20 Years ago: Sugarbeet at Cherryville

Twenty years ago, during November and December I would focus my photography on Irish Rail’s Sugar Beet campaign.

This was an intensive and fascinating operation that focused on the movement of sugar beet from the loading point at Wellingtonbridge, Co. Wexford to the sugar processing factory in Mallow, Co. Cork. The trains were typically hauled by a variety of Irish Rail’s 1960s and 1970s-era General Motors diesels and used a fleet of antique vacuum-braked four wheel beet wagons.

Over the years, my friends and I got to know many of the players in this magnificent stage show, which often added a personal element to watching and photographing the trains in action.

Ireland in November: chilly with low midday sun, the ground perpetually damp and an agircultural scent in the air.

The 2003 beet campaign had an unusual twist. Earlier in the year, an accident at Cahir, Co. Tipperary on the Waterford-Limerick Junction line had damaged a key bridge, as a result the sugar beet trains were diverted northward to Cherryville Junction (on the Dublin-Cork line) and to Kildare where the locomotive would run around, and then toward Cork via Limerick Junction.

On November 27, 2003, my friends and I were set up at Cherryville Junction. Irish Rail class 071 No. 081 had been holding at the signal as trains passed on the main route. Then when traffic cleared, the 081 with 750 tonnes of sugar beet got the signal to crossover and head ‘up-road toward’ Kildare. The locomotive was roaring away as it snaked through the Cherryville crossover.

I exposed this view on Provia 100F (RPD-III) using a Nikon F3 with 180mm Nikkor telephoto.

Much has changed in the intervening years, but I still carry the 180mm lens and Irish Rail 081 is still on the roster. The sugar beet trains are but a memory.

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