Railways in Crisis

The railways had from the outset been constrained by low population densities and, Belfast apart, the failure to develop any sizeable industry. In 1906 a Commission was appointed to report on the under-utilisation of the railway system as a whole, but its leisurely deliberations were overtaken by the outbreak of the Great War and a consequent, if temporary, increase in traffic. Easter Week, during which no trains ran in and out of Dublin, marked the onset of the years of political unrest culminating in the Civil War which were to impact severely on the fortunes of the railways.

In 1924 the Railways Act brought about the amalgamation of those companies operating exclusively within what was now the Irish Free State. So serious were the economic prospects that the largest company, the Great Southern & Western (GSWR), had given notice in 1923 of its intention to close down, but it now became the major partner in the new Great Southern Railways (GSR).

Cutbacks and rationalisation of the system, aimed at eliminating duplication, followed. With the onset of the depression of the 1930s and the Economic War with Britain the market for transport services was severely curtailed. In consequence several main lines were reduced to single track and minor lines lost their passenger services, some closing completely. The GSR nevertheless undertook an ambitious programme of equipment renewal, culminating in the construction at Inchicore (1939) of three 'Queen' class 4-6-0 express steam locomotives which were the largest and most powerful ever to run in Ireland. They had little opportunity, however, to show their paces before The Emergency

Tralee & Dingle Railway: Notice of Withdrawal of Passenger Trains 1939

Copy of Tralee & Dingle and Castlegregory Junction and Castlegregory Branches. Withdrawal of Passenger Trains. (1939)

  almost brought the railway system to a standstill due to lack of coal supplies. Substitutes, such as peat or anthracite briquettes or 'duff' (coal dust) created more problems than they solved. North of the border, following partition, the railways had suffered a similar decline.

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