Not too many trips out this year, but a highlight was the "Munster Double" railtour in October. Some unusual workings through the Midlands, both failures and tests, feature in the year as well as the odd steam special.
The page is set up so clicking on the picture takes you to the full gallery of the day in question.
A misty day on the 17th sees racoon liveried 231 propelling a Cork – Heuston service away from Portlaoise. Two locos carry this livery, which is designed to not look too out of place on the Enterprise, for which they are spares, or dilute that brand when used on other work as here.
216 is largely dedicated to the Belmond Grand Hibernian luxury train, which operates from April to October. Following its overhaul and repaint, it had not worked scheduled passenger trains. This changed on the 22nd, when it worked the 1220 Cork – Heuston, seen here passing Portlaoise, after spendnig some time as Cork stand-by loco. It was to work several passenger services over the coming weeks, which appeared to iron out some of the gremlins which limited speed running on the Belmond had failed to cure.
The dark loco is a challenging subject to photograph at any time; in the dark might be seen as masochistic. I think it worked out though! 216 calls at Portlaoise on the 28th with the 1900 Heuston - Cork service.
The bodywork overhaul and repainting programme for the year was to see several 071s lose this livery in favour of plain grey. 074 is seen on the 2nd working the 0750 Limerick - Inchicore wagon transfer, a train I have limited success in catching over time.
Following a failure at Limerick Junction the previous evening, which caused considerable disruption, 217 is hauled back to Inchicore in disgrace on the 10th by grey liveried 084. This was the second thunderbird of the day, 087 having rescued 215 and train from near milepost 61 already that morning.
Celebrity loco 071 in Supertrain livery has been kept very clean, despite being on freight and PW duties not always conducive to a good appearance. Here it is seen arriving at Portlaoise with a PW working for the yard.
I framed this shot slightly differently to show the quite attractive station building on the downside at Portlaoise to better advantage.
With Kildare being the main plant base, and Portlaoise being the main PW yard, workings for the PW department provide added interest in the area. Here tamper/liner 744 passes south through Portlaoise on the 2nd.
The network is regularly inspected by several different vehicles, including inspection cars and the Sperry set. Here inspection car 700 passes through Portlaoise with a Kildare – Cork working, scheduled to take five hours thanks to the limited speed of such workings. This makes them difficult to path at times.
In the past few years ballast handling has been revolutionised on Iarnród Éireann, with small vacuum braked wagons being replaced with the HOBS trains, as they are known. Based on UK stock, they are air braked and have a gross vehicle weight of 75 tonnes – less than their UK counterparts thanks to track axle weight limits here. This was an unexpected working, as 085 hammers through with a rake of HOBS heading south.
Another rescue! 084 had failed at Limerick, so 087 was used to work it back to Inchicore in the formation of the 0750 Limerick – Inchicore wagon transfer, running late as a result. Both locos carry the standard grey livery.
Since the refurbishment of the Enterprise, dedicated locos have rarely strayed onto Cork workings, as locos can’t be moved the other way to cover thanks to changes made during the programme. However, on the 7th 207 managed to escape the former Great Northern, and is seen heading through Portlaoise with the 1600 Heuston – Cork.
2600 Class railcars are generally confined to the Cork area, but do visit Limerick, and occasionally Inchicore, for maintenance purposes. Here, pioneer set 2601+2602 head south through Portlaoise on the 10th with a working from Inchicore to Cork after wheel reprofiling work.
The first Belmond of the season sees 216 back on it’s’ more sedate workings. The first trip of the year is seen passing Clonminam, on the edge of Portlaoise, with the 1420 Heuston – Cork leg of the luxury trains itinerary.
After last year’s workings, it was strongly rumoured that a multi-purpose vehicle would replace the weedspray train from 2017, rendering this sight history. Thankfully (for enthusiasts, if not staff I suspect!), the rumours proved incorrect, or at least premature, and the train did two full circuits of the network as in previous years. I was particularly pleased as I had not got a shot with the warning boards in place in the past, so this rectified that omission! 077 passes Ratheven, just north of Portlaoise, with an 0920 Portlaoise – Claremorris weedspray working on the 2nd.
It has become a tradition for the RPSI to operate a diesel tour on what would otherwise be a spare day during their main multi-day tour in May. This year it was run as “The South Kerry”, a fairly straightforward out and back run from Dublin to Killarney. 086 is seen passing south through Portlaoise with the 1030 from Dublin Connolly, the front end showing some patchwork repairs to keep it going until it gets the call to Inchicore for body overhaul.
The 2800 Class are all currently based at Limerick, and used on services to Galway, Ballybrophy and Limerick Junction, as well as on the shuttle between Manulla Junction and Ballina. Like the 2600 Class, they are occasionally required to visit Inchicore for maintenance. Here we see set 2801+2802 at Portlaoise, being transferred to Inchicore for maintenance work, on the 8th.
Another mark 4 set failed on the 18th in Cork, which required a drag back to Inchicore for remedial work. 220 drags the set through Portlaoise, with 229 dead on the rear.
081 is seen departing Portlaoise PW yard with a short northbound working of flats. This was one of those occasions which was a total chance shot, as I was unaware of the working and still have no real idea where it was headed; given the length, my guess would be Inchicore.
The Belmond is a great train to photograph in bright conditions; at any other time it is a bit of a nightmare! The former situation applied on the 15th, as the train passed Ratheven with the 0820 Charleville – Galway leg of the tour.
This will not pass Portlaoise in 2018, as thanks to the station remodelling in Limerick the tour will head to Galway via Limerick and the Western Rail corridor to Athenry. This has several advantages – it avoids the congested Portarlington – Athlone section, reduces the amount of repeated scenery for the travellers, and allows for shorter road transfers to the Cliffs of Moher for those taking that option.
Steam returns to Portlaoise! The Emerald Isle Explorer is a multi-day, mainly steam tour run by Steam Dreams in conjunction with the RPSI. Here GNR(I) 85 is seen blasting through Portlaoise with 0925 Dublin Connolly – Killarney leg of the tour on the 16th.
075 was always unique in never receiving the IÉ “plug and socket” logo on its ends. It is seen here passing Portarlington on the 20th with the 0920 North Wall – Ballina container train. It remains in black and silver at this time, looking ready for overhaul.
Having toured much of southern and western Ireland, the Emerald Isle Explorer calls at Portarlington for water on the 20th while working as the 0745 Westport – Dublin Connolly working.
I’m not really a steam man, although I will take a look if convenient, but of all the steam locos in Ireland this is probably my favourite, partly because it was built in Derby (local to me, even though I’m an LNER man really!), but also as it is probably the most flexible, able to operate either way with no loss of performance. It is also one of the most powerful.
Light engine moves for the PW department are common into Portlaoise, either from the ballast yard at Portarlington or further afield. Black and silver 074 arrives from the north to enter the PW yard.
The front end of the mark 4 control cars is quite impressive, and gives a modern impression perhaps lacking in the ICRs and 201 class! 4003 leads the 1020 Cork – Heuston through Portlaoise on a very sunny 17th July.
088 brings the Ballina – Waterford timber into Portarlington.
While Portlaoise has no revenue earning freight passing through, Portarlington is quite different. Major freight workings operate from Ballina and to a lesser extent Westport, to both Dublin (containers) and Waterford (containers and timber). In this 3 hour session three freight trains were seen, and there can be as many as six in a day.
This leads to line capacity issues between Portarlington and Athlone, especially in the ICR era as Galway passenger services have been enhanced in frequency. The Waterford services could in theory run via Limerick and Clonmel, but would require runround at Limerick as well as Athlone, and the line between Limerick and Limerick Junction is also well used. Trials have taken place of longer trains to reduce the paths required, but this causes issues with the e length of the loops on the sections west of Portarlington. However, the growth in traffic is welcome!
A 40 year old icon! 43073 brings up the rear of the 1315 St Pancras – Nottingham as it hurries through Beeston on the final leg of it’s’ journey.
The EMT power cars are now unique in retaining Paxman engines, as all other operators moved to MTU power units when their power cars were refurbished. The VP185 appears to be reliable enough though, and workings on the Midland are as punishing as elsewhere due to their start-stop nature and steep gradients. It does not seem over 30 years since I went down to see the HST on its’ first day in service out of Nottingham in 1982, with the screaming Valenta drowning out the clatter of a peak on an adjacent platform.....
GMs came later to the UK than Ireland. EWS ordered 250, and other operators both in the UK and on mainland Europe boosted the orders until I believe over 600 were built. Distant cousins of the 201s, most are dedicated freight locos rather than the mixed traffic use the 201s get in Ireland.
66127 departs from the PW yard on the site of the former Beeston Freightliner terminal with 6X55, the 1449 Beeston -Toton materials working.
This was a special visit; my son was driving, and it was the first time I had seen him at the controls of a train other than in photographs.
A most unusual vehicle here. This mobile rail grinder is a road-rail unit, carrying EVN 99 80 9900 005-6. This is the road/rail cab end, based very much on standard lorry parts; the rail only cab at the other end is more conventional in rail terms. It is seen on the 28th in the upside siding at Portarlington.
Given the news that the Belmond was to be rerouted via Limerick in 2018, I took the advantage of a sunny day to visit Portarlington on the 28th to try and get decent sunlit portrait shots of each coach. As a bonus, 216 was not well so a very clean 218 was substituting, providing a little variety.
Another of the diminishing ranks of black and silver locos, 086 passes Portlaoise with a HOBS working bound for Limerick. As with most liveries, opinion is somewhat split on the merits of this one. I quite like it, and it looked good when new, but it has not aged well in some cases. However, the battleship grey with plain rectangular yellow end does not enhance these locos – IMHO!
Probably the highlight of my railway year was travelling on “The Munster Double” railtour, with the first public run of multiple working 071s in passenger service. To complement 071 in Supertrain livery, 073 was turned out in IR “Tippex” livery to match. The pair of locos make a fine site coupling to the Cravens at Connolly on a dull morning.
The tour was run to raise money for the overhaul to main line standards of 134, and the draw of a pair of 071s on a passenger service for the first time (officially) was sufficient draw to sell out the train; proof that the RPSI have learnt that the diesel market is different to the steam one. This recognition, both in the marketing and specification of tours, and the move to get 134, and others in due course, is a very welcome development.
The first photo-stop was at Thurles, where the gleaming pair are seen being admired by tour passengers. The arrival of a couple of hundred gricers intent on getting their shots bewildered normal passengers on the up platform waiting for the Dublin train; I don’t think there were any casualties!
Contrast at Mallow; after visiting Cork, the train returned to Mallow with a stunning climb of the bank out of Cork. Here the locos ran round again for the run to Killarney and Tralee. After the ICR has arrived from Tralee, the road is now clear for the special to proceed west.
Resting! After running round the stock, the pair rest in pleasant afternoon sun before shunting back to the platform for the long run home.
Journey’s end. Enthusiasts get their final shots under the trainshed at Connolly after arrival. The turnout and performance of the locos was a credit to those at Inchicore, as was the stock to the volunteers of the RPSI. This was my first RPSI tour, and I had a great day – I don’t think anyone went home disappointed.
On the 24th, a test run for the Belmond was arranged to Limerick returning via the Western Rail Corridor. This was in connection with the previously mentioned route alteration planned for 2018. No 201s were available, so the new celebrity 073 was mobilised to work the train, seen here passing Portlaoise somewhat later than planned with the outward working.
The Sperry returned to Portlaoise on the 25th, and I was just able to get down after a call from fellow gricer Seamus who was lineside to the west of the town. The loco is seen here reversing into the yard.
The still very clean 073 is seen at Portarlington on the 13th back on normal duties for the class, with the 1105 Ballina – Waterford timber.
Winding down for the Christmas and New Year break in activity, a pair of 071s catch the low winter sun at Portlaoise PW Yard. 077 and 087 would depart for Inchicore a few days later.
Thanks for looking, and for all your comments on social media over the year. Due to a new job my activities will be more limited next year, but I hope to still take plenty of photos. A Happy New Year to you all!