Northern Ireland’s Railway Heritage

The island of Ireland now has some 2300km of public railways

The island of Ireland now has some 2300km of public railways, all 1600mm (5’3") gauge.

Northern Ireland’s 357km are operated by Northern Ireland Railways. Most of the Irish network is dominated by passenger traffic, and freight traffic is light by international standards. Some lines, particularly on the NIR system, carry no freight at all. 

In the early 1920s, both the route mileage (at about 12,000 km) and the levels of traffic carried were at their peak, but competition from road traffic began to undermine the railways from the 1920s. By the late 1940s, Ireland still had an extensive railway system which was almost entirely steam operated, and indeed, one short branch line in Co Tyrone was to remain horse worked until its closure in 1957. However, between 1949 and 1960, huge changes took place.

In Northern Ireland, the Ulster Transport Authority (the state owned railway and general public transport authority in Northern Ireland between 1949 and 1967) closed almost 80% of the railway system under its control, and introduced diesel railcars to the rest. After the withdrawal of the last two steam locomotives in 1970, Northern Ireland Railways (successor to the UTA) began a gradual and still ongoing program of renewal. 

© The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland

Topics