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16 October 2014
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Strabane Railway

Strabane actually had a railway before Belfast - reaching the town in 1845, from Londonderry.

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Strabane Railway - Part 1

Strabane Station
Strabane Station

Strabane actually had a railway before Belfast - reaching the town in 1845, from Londonderry. The largest rail junction in Ireland during the first half of 20th century, Strabane catered for 4 different railway companies: Great Northern Railway (which was broad gauge) and County Donegal Railways, the Strabane and Letterkenny Railway and the line to the Victoria Road, Derry (which were all narrow gauge). Evoking memories of Strabane railway ....

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Willie John Carlin
Willie John Carlin

Willie John Carlin joined the railway in 1944 at the age of 15. He only left 20 years later because of the closure of Strabane Station. He worked as a Signalman, ensuring the safe passage of trains up and down the line. It was a job he was proud to do.

YP&M has learnt of the sad news that Willie John Carlin passed away on Saturday 21st January 2006.

 Listen - signalmen

The North Signal Cabin at Strabane was manned on a 24 hour basis ( three 8 hour shifts). The young Willie-John in the photograph had 39 of those levers to operate.

Communication between signal cabins was essential before a train could move forward down the track. A stick called a 'staff', which was about two ft long, gave an engine the right of way on an individual section of track, ensuring that it wouldn't meet anything coming in the opposite direction! These staffs were kept in the signal cabins. If a train was approaching Willie John's signal box, he would communicate with the next signal box along by tapping out (in a type of morse code) the code of the train in transit. (Each train had its own code - identifying what type of engine it was, the load it was carrying, etc). If the next signal cabin was happy, it would acknowledge the code and press down a plunger or button, interrupting the electrical supply, allowing Willie John in his signal box to retrieve the relevant 'staff'. Willie-John would then hand this 'staff' over to the train as it passed through (collecting the 'staff' for the previous section of track).

James Conroy
James Conroy
"Sound, safe and sure" was the motive of the railwaymen, says Willie John. Whatever your job, whether you were a driver, guard, signalman, track maintenance crew .... safety was paramount and procedures were laid down with that aim in mind. Circumstances often required staff to be quick thinking as well. In about 1910 James Conroy was on the platform of Strabane station, close to the overbridge. Just at the precise moment when a train was approaching, a child wandered off down the ramp and onto the track. Conroy managed to grab the child and roll out of the way of the train. His heroic act is remembered in this photograph.The overbridge (which Conroy is pictured standing in front of) took passengers from platform to platform. However, railway enthusiast George Haire explains how, sometimes people liked to nip across the tracks and staff were then told to instruct them to use the bridge.

Click to go to part 2..

Click here to read about Derry's Railways

Your Responses

Charles Barr - Apr '07
Eileen mc kenna, could you please e-mail me, on jeanbarr at jb123 dot freeserve dot co dot uk

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