The Tralee and Dingle Light Railway and Tramway was a 51 km (31.65 mi), 914 mm (3 ft) gauge narrow gauge railway running between Tralee and Dingle, with a 10 km (6 mi) branch from Castlegregory Junction to Castlegregory, in County Kerry on the west coast of Ireland. It operated between 1891 and 1953, the Castlegregory branch closed shortly prior the outbreak of the Second World War. It was the most westerly railway line in Europe.
The railway was built as cheaply as possible, largely following adjacent roads, resulting in some very tight curves and severe gradients. The railway opened on 31 March 1891
, but from the start income failed to cover operating expenses. In March 1893 the Board of Trade held an inquiry into poor management and operating practices on the railway; nevertheless a fatal accident (involving a runaway train) took place at Curraduff in May of the same year. The railway continued to require public subsidies from local ratepayers, which were able to be reduced in 1898 after a grant from the Treasury (although the line continued to require subsidies throughout its existence). In 1907 a further grant of £23,000 (just over €2 Million in 2007/8 values) was made to allow the scene of the accident at Curraduff to be bypassed and other improvements made.
Operations on the railway were severely disrupted between 1921 and 1923. The line was closed in 1921 on the orders of the British Army
(during the struggle for independence prior to the creation of the Irish Free State
). Services were also suspended at times (and infrastructure damaged) during the Irish Civil War
of 1922-23. The railway was taken over by the Great Southern Railways (Ireland)
on 1 January 1925 - a train had a collision with a car on a level crossing on the first day of GSR ownership.
Decline and closure
In the 1930s the road between Tralee and Dingle was improved, allowing buses and lorries to effectively compete with the railway. The infrastructure of the railway becoming increasingly dilapidated and, in parts, unsafe. The passenger train service was timetabled to run from Dingle to Tralee in 155 minutes (for a journey of little over 31 miles), whilst the competing bus service took 105 minutes.
On 17 April 1939, all passenger services were withdrawn; the Castlegregory branch was closed completely. A single daily goods train continued to run until 1947, when coal shortages forced its temporary withdrawal. Thereafter a special train (for cattle) was operated once per month in connection with the fair at Dingle. These trains finally ended in June 1953.
An extraordinary event occurred at Dingle station on 13 June 1940, after the line's closure to passengers. A German spy named Walter Simon arrived at the station and asked when the next train would depart (not realising that only freight services were still operating). Simon had been landed by a German submarine, U-38, during the previous night. He then made his way by bus to Tralee and thence by train to Dublin. Following his enquiry at Dingle station the Garda Siochana were informed and he was trailed by detectives. He was arrested on arrival in Dublin and interned for the duration of the War (known in neutral Ireland as "The Emergency").
A 3 km section has now been reopened as a preserved line between the Aquadome in Tralee and Blennerville Windmill. The railway was not open during 2007 and faces an uncertain future as the solitary steam locomotive is, once again, out of action.
- The Dingle Train 1st Edition - 1996 David Rowlands, Walter McGrath, Tom Francis ISBN 1-871980-27-5 Plateway Press more
- The Tralee & Dingle Railway, David G Rowlands, Bradford Barton, 1973
- The Tralee & Dingle Railway, P B Whitehouse & Powell A J Locomotive Publishing Co, 1958
- The Irish Narrow Gauge (Vol. 1), T Ferris, Midland Publishing Ltd, 1993, ISBN 1-85780-010-9
- The Irish Interlude: German Intelligence in Ireland 1939-1943, by Mark M. Hull, The Journal of Military History vol. 66 (July 2002), p 705. (the account of Walter Simon at Dingle station)
- Running Out of Steam in Tralee: Phoenix Magazine Vol.20 #14 - July 19th 2002.
- Transport Preservation in Ireland 2005 and 2007 Chicken Rock Publishing - Ed. David McGlynn Parks
- Locomotives & Rolling Stock of CIE & NIR, The Irish Traction Group - 1997.
Other narrow gauge railways in South West Ireland