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16 October 2014
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Derry's Railways

During the Great Famine of the 1840s two railways were built from Derry. The Londonderry & Coleraine Railway was built

Steam Train at Londonderry Station

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Contributed by Hugh Irvine

During the Great Famine of the 1840s two railways were built from Derry. The Londonderry & Coleraine Railway was built as far as Coleraine and it later joined up with the Coleraine to Belfast line. This became part of the L.M.S. Railway. Its station was in the Waterside. The Londonderry and Enniskillen Railway was built to Omagh and then on to Enniskillen. It later joined up with the lines to Belfast and Dublin at Portadown. Its station was on the City side of the River Foyle. This became part of the Great Northern Railway. Both of these were standard gauge lines, like those of today.

The next line was also built on the City side, further down river than the Great Northern one, beside the shipyard and graving dock (dry dock). It was the standard gauge Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway which ran to Buncrana in Co Donegal. It opened in 1863, but was later converted to three foot narrow gauge when a similar line branching off from it was opened from near Burnfoot to Letterkenny. Much later the lines were extended from Letterkenny to Burtonport and from Buncrana to Carndonagh.

The last line to be opened from Derry was also three foot gauge and ran from the Victoria Road Station , at the Waterside end of the bridge, to Strabane . It was worked as if it were part of the Donegal Railway lines but it belonged to the L.M.S.. It was opened in 1900.

Although all these lines were run by different companies, the Londonderry Harbour Commissioners ran lines along their quays which connected all of them and allowed them to exchange each other's goods wagons. The Craigavon Bridge had a second deck under its roadway which allowed wagons to cross the Foyle to the lines on either side of the river.

In the years after the end of the Second World War in 1945 the Derry railways could not compete with the buses, cars and lorries and were gradually closed down. Today only the line from the Waterside Station to Belfast remains open.


To persuade the public to travel on their trains, the early Derry railways made a wide variety of offers by way of excursions to all kinds of attractions. These would, it was hoped, persuade people to travel by train who had never done so before. They were especially targeting the middle classes, for generally only they and the wealthy could afford train fares.
(Further details to follow soon)


Making friends!

In the early 1950s students from Derry attending university in Dublin used to take a bus to the Great Northern Railway Station, at the end of Foyle Street, to travel on the 9 am train for Belfast. They had to be careful to find a seat on the through coach for Dublin. This was part of the corridor train for Belfast. It had a restaurant car and somewhere about Dungannon I sometimes went to it for a light meal, which had to be finished before arrival at Portadown.

When the train pulled into Portadown the door to the next coach was locked and the Dublin through coach was uncoupled and shunted a hundred yards away from the train. There it waited for about half an hour until the Belfast-Dublin train arrived, hauled by one of the big blue 4-4-0 compound engines, like "Merlin" or "Kestrel". The Derry coach was added to the rear of it. It was usually crowded and the restaurant car was full.

It pulled out of Portadown and stopped first at Goraghwood Station for a Customs examination. The next stop was Dundalk, where the Southern Customs officials carried out their examination. If people had largish items of luggage they might be asked to take them out on to the platform to have them searched. Once I had my large grip examined and the officer found books at the bottom of it. He asked about what I thought of one or two of them and put an "X" on the grip, to show that it had been examined. Afterwards, every time that I was on the train and he was on duty, I had to open the same old grip and let him see what books I had. We became quite friendly!

On from Dundalk we stopped at Drogheda before pulling into Amiens Street Station, Dublin at about 2 pm. Then there was a long haul with a heavy grip up to Nelson's Pillar for a bus to the "digs".

Thanks to Hugh for this superbly detailed article! (Editor)
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