The Guinness Brewery Railways, Dublin

The Railway Magazine, in July 1951, carried a short article about the the railways within the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. This seems like another excellent subject to look into. The article was entitled, “An Irish Brewery Railway” and was written by Frank Jeffares. [1]

The full article is reproduced below.The Guinness Brewery in St James’s Gate, Dublin was founded by Arthur Guinness in 1759, one of dozens based on the pure water available from the River Liffey. Guinness outlasted and outgrew all its competitors to become one of the greatest brewing empires in the world. During the nineteenth century the business benefited from an explosive growth of sales in Britain. Output reached 750,000 barrels in 1875 and 1.2 million barrels in 1886, by which time St James’s Gate was the largest brewery in the world. [6]

Between 1868 and 1886 Guinness spent over £1 million on capital projects. A Grand Canal tributary was cut into the brewery to enable special Guinness barges to carry consignments out onto the Irish canal system or to the Dublin port. [6]

Two rail systems were also created within the expanded brewery site. There were over 8 miles of 22in. narrow gauge lines and 2 miles of Irish standard gauge (5ft. 3in.) lines within the Brewery site. The factory is built on steeply rising ground close to the Liffey in Dublin. This means a maximum gradient on the narrow gauge of 1 in 40 and a rise between the lower an upper levels of 25ft. according to Jeffares [2] and 50ft. according to Ellison. [3]

Subsequent to the publication of the article in The Railway Magazine, a paper was presented to the Irish Railway Society in 1965 by Paul Ellison which was entitled, “Guinness Brewery Tramways.” [3]

In that paper, Ellison highlight the increase in output from the Guinness Brewery in Dublin in the Victorian era. Output had reached such proportions by the 1870s “that the movement of large quantities of heavy and bulky raw materials and waste products within the brewery was proving a serious obstruction to any future projected expansion. The existing methods (horse tramway, and horse and cart were both slow and cumbersome and very inefficient.” [3]

Acquisition of land between the existing brewery and the River Liffey allowed some expansion to take place and some activities previously carried out in the old brewery were transferred there. Moreover, as this land was situated near the Kingsbridge terminus of the Great Southern & Western Railway (GSWR), a direct connection with the Irish railway network could be effected, with barges working to and from a quay on the Liffey. [3]

The solution to the transport problem lay in the construction of a narrow gauge railway network serving the entire brewery. Much of the basic system was laid between 1873 and 1877 under the supervision of Samuel Geoghegan who joined the brewery engineering staff in 1872 at the age of 28 and rose to the position of Head Engineer in 1875. Mr Geoghegan set himself certain limits on the size of the narrow gauge lines and rolling stock. The track gauge was settled at 1ft 10in, the loading gauge was to have a headway of six feet and a maximum width of five feet, and the maximum gradient was to be not steeper than 1 in 40. [3] The picture above shows some preserved rails outside Brewhouse No. 2. [5]

A difference in levels of about 50ft existed between the old brewery and the newer land which sloped sharply down to the Liffey, the two areas being separated by James’s Street. [3]

Ellison goes on to say: “To connect the two halves of the works and overcome the difference in levels, Mr Geoghegan constructed a spiral tunnel in the old brewery and took the narrow gauge line under James’s Street. The spiral section replaced a short-lived hydraulic lift, a clumsy and slow apparatus which could only manage to tale one wagon at a time, causing trains to be broken up and re-assembled on different levels. The single track spiral tunnel contained the line’s steepest gradient, 1 in 39, and, in 2.65 turns raised the line about 35ft, with a spiral radius of 61.25ft. The narrow gauge track was largely laid in granite setts, for the benefit of road vehicles in the brewery yards, and this also applied to lines laid on the quay. The permanent way itself, where laid in setts, consisted originally of 56lbs per yard iron tram rails fastened to longitudinal sleepers which were laid on cross sleepers. When laid in concrete the rails were set directly in the ground, using wrought iron cross ties. Later, 76lb steel rails having a web and flange were brought into use, being laid on cross sleepers. Narrow gauge points used the tongued, pointed rail found on many early tramways. Two noteworthy features of the narrow gauge network were the marshalling yard (officially known as No.10 Vathouse Yard in the lower half of the brewery which was still in use in September, 1964, together with the tunnel, and also the quay on the Liffey, started in 1873, but demolished in February, 1963. The quay was extended at various intervals until 1913, but nothing remains of it today.” [3] It can be seen in the adjacent image. [9]

The tunnel is described in an article by Bob Thompson on the “Brewery Visits” Webpage [5] as follows:

I visited the brewery in 1969, I believe, as part of a group from the I.R.R.S. (Irish Railway Record Society). Most of the railway had closed by then but I clearly remember our guide lifting a metal cover to give us a view of the railway in the tunnel below.

The tunnel was entered behind the narrow gauge loco shed which was in the yard in front of the No 2 Brew House; the sole brewery in use when I visited back then. The shed was a quarter roundhouse with six or seven roads. One fascinating feature of the tunnel is that there was a branch off it on a lower level that runs under the No 2 Brew House before the line crossed under the road. This was to take coal to heat the boilers and remove the ash.

Around 1901 there was a horrible accident when a train derailed and the locomotive fell into the ash pit; the driver was burned alive.

Once under James’s Street the tunnel continued for some distance after. The tunnel was the only part of the extensive system to be signalled. As a train entered the tunnel the driver turned a disc from “clear” to “halt”. This engaged a similar signal at the end to display the same indication. All other movements were performed by flagmen walking in front of the train.

The tunnel exited on the middle level and continued downgrade towards the River Liffey where it turned through 180 degrees to descend further to reach the lower level. This was where the filled casks were destined to the main storage area prior to despatch, it was also where the empty barrels arrived and were stacked in huge pyramids before cleansing and re-use. Naturally the railway took them back up the hill up to be filled. [5]

The network of tramways in the Guinness Brewery site. [3]

A few years after the construction of the narrow gauge tramway a broad gauge line was laid to connect the lowest level of the brewery, by the river, with the Kingsbridge goods yard. [3] Of that line, Wikipedia says: “The broad gauge tramway connected the brewery with the goods yards of Heuston Station. The system began circa 1880, had a gauge of 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) and was horse-drawn but horses were replaced by the narrow gauge tramway’s locomotives on a special haulage wagon. The broad gauge system closed on 15 May 1965. [4]

Narrow gauge signalling was by hand or flag as required except at each end of the spiral tunnel, where a simple method of signalling was in operation. This consisted of two interlocked discs, one being suspended at each end of the tunnel. When a driver approached the tunnel and saw the disc at the vertical, or “clear”, position, he would proceed and turn the disc to the horizontal, or “line blocked”, position as he passed. This automatically caused the disc at the other end of the tunnel to display the same aspect. On leaving the tunnel the driver turned the disc back to the “clear” position. Interestingly, the signalling system is described differently in The Railway Magazine article above. [2][3]

Trains usually worked short trips on each level or between adjacent levels. On the bottom level narrow gauge trains worked between the broad gauge loading and unloading banks, and the cask washing sheds. Often, more than eight thousand casks could be moved by one train in a single day. On the middle level, malt was the chief traffic, trains running between the maltings and the malt store. At the upper and middle levels, trains removed used hops and spent grain to the disposal points, whilst on the upper level malt and hops were taken to the brewhouse. At one time narrow gauge trains also served the jetty, connecting it with the cask cleansing and racking plant. [3]

Two years after construction of the line had started, the first of the narrow gauge locomotives was delivered. This was a small Sharp Stewart 0−4−0 saddle tank costing £445, with inside cylinders (unusual for a narrow gauge locomotive) and numbered ‘1’ in the narrow gauge locomotive stock. It weighed only about two tons and proved to be inadequate for the work. One problem encountered with it was maintenance of the motion, which, being very near the ground, was inaccessible whilst the locomotive was on the road. Later, as more engines appeared on the scene, No.1 was used only for hauling the visitors’ special passenger train, and it was eventually withdrawn from service in 1913. [3][5]

In the following year, 1876, two locomotives were obtained from Stephen Lewin, of Poole, Dorset, at a cost of £366 each; they carried numbers 2 and 3 and were named HOPS and MALT respectively.These locomotives were geared and had large flywheels, similar to steam rollers. Weighing about five tons each they were more powerful than No.1, but repair costs were heavy owing to a lack of springs. They damaged the track and were slow and troublesome in operation. [3][5]

1878 saw the arrival of two larger locomotives. These were Sharp Stewart 0−4−0 side tank engines weighing six tons each and having outside cylinders. Although an improvement on the previous locomotives the motion was still near the ground, and these engines were expensive to operate as dirt could, and did, enter the moving parts. However, as they survived until 1925, they must have had a certain measure of success. [3][5]

None of the first five locomotives being entirely satisfactory, Mr Geoghegan set about designing a locomotive possessing all their best features but without their handicaps. The result was an 0−4−0 side tank engine with horizontally mounted cylinders situated above the marine-type boiler driving through a dummy crankshaft and vertical connecting rods, which in turn drove the wheels. Instead of the cylinders being bolted to the boiler, they were fixed to the frames which were carried the full height of the locomotive above the top of the boiler. The side tanks were also attached to the frames. Another novel feature was the independent spring frame which consisted of eight steel leaves in pairs, two pairs on each side of the locomotive and one pair each above and below the axleboxes. It was attached to the front and back stays, so that by removing the pins and connecting rods, and with the locomotive lifted, the spring frame could be wheeled out from beneath the locomotive to receive attention and maintenance. The general layout of these engines was one of accessibility for repair but with maximum protection from dirt. [3][5] Geoghegan’s drawing is shown in the image above. [5] The principal dimensions of these locomotives were as in the table below: [3]

Cylinders (two) : 7in diam x 8in stroke
Wheels : 1ft 10in diameter
Wheelbase : 3ft 0in
Boiler : 2ft 5in inside diameter
Boiler tubes : 64 x 1½in inside diameter
2ft 103/8in long
Boiler pressure : 180 lbs per sq in
Heating surface : 13.75 sq ft (firebox)
72.61 sq ft (tubes)
Fire grate area : 3.24 sq ft
Capacities : 3½ cwts coal
80 galls water
Axle loading : 3.6 tons leading axle
3.8 tons trailing axle
Total weight : 7 tons 8 cwts
Tractive effort : 2,900 lbs
Max. loading : 75 tons (level track)
18 tons (1 in 40 grade)

Ellison says that a “prototype locomotive was built in 1882 by the Avonside Engine Company, of Bristol, at a cost of £848, and numbered ‘6’ in the locomotive stock, This was also the last of Guinness’s narrow gauge steam locomotives to be built in England, all others being built by William Spence, of the Cork Street Foundry and Engineering Works, in Dublin. This firm built locomotives 7 to 9 in 1887, 10 to 12 in 1891 and 13 to 15 in 1895. A further four, the largest single order for these engines, were turned out in 1902, whilst 20 and 21 were delivered in 1905. 22 entered traffic in 1912 and the last two finally appeared in 1921. No.6 was withdrawn in 1936 but all the others survived the Second World War and lasted until the introduction of diesel locomotives.” [3]Locomotive  No. 15. [10]Locomotives Nos. 22 & 23. [8]

Thompson describes the first of these locos as being “rather odd-looking. To solve the dirt problem it had a heavy box-like frame with the two cylinders mounted on the top horizontally. Their valve gear drove vertical connecting rods which engaged the wheels below. The boiler was inside the “box” with the funnel barely visible. The side tanks were an integral part of the frame.” [5]

The steam locomotive fleet gave good service until around 1940 when it was clear that the maintenance of the ageing steam locomotives was becoming too expensive. This resulted in a decision that the steam fleet should be retired in favour if new diesel propulsion. The restricted loading gauge and sharp curvature of many of the lines presented many difficulties in design. To meet the necessary requirements a seven ton, 37 horsepower “Planet” diesel locomotive was produced by F.C. Hibberd & Co. Ltd., Park Royal, London. The first example, No.25, was built in 1947, and after trials, Nos.26 to 30 followed in 1948. The other six, Nos.31 to 36, were built in 1950, but No.36 was not delivered until 1951, after spending some months at the Festival of Britain Exhibition in London. [3][5][6] The image above shows one of these locomotives in charge of a train of tip wagons. [12]

Ellison notes that “by 1964 more than half of the narrow gauge mileage had ceased to function and some of these locomotives were no longer needed. With spare parts for the diesels becoming difficult to obtain, locomotives 28, 30 and 33 were withdrawn from service in 1961. By September 1964, all three were stored in the marshalling yard, looking much the worse for their sojourn in the open air, spare parts being taken from them as required in order to keep the other nine diesels in service.” [3]

Narrow gauge wagons were of singularly few types almost from the very beginning. “Mr Geoghegan designed the standard tip wagon, built to carry grain, hops and other bulky goods about the brewery. It was built as large as possible within maximum limits of a width of five feet, overall length of eight feet, a height of six feet, and a three feet wheelbase. These four wheeled vehicles had a maximum capacity of eighty cubic feet and a weight in working order of 4 ton. The wagon body, made of bin steel plate, rested on end frames, with rollers enabling the body to be tipped sideways when the load was to be discharged.” [3] These wagons can be seen in the picture above. Engine No. 18, built in 1902, is seen hauling a train of tip wagons. The maximum load normally taken by a locomotive of this type is 75 tons at a speed of four miles an hour on the level. [11]Loads too large for the tip wagons were conveyed on bogie flatcars which had a tare weight of about 1 ton 8 cwt. Large numbers of these vehicles were constructed, but there is nothing unusual except their application to such a small gauge, and that the couplings were carried on the end of the bogie and not on the wagon body.” [3][11]

There were also a few four wheeled vehicles with seats and canopies, painted dark blue, which were provided for the conveyance of parties of visitors about the works. These were still extant in the vicinity of the narrow gauge shed, and preserved locomotive 15, in September 1964.

The broad gauge line dated from the late 1870s or early 1880s. It connected the brewery with what was at the time known as Kingsbridge goods yard, and at its greatest extent possessed about two miles of track, out of the brewery’s one-time overall mileage of ten. Ellison says: “The line started at the loading and unloading banks and then ran out of the premises and along the public highway for about 500 yards to the goods yard. Compared with the narrow gauge lines, this section had a largely level route, as Kingsbridge yard and the lowest part of the brewery, where the line started, were much the same height above the river. This section of line along the public road was laid in granite setts, rather in the manner of a street tramway, right up to the time of closure. Probably unique in Ireland the rail used was of the centre-grooved type on which the wagons ran on their wheel flanges instead of their treads, whilst another notable feature was the unusual points necessary with this type of rail, wherein the whole rail was moved like a stub point.” [3]

Initially horses were used to convey wagons on the broad gauge, but from 1888, hauling and shunting was undertaken by narrow gauge locomotives mounted on unique vehicles called “haulage wagons”, another of Geoghegan’s inventions. A narrow gauge locomotive in a haulage wagon. [10]

“The way in which the haulage wagons functioned was most interesting. A narrow gauge locomotive was lifted by an hydraulic hoist which stood astride a short section of gauntletted, dual gauge track. A haulage wagon was then propelled under the narrow gauge engine and the latter lowered between the frames of the former. Both ends of the locomotive were engaged in the wagon and the wheels of the narrow gauge engine rested on rollers whose shafts were geared to the running wheels of the haulage wagon at 3 to 1 reduction.” [3][10]A view of a haulage wagon from above. On the left are the broad-gauge wheels, and in the centre is one of the rollers driven by the wheels of the narrow-gauge locomotive. Immediately to its right is the casing for the 3 to 1 reduction gears. Since there is almost certainly only one pair of meshing gears, the haulage truck wheels must have gone round in the opposite direction from those on the locomotive.This must have been confusing.The curved bit of metal at top right was presumably to prevent fore-and-aft movement of the locomotive on the rollers. [10]

Thus, temporarily, a narrow gauge engine became a broad gauge geared locomotive. Until the advent of conventional broad gauge locomotives, this was the exclusive form of broad gauge motive power. They were permitted to work loads of as many as thirteen broad gauge wagons fully laden. Two out of the original total of four of these haulage wagons, with the two 1921 steam locomotives in harness, were working in September 1964.” [3][10]

This apparently ramshackle arrangement was actually very effective, and it operated from 1888 until 1964 at the brewery. As we hgave already noted, four haulage trucks were built. They continued in use even after conventional broad gauge locomotives were purchased in 1921. However, the system does not appear to have been copied elsewhere. At least one of the haulage trucks has been preserved, along with the lifting gantry and winch, and can be seen along with locomotive No 23 at Amberley Museum. [10]

Orthodox broad gauge locomotives were eventually used. “The first was a short lived four wheeled petrol locomotive built by Messrs. Straker & Squire in 1912. It had a four cylinder engine unit of 90bhp output at 500rpm, transmission being by means of a Hele-Shaw clutch; in either direction there were four running speeds. A two cylinder compressor unit mounted on the footplate was driven by a 2½bhp petrol engine and this supplied compressed air for starting the main engine, and for the whistle. After giving considerable trouble in traffic, it was withdrawn from service in 1916 and finally went for scrap in 1921.” [3]

The next two broad gauge locomotives, Nos. 2 and 3, were a pair of Hudswell Clarke outside cylinder 0−4−0 saddle tanks, built in 1914 and 1919 respectively. “Apart from each being fitted with a brass bell and having the motion and wheels enclosed for working through the Dublin streets, they were a standard design adapted for the 5ft 3in gauge. The leading dimensions were – cylinders 15in by 22in; wheel diameter 3ft 4in; boiler pressure 175 lbs per sq in; weight empty 24 tons. The most modern of the quartet of broad gauge locomotives was a Hudswell Clarke 0−4−0 diesel, No.4, named GUINNESS and built in 1949.” [3][11]Broad gauge locomotive No. 2 in 1947, © F. Jones. [3]

Ellison closes his paper, written in the late 1960s, as follows:

The broad gauge line is now no more, closed as the result of a road widening scheme. 0n Saturday morning, 15th May 1965, No.2 took the last train of vans to Rings bridge yard, and today the casks are taken there by lorry for trans-shipment into railway wagons. The narrow gauge system lingers on, although changing conditions since the Second World War have rendered parts obsolete in favour of other methods of transport. The narrow gauge network north of the marshalling yard, including the lines on the jetty in the lower part of the brewery, all closed in April 1961, but no major closures have taken place since then. Although this interesting brewery tramway will probably be eliminated in the not too distant future, it has served Guinness well and played a very important part in its success story.

The lines across the whole site were gone by the mid-1970s. The narrow gauge railway was in use right up until 1975. As we have already noted the broad gauge was gone by the mid-1960s. Today Geoghegan engine No. 17 and a Planet diesel engine No. 47, both feature in the Transport display at GUINNESS® STOREHOUSE. No. 13 Geoghegan engine is preserved at the Narrow Guage Railway Museum in Wales. [7]


D  – Diesel ST  – Saddle Tank
HIW  – Haulage Wagon T  – Side Tank
P  – Petrol TG  – Tank loco, geared drive


Number Name Type Builder Number Year Disposal
  1 0-4-0ST Sharp, Stewart 2477 1875 Scrapped 1913
  2 HOPS 0-4-0TG Stephen Lewin 1876 Scrapped 1914
  3 MALT 0-4-0TG Stephen Lewin 1876 Scrapped 1927
  4 0-4-0T Sharp, Stewart 2764 1878 Scrapped 1925
  5 0-4-0T Sharp, Stewart 2765 1878 Scrapped 1925
  6 0-4-0T Avonside 1337 1882 Withdrawn 1936, Scrapped 1947
  7 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1887 Scrapped 1948
  8 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1887 Scrapped 1948
  9 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1887 Scrapped 1949
10 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1891 Scrapped 1949
11 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1891 Scrapped 1949
12 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1891 Scrapped 1954
13 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1895 To Towyn Museum, Merioneth 1956
14 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1895 Scrapped 1951
15 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1895 Withdrawn 1957, presented to the Irish Steam Preservation Society; present location not known
16 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1902 Scrapped 1951
17 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1902 Withdrawn 1962, preserved on site
18 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1902 Scrapped 1951
19 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1902 Scrapped 1951
20 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1905 To Belfast Museum, 1956
21 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1905 Withdrawn 1959, noted out of use at the Brewery in August 1965.
22 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1912 Withdrawn 1957, noted out of use at the Brewery in August 1965. 
23 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1921 To Brockham Museum, Surrey 1966
24 0-4-0T Wm. Spence 1921 Retained for preservation
25 4wD F.C.Hibberd 3068 1947
26 4wD F.C.Hibberd 3255 1948
27 4wD F.C.Hibberd 3256 1948
28 4wD F.C.Hibberd 3257 1948 Withdrawn 1961
29 4wD F.C.Hibberd 3258 1948
30 4wD F.C.Hibberd 3259 1948 Withdrawn 1961
31 4wD F.C.Hibberd 3446 1950
32 4wD F.C.Hibberd 3444 1950
33 4wD F.C.Hibberd 3445 1950 Withdrawn 1961
34 4wD F.C.Hibberd 3448 1950
35 4wD F.C.Hibberd 3449 1950
36 4wD F.C.Hibberd 3447 1950 Delivered in 1951 after being exhibited at the Festival of Britain.


1 4wHW Wm. Spence 1888
2 4wHW Wm. Spence 1888
3 4wHW Wm. Spence 1893 Now owned by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland.
4 4wHW Wm. Spence 1903 To Brockham Museum, Surrey, 1966, now Amberly Museum.
1 4wP Straker-Squire 1912 Withdrawn 1916, Scrapped 1921
2 0-4-0ST Hudswell Clarke 1079 1914 Scrapped 1965
3 0-4-0ST Hudswell Clarke 1152 1919 Preserved, presented to the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, 1965.
4 0-4-0D Hudswell Clarke D700 1949 Scrapped, June 1966


  1. Frank Jeffares; An Irish Brewery Railway; The Railway Magazine, July 1951, p446-449.
  2. Ibid., p446.
  3., accessed on 26th April 2019.
  4., accessed on 26th April 2019.
  5., accessed on 26th April 2019.
  6., accessed on 26th April 2019.
  7., accessed on 27th April 2019.
  8., accessed on 27th April 2019.
  9. Hugh Oram; Ireland’s Largest Industrial Railway – The Guinness System; Stenlake Publishing, 2017.
  10., accessed on 27th April 2019.
  11., accessed on 27th April 2019.
  12. Hugh Oram, op. cit., p37.



2 thoughts on “The Guinness Brewery Railways, Dublin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.