage point for the branch. The branch approached the station from the west and at the east end of the platform it connected with the PD&SWJR Up sidings and thence the Up Main. [10]An undated picture from the Mike Morant collection taken almost certainly from a train arriving at Bere Alston from the Callington direction. [2]

Although it was possible for branch trains to run through onto the Up Main line this connection was not signalled for passenger traffic, so the branch always maintained a separate passenger service with no normal through running. The main-line signal-box stood on the Up platform near the Tavistock end, but the branch originally had its own signal-box at the Plymouth (west) end of the same platform. However the branch signal-box was closed in 1927 and its work was transferred to the main-line box, which was extended as a result. [10]Bere Alston signal diagram from 1910. [29]Bere Alston in 1910 and 1970. [29]A plan of the station in 1920. [13]

During the early 1960s the freight traffic declined and steam gave way to diesel multiple units (DMUs) for the passenger service on the branch. There was talk of total closure of the branch, but the poor road access in the area meant that the railway viaduct at Calstock remained an important link across the River Tamar. But on 5th November 1966 the Callington Branch was closed completely beyond Gunnislake and the remaining section stayed open for passenger traffic only. The same year saw the closure on 2nd August of the two sidings (opened in 1908) adjacent to the branch. [13]

On the 6th May 1968 the ex-L&SWR main line beyond the east end of Bere Alston station was closed completely. This radical reduction in the railway service in West Devon left Bere Alston as the terminus of a double-track branch from Plymouth, served only by local trains. However it continued to function as a through station rather than a terminus, because the passenger service was revised so that all trains ran through from Plymouth to Gunnislake with a reversal at Bere Alston. [13]

With the disappearance of freight traffic all the remaining sidings at Bere Alston were removed, along with the branch run-round loop, leaving only a plain single-line on the branch side of the Up platform. The branch now made a simple trailing connection direct with the former Up Main, but the directions were re-named so that the line was now ‘up’ to Plymouth rather than ‘down’. [13]

Down DMUs from Plymouth arrived at Bere Alston and stopped at the former Up platform, then pulled forward and reversed onto the branch. In the return direction the DMU ran off the branch onto the old Up main, then reversed across the eastern crossover onto the old Down main and ran back to Plymouth. [13]

On 7th September 1970 Bere Alston signal-box was closed and the main line to Plymouth was reduced to a single track serving the former Down platform, which is now the only one in use. The branch was re-aligned to make a new junction at the south end of the former Down platform and the junction is now controlled by a 2-lever ground-frame, which is released by a key on the single-line train staff and worked by the guard. After this re-arrangement the island platform was taken out of use and the footbridge demolished. [13]

During the 1970s and early 1980s, Bere Alston station suffered from the neglect that afflicted so many rural railways. All the railway staff were withdrawn and the station was boarded-up, although the former station-master’s house remained in use as a private dwelling. [13]The Bere Alston Station Building in the 1970s, showing general dilapidation. [13]Looking West towards Plymouth in the 1970s. [13]Loco No. 41295 at Bere Alston in the 1960s, before the station became the end of the main line. [19] Two images of the station in the early 21st century. [29]

New British Rail ‘corporate image’ signs and paint appeared, but soon faded and the station slowly rotted and rusted away until BR saw the potential of the line for tourism and rebranded it as the “Tamar Valley Line.” As a result the station was eventually repainted. The former signal box and the waiting shelter survive for use by the Engineers’ Department and indeed the signal-box was refurbished in recent years. Sadly however the former goods yard remains an area of dereliction. [13]Bere Alston Station is some distance from the village. This Google Earth satellite image shows both village and station. The line of trees to the East of the station is the route of the old mainline and the possible route of any new line constructed in 21st century (see the map below). The line to Plymouth runs down the West side of the image and the line to Gunnislake leaves the image in the top left corner. Bere Alston Station on a 21st Century OS Map. [29]

Before we head off up the line to Gunnislake, it is important to note that Devon County Council has an aspiration to re-open the railway line between Tavistock and Bere Alston and provide associated multi-use trails in the surrounding area. The re-opening of this section of line would provide a new, sustainable link between Tavistock and Plymouth for commuter journeys, help to minimise traffic on the A386, link Tavistock to the national rail network and also provide an alternative travel option for leisure, education and retail journeys. The multi-use trails will improve access to the surrounding area, which is designated as the Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site.

The scheme is a nationally significant infrastructure project due to its scale, and as such will require development consent from the Secretary of State for Transport, with the Planning Inspectorate acting on his behalf. The route is shown below. [12]Proposed Tavistock to Bere Alston railway re-instatement and associated multi-use trails. [14]

The route of the old branch line left Bere Alston Station at its Western end and curved away North and West. At the time the 1905 OS 6-inch series of maps was being produced the branch to Callington was under construction and its embankments can be seen on the map extract below form the maps published in 1907. [15]The same location as in the 1907 OS Map above is shown in this Google Earth satellite image.

As can be seen on the excerpt from Sheet SX46NW, an OS Map from 1954, the line roughly followed the contours of the land from Bere Alston to Calstock Viaduct. [16]The line passed under the narrow lane shown on the satellite image below and then curves sharply round to the North and then to the East.Close to Calstock Viaduct the railway passes under a road-overbridge as shown below. This isthe same road as in the picture above.Looking back West along the line from the bridge above as it curves away towards Bere Alston.Looking forward along the line from the bridge above towards Calstock Viaduct in the early 21st century.

The line turns to the North once again and approaches Calstock Viaduct on an embankment as shown on the map [16] and photograph below.A nice view of Calstock viaduct from Devon. Note both the embankment and the fact that the home signal is down for a train from Bere Alston to run across the viaduct to Calstock station beyond, (c) Sid Sponheimer. [2]

Without a doubt the finest piece of engineering on the line was the magnificent twelve arch, 850′ long, viaduct. Despite the threat of closure of the line from the 1960s, this viaduct is still carrying trains today. [8]

Calstock Viaduct: built between 1904 and 1907, the viaduct was very “cutting edge” for its day, being built from pre-cast concrete blocks that were manufactured in a temporary factory on the river bank. Some 11,000 of these, which were not reinforced, were required to complete the twelve arches. The whole thing was built to a very high standard and is as good today as the day the line over it was opened, with the concrete blocks looking just like dressed stone. [8]

The Viaduct is a Grade II* listed structure and is shown on the map below [17] on the Historic England website and described by them as follows:

“Railway viaduct over the River Tamar. Completed March 1908; built as part of the Plymouth, Devonport and South West Junction Railway, which had bought the East Cornwall Mineral Railway in 1894. Precast concrete block, manufactured on site in the casting yard on the Devon side of the viaduct. The viaduct has twelve round arches, with rectangular plan tapered piers, in rusticated blocks, with rounded cutwaters. The arches have imposts and voussoirs, plain parapet and coping; stepped corbel between each pair of arches, forming refuges in the parapet. Built by John Charles Lang, a public works contractor of Liskeard, with engineers W.R. Galbraith and Richard Church, as part of the link line from Bere Alston to the East Cornwall Mineral Railway in Calstock. There are similarities between this viaduct and the viaduct in Poundstock, Cornwall (see Poundstock list). During construction, the blocks and other components were transported across the length of the viaduct by means of Blondins, or aerial ropeways. Until 1934, there was a remarkable vertical hoist, which was used to raise the lower tram wagons between river bank level and the viaduct.” [18]

All did not go well, though, with its construction. The builder, John Lang of Liskeard, was first of all late in arranging for the cement to be delivered, then had problems with the block making as initially they suffered from being pitted with waterholes that required filling with liquid cement. The mix included granite chippings and the supply of both these and the cement was not organised with the result that work was frequently held up whilst awaiting materials. This is probably explained by Lang’s tender for the work which, at £54,680 some £20,000 lower than the next one, was hopelessly inadequate despite his being allowed to increase it from his original figure. When the work was completed he sued for an additional £34,750, eventually settling for £15,000. [8]The two monochrome images above were posted on the Southern Railway E-Group website. They show Calstock Viaduct under construction. [8]Another view of the viaduct under construction, this time from the William Gilhen Archive. [21]An early view of the construction of the Viaduct. [31]A view from Caltock towards the opposite bank of the River Tamar during construction of the viaduct. [24]

The next few pictures are a pastiche of different views of the viaduct.A sketch of the viaduct showing the wagon lift. The vantage point is East of the viaduct. [9, (i_023)]An atmospheric early morning. [22]

The adjacent image shows Calstock and its Viaduct from the air. [23]

The viaduct, below, crosses the tidal reaches of the River Tamar. It used 11,148 concrete blocks, cast in a temporary yard on the Devon bank. [25]The Calstock viaduct and quay with lift soon after completion in 1908. [26]A more panoramic view showing hoist viaduct and wharf. [31]Another view from the village across to the Devon bank. Three of the piers stand in the River Tamar, which is tidal at this point and has a minimum clearance at high tide of 110 feet. [27]The beautiful Tamar viaduct is the focal point of Calstock village. [28]

Calstock Station

Beyond the Viaduct sits the station of Calstock which is high above the village. The first, adjacent, image shows the proximity of station and viaduct. [30]

The sequence of images below the station plan are taken from the website. [10] The station plan in 1910. [29] The four images above show Calstock Station in sequence from 1966 to the late 1970s. [10]Calstock in the 1950s. [31] The two images from the 1960s immediately above show: first, a service arriving at the sharply curving station platform having cross the Viaduct on its way to Gunnislake and possibly beyond.; ans secondly, a similar service taking water at Calstock station, not that this time the locomotive is travelling bunker first. [2]Calstock Station in 2012, © Copyright Martin Bodman. [32]

Calstock Station was situated immediately adjacent to the Cornish end of the viaduct and was on a sharp curve (right-hand for Down trains). The small ground-level signal-box was situated just beyond the Gunnislake end of the platform, adjacent to a water tank. Apart from the single platform and main running line there was a loop siding on the Down side, which gave access to further sidings. One of those sidings led to the wagon lift built at the side of the viaduct, by which single wagons could be lowered to further sidings on the Quay 112′ below. [10]

After Calstock the railway gradually gains height as it travels around the flanks of a promontory of land around which the River Tamar flows. [16]The next three images focus on a road crossing next to Eric Road – Okeltor Crossing. The location is to the Southeast of Beechcroft House on the map above. All three are source from Google Earth and Google Streetview.Looking back (above) along the line towards Calstock from Okeltor Crossing.

The adjacent image was taken in the mid-1960s just a little further back down the line towards Calstock and shows a train approaching Okeltor Crossing. [2] Looking ahead up the gradient facing Northeast from the crossing.

Then line turns sharply to the West following the path of the River Tamar, but at a much higher level. It passes to the North of St. Andrew’s Church and crosses two minor roads. The first as a low-headroom masonry arch bridge, the second at grade.Openstreetmap provided this map excerpt. St. Andrew’s church is off to the right of the image. the masory arch bridge just features on the right of the map.The road-under-bridge looking North.The same bridge looking South.Sandiways Crossing is shown at the extreme left of the map above.

The road-crossing on the left of the map above. The view above looks North across the crossing.

The line continues to twist through the countryside North of Calstock and adjacent the Openstreetmap excerpt and the one below it cover the last part of the new formation laid for the standard-gauge line before it joined the route of the old ECMR travelling North from the Calstock Incline.

The route of the ECMR can be seen entering the second map from the bottom as a dotted line which leads in a linear section of dark green woodland. From this poin on the standard-gauge line followed the old ECMR as far as Kelly Bray. The route can be followed in detail on another post:

There is room here, however for some more photos and maps along the route and a number of these follow below.

Gunnislake Station: The next significant stop on the line is Gunnislake. The old station was located a little further from Calstock than the present terminus. The earlier station’s location is shown on the 1954 6-inch OS Map just below.

Gunnislake was the only passing place on the line and unusually it had an island platform between the loops, with pedestrian access via a subway under the Down loop at the Calstock end. The station was situated a short distance to the west of the main A390 road, which it crossed by a girder bridge whose low headroom was a source of trouble to road traffic for many years. There was a goods yard on the Down side, which was served by a siding adjacent to the Down Loop accessed by a trailing connection at the Callington end. There were another two sidings at the back of the yard, which had a separate connection from the single line side at the Callington end of the station, just at the spot where a minor road crossed the line by a small girder over-bridge. [10]

On the up side there was a single siding adjacent to the Up Loop, which was accessed by a trailing connection at the Calstock end, and in later years it terminated in a buffer-stop opposite the Callington end of the platform. Originally there was also a second trailing connection from the Up Loop to this siding at the Callington end (instead of the buffer-stop), with the siding dividing into two lines which swung away from the railway – probably to serve the local Pearson’s stone quarry. It is not known when these additional sidings and associated pointwork were removed. The signal-box was located at ground level on the Up side of the line adjacent to the (later) buffer-stop of the Up Siding. [10]Gunnislake Station not long after opening. [29]Gunnislake station taken when the branch was very much in use is courtesy the Mike Morant Collection. The view looks South towards Calsotck. Note the large number of vans and wagons in the yard. Just one car and a motorcycle combination are the only evidence of private transport other than a bicycle leaning on the station wall. If living in Gunnislake village the cyclist would have had to face a stiff climb up and a dangerous descent down. [2]A shot of the low bridge over the A390 at the South end of Gunnislake Station as a Bere Alston bound train heads away from the well signposted station. The warning of the 12′ 4″ high bridge ahead is extremely close to the very nasty obstacle. One hopes that there were earlier warnings, (c) Sid Sponheimer. The centre of Gunnislake is nigh on a mile away down a very steep hill. [2]

On 2nd August 1966 all the goods sidings were taken out of use, except for the one immediately adjacent to the Down loop. Three months later on 7th November 1966, the branch was closed completely beyond Gunnislake and then taken up in June 1967, after which the line terminated at a buffer-stop erected just beyond the road over-bridge west of the station. Both platform loops remained in use until further changes on 5th May 1968, when the Down loop and remaining siding were taken out of use. Thereafter there was just a plain line serving the former Up platform face, whilst the buffer-stop was moved east of the over-bridge closer to the station. [10]Gunnislake in the springtime. The passing loop here was taken out of use on the closing of the line beyond this point on 7th November 1967. The very small signalbox by the buffers on the left of the picture was closed 5th May 1968. The sidings, just visible on the bottom right, were taken out of use 2nd August 1968, (c) Sid Sponheimer. [2]The Down side Station building in 1977 just before demolition. [10]

The station building was demolished in the late-1970s and replaced by a small concrete shelter, which itself was replaced in due course by a glass ‘bus stop’ type structure. Part of the former Down Sidings and Down Loop area was converted into a car park for rail passengers. This general arrangement remained in use until the new station was opened at Gunnislake in 1994, after which the old station site was redeveloped for housing in 2003. [10]The low headroom bridge on the A390 is shown above in the last days before its removal. [2]

The adjacent Openstreetmap excerpt shows the location of the new station in relation to the A390. As noted elsewhere the new station was finished and became operational in 1994.

The drawing below was produced at design stage and does not show the actual arrangement of parking bays in the car park.

A copy of the plan of the new station as drawn by Peter Butt Cornwall Railway Society member for Cornwall County Council. [2]The new station on completion in 1994. The old A390 bridge is now just a memory. [2]The overbridge at the North end of the old Gunnislake Station. The picture was taken in 1973 when the railway was closed just around the bend ahead towards Chlsworthy, (c) Trevor Tremethick. [2]Loco No. 41309 works hard up the grade north of Gunnislake. 2nd November 1963, (c) Sid Sponheimer. [2]

Chilsworthy Halt: served the small village of the same name that was situated just below the line. This station was originally just a single platform with a small shelter on the Up side of the single line, situated just west of a minor road overbridge, but in later years there were also a number of sidings in close proximity. The station was closed on 5th November 1966 although the platform was still in existence in 2003 and the access path to it from the adjacent road now forms part of a public footpath. [10]Chilsworthy Station track diagram from 1910. [29] A mixed train stands at Cilsworthy Halt in 1964, (c) Mike Roach. [2]Chilsworthy Halt in the 1950s. [31]A Callington bound train slows to a stop at Chilsworthy in the picture above. No doubt the picture was snapped from the over bridge in the photo immediately above, (c) Sid Sponheimer. [2]

The two smaller pictures show the station after closure: first in September 1973, (c) Trevor Tremethck, and second in July 1980 (c) Peter Butt. [2]

Beyond Chilsworthy a major industrial complex was the next most significant feature alongside the line – Hingston Down Quarry. A loop and siding served the site.The  track layout appears on the 6-inch OS Map of 1954. [33]The quarry area is much enlarged in the early 21st century.

Hingston Down Quarry was still in use in 2011 the road which ran parallel to the old railway is still in place and the picture below from Google Streetview shows the quarry buildings in 2010 looking West. The old railway ran on a line which is off the the right of the picture. Latchley Halt: was a couple of hundred metres to the West of the Quarry and is shown on the adjacent map extract. [33]

It had a single platform on the Down side of the running line, which was recorded in 1908 as being 220′ long. Immediately west of the platform the railway crossed a minor road by an un-gated level-crossing. There was a siding on the Up side opposite the platform, which was accessed by a connection facing to Down trains at the Gunnislake end of the station. A small loading platform was located between the main line and siding in front of the main platform and opposite this again outside the siding was the stationmaster’s house and ex-ECMR goods shed. The siding was removed at some unknown date after 1950 and the station itself was closed on 5th November 1966. The station house and trackbed are now in private ownership. [10] A Bere Alston bound train enters Latchley, the train having just passed over the level crossing on the minor road to the West of the Halt, (c). Sid Sponheimer. [2]

The Halt is shown in 1949 in the adjacent image before the removal of the siding (c) P.S. Butt [2]Latchley and Seven Stones Halts in 1910. [29]

Seven Stones Halt: was just a simple platform on the Down side, which was opened in 1910 in order to serve the nearby Phoenix Pleasure Grounds. It is shown on the OS Map above. [34] Sometimes it is referred to as Phoenix Mines Halt after the nearby mines, whose owners contributed to its cost. The halt was closed when the Pleasure Grounds shut during World War I, the date being given variously as 1914 or 1917. A later plan records the platform as being 140′ long. Part of the platform still remained in 2003, over 85 years since it was last used by passengers! Immediately west of the platform the railway crossed a minor road by an un-gated level-crossing. The route of the old standard-gauge line is visible on the right of the picture below, as is the old platform face of the Halt. [10][35]

The Park opened in June 1910 and closed in September 1917 and was built by a local entrepreneur as a leisure grounds on the site of the former Phoenix Brick Works. In ECMR (East Cornwall Mineral Railway) days there may have been a siding feeding the brick works but this had gone by the time the PD&SWJR converted the mineral railway to standard gauge and passenger working in 1908. By all accounts facilities at the Park were basic with a few swings etc. Communal cooking facilities were provided for families on a day out from Plymouth. The grounds were popular with organised group outings, (usually on a Sunday) particularly church groups and the occasional political outing. Occasionally special trains were organised and on one occasion a special train was run for 400 members of the Plymouth Liberal Party. The platform still exists and this and the remains of the former brick works were the home of the Phoenix narrow gauge railway (2ft) who were quite active until asked to vacate the site in 2012. Details and pictures can be found on Bruce Hunts Blog site. [35]

Luckett Station: [34] was known originally as Stoke Climsland. It had a 225′ platform on the Down side and a loop siding opposite it on the Up side, with connections to the main line at both ends of the station. Immediately to the west of the station the line was crossed by a minor road on a girder over-bridge. There was a further siding on the Down side at the Gunnislake end of the platform, with a connection that faced Up trains, and apparently this siding boasted a carriage shed for some years. There was originally a small ground-level signal-box here on the Up side at the Callington end of the loop, but in 1923 this was reduced to a ground-frame. A separate small ground-frame worked the Gunnislake end of the loop siding. The carriage siding was taken out of use on 31st March 1923. The loop siding was taken out of use on 23rd September 1962 and the station itself was closed on 5the November 1966. The station house and trackbed are now in private ownership. [10]Luckett Station (Stoke Climslad Station) in the early 20th century. [31]Luckett Station looking Northwest in 1963. [36]The station site is now in private hands the old track-bed is grassed but the platform shelter remains. The main station buildings have been much altered to suit their owner’s tastes. [36]But they are still clearly old station buildings! [36]Calling the terminus station of the branch Cllington was really a bit of a stretch. There was no extension of the line to Callington beyond the original terminus of the ECMR at Kellybray! [34]

Callington Station at Kellybray: the standard-gauge’s arrival at Kellybray saw the renaming of the terminus and a significant upgrading of the station facilities. The new station was a fairly conventional terminus, with a single platform on the up side and several sidings and a run-round loop on the Down side. However the run-round loop was at the approach to the station, rather than alongside the platform, so arriving trains had to be propelled back out from the platform for the engine to run round. The ground-level signal-box was located at the Gunnislake end of the platform. Rather grandly, as befitted the main station of the Light Railway, Callington also boasted an overall roof over the station platform and main line, with an extension over an adjacent siding that was removed in later years. On the Up side of the line there was a two-road engine shed, which was accessed originally by a connection facing to Up trains close to the end of the platform. [10]Awaiting the first ever train at Callington in 1908. [37]‘Earl of Mount Edgcumbe’ & ‘Lord St. Leven’ at Callington. [31]Passenger train at Callington circa 1910. [31]

A new connection (facing to Down trains) was installed in 1916 on the Up side beyond the Gunnislake end of the engine shed and this led to some cattle sidings. Further changes took place in 1928, with the modification of various sidings and alteration to the connections to the main line. In particular the existing tracks into the west (station) end of the engine shed were removed and a new access provided from the east (Gunnislake) end. The platform was lengthened by 94′ at the eastern end, which meant that the signal-box was moved one chain nearer Gunnislake. Goods facilities at Callington were closed on 28-Feb-1966 and the station was closed completely on 5-Nov-1966. The whole station site has been re-devoloped for both industrial use and residential housing, although one or two of the old buildings from the goods yard still survive. [10]Callington station, the terminus of the branch line. [31]









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Appendix 1 – The Railway Magazine – October 1912

One of the prettiest railways around Plymouth is the line of the Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Company, which runs from Bere Alston station to Callington. Originally it was a narrow gauge mineral railway, constructed for the purpose of carrying minerals and stone from the various mines and quarries from Callington and district to Calstock Quay. It was bought by the Company, and worked by them for several years as a mineral line, the ultimate object being to connect it with their main line at Bere Alston, which is being worked as a part of the London and South Western Railway system. In 1908 the Plymouth and Devonport Company re-modeled the mineral line, substituting modern appliances for the old, and converting it into a standard gauge railway. They also built a costly viaduct over the river Tamar, and cut a new line from Calstock to Bere Alston station.

The rolling stock consists of 5 locomotives, 4 first-class saloons, 12 third-class coaches and “compo.” brakes, and 52 goods vehicles. Opened for traffic on March 2, 1908, the line runs through some of the most beautiful scenery in the West. There are no sulphurous tunnels, and one need not be afraid to look out of the carriage windows to admire the beauties of the district, or to inhale the fresh air from the neighbouring hills.

Two 0-6-2 tank engines, the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe and Lord St. Levan, have been doing some fine work over this small line. Some of the gradients are 1 in 38 and several of the curves are of 6 chain radius. The Tamar river is crossed by means of a fine concrete viaduct, and Calstock station is on the western side. On the viaduct a wagon lift, worked by steam, has been erected for lifting loaded and empty wagons from Calstock Quay to the running roads. The capacity of this lift is 16 tons, and the height from the quay to rail level is 110 ft.

A break of journey at Calstock will enable any persons interested in railway appliances to inspect the lift. Calstock, a small town situate on the Cornish banks of the Tamar, is somewhat unique as a parish in this part of the county. Its river scenery is unsurpassed, and unusually variegated. From the time it skirts the parish below the rural and picturesque Horse Bridge to its passage past Cotehele, we have here well wooded and gentle slopes, there beetling crags rising hundreds of feet; then a village nestling amidst rich orchards and fertile gardens; and next an island, small, but like a gem set in the silvery waters. From the tortuous river the ground rises like a series of terraces to Hingston Down, one of the numerous moors running through Cornwall. This has its natural crown and gloryin Kit Hill the highest point in the neighbour­hood, whence may be seen such widely different points of the compass as Caradon, Windmill (in Launceston) the tors of Dartmoor, and Saltash railway bridge. The main road which leads to Callington is 700 ft. high, and from it the sea to the south by day and the revolving lights of Eddystone by night are clearly dis­cernible.

After leaving Calstock, the line begins a climb of 400 ft. to Gunnislake station, winding in and out curves of 6 chain radius. If seated in a rear carriage, a passenger can often see the 0-6-2 tank engine toiling with might and main on her way up the grade of 1 in 38 round some sharp curve.The above picture is a typical illustration of one of these curves.

Readers will note the check rail, and the fact that the line is literally cut from the side of the hill. After leaving Gunnislake, still climbing, we get fine views of Brent Tor, Latchley, and the Tamar meandering through the valley hundreds of feet below. Passing along, we come to Luckett station, where the summit of Kit Hill is within easy distance. Here we find a smart and trim lady station mistress, who, single handed, attend, to passenger, parcels and goods traffic, and is responsible for signals. Kit Hill, famous as the highest land in the district, except Caradon Hill, is at an altitude of 1,067 ft. above sea level. Situate about 1½ miles from CallingtonTown, it forms the summit of Hingston Down, whereon are seen a mine stack and buildings, as well as the remains of a large encampment, still marking the scene of a terrible battle fought centuries ago.

The remarkable pile of stones called the “Cheesewring” or “Wringcheese” — so named because they rest upon each other in cheese fashion—is situate on the common called Stowes. Comprising a large mass of granite rock 22 ft. high, these stones over- hang their base so much that the wonder. is how they remain in position. Ten in number, the stones are at the broadest place on the top about 34 ft. diameter, and at the narrowest part of the base about 17 ft. This place is an object of great interest to the tourist, and a natural curiosity. Within a mile to the northward of the Cheesewring, stands another extraordinary assemblage of rocks, termed, owing to their conical arrangement, “SharpPointTor.” The elevation is 1,200 ft. above the sea and the panoramic scenery is very fine. This, with Kilmer, is the highest point in the district of East Cornwall. Tourist and Excursion tickets are issued from all the principal stations on the London and South Western Railway to any station on the Plymouth, Devonport and. South Western Junction Railway, and the line is becoming exceedingly popular for school pleasure parties, extensive accommodation being made at the various grounds on the system.