The idea of building a railway between Tralee and Dingle was first approved by the Privy Council in 1884 and the company was incorporated in 1888. Originally planned to be standard Irish gauge (5ft3”) the severe gradients and curvature led to the three foot gauge being adopted.
The line took three years to build with nearly all of its thirty one miles running next to the road – with no fencing for much of the way. The rails also crossed from one side of the road to the other from time to time. There were mostly no gates and trains assumed the right of way. Speeds rarely exceeded 12 miles per hour.
The “branch” from Lower Camp to Castlegregory was six miles long, few severe gradients and had a different character from the “main line”.
By 1925, the line was in a poor state and was taken over by the Great Southern Railway. Passenger and goods traffic continued until the outbreak of WWII, when the Castlegregory Branch closed completely and passenger services were withdrawn on the rest. The fuel shortages brought on by the War caused the line to run “as required” between 1944 and 1947 after this cattle trains ran only on the last Saturday of each month for the Dingle Fair until 1953 when the line finally closed.
The surviving steam loco from the line, Hunslet-built 2-6-2T no 5T, owes its survival to an American, Edgar Mead, who purchased it and shipped it to a steam preservation centre in Vermont. Transferred in 1985 to Scanton, Pennsylvania it became surplus to requirements.
An appeal was launched by English and Irish enthusiasts and after a year spent fund raising, No 5T arrived at Tralee on 7 August 1986 via New Jersey, Liverpool, Fleetwood and Dublin.
The Great Southern Railway Preservation Society moved it to Mallow for restoration and the restoration of a section of the old line commenced sadly missing the centenary in 1991, however No 5T was back in steam in Kerry in July 1992 with the official opening of the restored section between Tralee on a new station site at Ballyard, and Blennerville, on the original station site, in 1994
The Company leased the line from Tralee UDC who had purchased the land and Irish Rail provided advice and materials. The trackbed was raised by one metre to reduce the historical problem of flooding and a new 15 metre span bridge was built near Ballyard.
Four metre gauge coaches were procured from Spain and after re-gauging and restoration two of them were put into service. They still stand at the Blennerville yard.
The service ran successfully for several years, however problems with No 5T’s boiler led to the suspension of services. A Bord na Mona diesel locomotive was acquired to continue services but revenues continued to fall and fare paying passengers last used the line in 2008.
There have been several attempts to reopen
the line, however funding remains an issue. At the time of writing there is a
commitment in writing by Kerry County Council to help fund the project, though
other large scale projects appear to take precedence. Having spoken to a member
of the model railway group based at Blennerville windmill across the road, it
seems there may be an application in for EU funding.
It will not be a cheap restoration project, a recent visit showed that many sleepers need replacement, the two carriages are in a scruffy condition and need extensive work. The loco is stored under cover, but needs boiler work, and will probably need shipping to England for the work to be carried out. At present the group seems inactive and I have had no response to emails sent via the website.
This railway could be a great attraction, it’s in a popular tourist area, and runs from the busy town of Tralee just under two miles alongside the Tralee Bay Nature Reserve to the Blennerville Windmill, a busy attraction, with an extensive model railway display. There have been some positive moves in the right direction; let’s hope my next visit to Ireland will include a ride on the Tralee to Dingle Railway.
There’s a Huntley Archives film of the original railway here, and you can find a short film of the railway in 2002 with the loco in steam here
There’s a website that hasn’t been updated in a while here and a Facebook page with some more recent posts here
The photos below show the current state of the line and rolling stock. The image of the loco is all I could obtain through a gap in the shed wall…
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