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Railways in


This page relates to the Irish Republic. See separate page for Northern Ireland.

There are separate pages dealing with station names in the whole of Ireland.

Steam locomotive Merlin with train
Preserved GNR(I) class V 4-4-0 compound locomotive no.85 Merlin passing Lisburn with a special charter train
on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland

Early railway development in Ireland took place when the entire island, north and south, was part of the United Kingdom.

The first railway in Ireland was opened in 1834 between Dublin Westland Row (now Pearse) and Dunleary (Dun Laoghaire). It was built to the so-called “Stephenson” gauge of 4ft 8½in (1435mm) which was rapidly becoming accepted as the standard gauge for all new railways in England, and was soon to be adopted in continental Europe.

Unfortunately for standardization, the second and third railways to be built adopted quite different gauges. The first section of the Ulster Railway between Belfast and Lisburn opened in 1839 with a gauge of no less that 6ft 2in (1880mm), while in 1844 the Dublin and Drogheda Railway opened with a gauge of 5ft 2in (1575mm). Clearly this state of affairs was untenable from the point of view of a viable interlinked railway system, and after much debate and government legislation, a compromise gauge of 5ft 3in (1600mm) was adopted for all new main line railways. The existing railways were eventually converted to this gauge.

Some remote rural areas were served by light railways of 3ft (914mm) gauge, a few of which survive today as tourist operations. 2ft (610mm) and 3ft (914mm) gauge were used for the extensive networks of lines constructed to serve the peat extraction industry.

In 1876 a number of existing railways were combined to form the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) or GNR(I). In 1921 the Irish Free State was established, creating a new land border with Northern Ireland. In 1925, all railways whose lines were wholly within the Irish Free State were combined into the Great Southern Railways. This did not include the main Belfast to Dublin line of GNR(I), nor several small local railways some of which crossed and recrossed the border several times. These continued a somewhat schizophrenic existence for many years, but all cross-border lines had been closed by 1960, with the exception of the important Belfast to Dublin line.

Northern Ireland Railways were nationalised in 1948 at the same time as British Railways, while railways in the Irish Republic were nationalised in 1950. This left the GNR(I) main line as an anomaly, still in private hands. Finally, in 1953, this line, too, was taken into State control, responsibility for it being divided between the respective railway administrations of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

The major cities, like cities in the United Kingdom, lost their original tram systems many years ago. However, Dublin now has an extensive modern tram system, the first line of which opened in 2004. The system uses the international standard gauge of 1435mm.

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Industrial Railways

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Miniature Railways

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Photo image from the website of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland