A few weeks ago, Ciarán Cooney asked me about photos I’d made of Irish Rail’s Athy Cement. This used to run weekdays from the cement factory near Limerick to a cement silo off a short branch that crossed the River Barrow in Athy, County Kildare. It was the only train to use this branch.
On several occasions, I’d made the effort to photograph this train, which tended to arrive laden in the very early morning, then depart empty after it had discharged. Most of the times I saw it, it ran with a single Bo-Bo General Motors diesel (class 141 or 181).
I caught it crossing the Barrow at Athy on a fine spring morning, May 3, 2002.
That was more than 11 years ago, but it doesn’t seem so long.I think I last photographed this train about 2005, shortly before it was discontinued. While cement trains worked Irish Rail for a few more years, they are now extinct.
Exposed with a Nikon F3 with 85mm lens on Fujichrome Sensia 100 slide film.
Irish Rail’s 2003-2004 didn’t go as planned. Just as the season was gearing up, the Cahir Viaduct on the Limerick Junction-Waterford line collapsed under laden cement train, closing the line and forcing the detour of sugar beet trains via the much longer Waterford-Cherryville Junction route.
This complication for Irish Rail was a boon for photographers as it resulted in sugar beet trains running in places where they didn’t normally go.
This was especially timely, because the portion of line from Athy to Waterford West was still under control of traditional signal cabins with mechanical semaphores and the electric train staff system. But not for much longer! An all-color light mini-CTC control system was being installed and was finally commissioned in Spring 2004.
I began the morning of November 29, 2003 in Dublin, where it was cold, dark and very wet. It was one of those days where horizontal rain is the norm and it never gets bright enough for the street lights to shut off.
Despite the bad weather, a fellow photographer and I headed toward Cherryville Junction by road with visions of intercepting sugar beet trains on their diversionary route. Somewhere between Kildare and Cherryville, the ever-elusive NIR 112 (on long term loan to Irish Rail) roared uproad with an empty beet train returning from Mallow to Wellingtonbridge.
We reversed direction, and went to Kildare, where I exposed a ‘record shot’ of the train. My exposure was noted at f2.8 1/8th of second. (What some of us would call ‘f-dark at a week’ meaning; ‘hopeless exposure for a moving train.’)
Undaunted we pursued this unusual train toward Waterford, taking advantage of crossings with other trains on the single track line. Near Thomastown, we passed through a front.
This was like a line drawn across the sky! To the north it remained foul and dark, to the south clear, cold and bright! We made our way to an overhead accommodation bridge on the Dublin side of Thomastown station where I exposed this view of the train approaching the home signal.
I count this among my truly unusual Irish railway photographs.
I was impressed by the efficiency of the trip. Irish Rail employees and RPSI volunteers cooperated to bring the trip off and ensure everyone on board had a safe and enjoyable trip.
As on other recent Irish excursions, I tend to focus on the people as well as the equipment. These trips are as much about the people as either the destination or the equipment.
Yet, it’s always interesting to see how people react to the steam locomotive. Passing Drumcondra Station in suburban Dublin, I watch the expressions of Irish Rail’s regular passengers as 461 puffed through with our excursion. These ranged from total bewilderment, as if a ghost from the past drifted across their bedroom, to nods of approval, and the occasional wave.
At every stop, passengers and passers by flocked to see the engine. The swarms of people are as much part of the scene as the engine and crew.
Yet, I found plenty of time to make close-ups of the equipment too. Check tomorrow’s post for some close-up views.