Earlier this month, I traveled with some friends to Shannonbridge, County Offaly, Ireland to photograph the Bord na Mona’s narrow gauge operations.
Working with Kodak Tri-X in a Nikon F3 with 105mm lens, I made this view of a laden train crossing the River Shannon.
I processed the film using a twin-stage (split development) process: presoaked in Kodak HC110 mixed 1-200 for 5 minutes; then Ilford ID1 mixed 1 to 1 for 7 minutes 15 seconds at 68F with gentle agitation every minute for 10 seconds. After stop bath (30 seconds), twin fixer baths of 3 minutes each and extensive rinsing, I toned the still wet negative using a Selenium batch mixed 1-9 for 8 minutes 30 seconds.
In addition to this traditional black & white photo, I also exposed digital photos using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1 cameras. Color and black & white, film and digital, yes I have most of formats covered.
In summary: After a decade of my relative neglect, in the last two years I’ve made a dozen or so excursions to explore and photograph Ireland’s Bord na Mona railways.
These consists of several rather extensive three-foot gauge networks largely focused on the delivery of milled peat to electrical generating stations in Ireland’s midlands counties.
The largest and busiest network is that focused on the Shannonbridge power plant along the River Shannon. Although this network demands the most amount of turf and in theory runs the most number of trains, it is one the more difficult systems to photograph.
This is partly a function of the bogs served by the railway, which are largely inaccessible by road. Also, some of the trains cross the Shannon by a bridge, and there is no comparable road bridge, so it makes following these trains very difficult.
However, I’ve found that using good maps and remaining patient pays off. On this September afternoon about a month ago, Denis McCabe, Colm O’Callaghan and I visited several locations on the Shannonbridge system.
Based on previous experiences, we aimed for known good locations. While we only found a few trains moving, the photography was successful. This a sampling of my recent results.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
Unlike Irish mainline railways, Bord na Mona operates on very lightly built track. Temporary spurs are laid out on the bog for loading trains with harvested turf. While these temporary tracks may only stay in place for weeks or months, Bord na Mona main trunks are well established, with some in place for five decades. Key routes are built with broadly spaced double-track The nature of the operation requires that trains are run cautiously, and rarely exceed 15 mph. Typically peat trains operate in pairs to assist with loading and reverse moves. At times these may be coupled together. In addition to trains of peat gather rakes, Bord na Mona also runs a host of maintenance trains, including fueling trains used to supply machines working in harvesting areas.
The railway’s setting ranges from bucolic rolling woodlands to other-worldly landscapes consisting of heavily harvested bog lands. Trains announce their presence by a distinctive clattering that pierces the relative serenity of the bog. The combination of diminutive locomotives, track panels with steel sleepers, short trains and sections of hastily built temporary track, makes the whole operation seem like a vast, but delightful model railway.
Saturday began dull and misty, but brightened toward the end of the day. I made several hundred images with my digital cameras, while exposing more than a roll of Fuji Provia 100F with my Canon EOS 7D. Our conversations with Bord na Mona staff, found them hospitable and knowledgeable. We returned to Dublin, happy with our day’s efforts while formulating plans for our next adventure on Ireland’s elusive 3-foot gauge railways.
Ireland’s Bord na Móna (Peat Board) was the topic of my post, Gallery 8: Irish Bog Railways—Part 1 in November 2012. Yesterday, February 16 2013, I made another exploratory trip into the bog. Where previous investigations focused on operations at Edenderry, County Offaly, this trip was to the network that serves the Lough Ree Power Station along the River Shannon at Lanesborough, County Longford. Among the peculiarities of Bord na Móna’s narrow gauge operations are its temporary sidings laid out on the bog for the purpose of loading trains. Until put in place, these tracks resemble those of an oversized model railway and are in fixed sections held together by steel sleepers (ties), and often stacked in piles awaiting installation. The bog itself is spongy and wet, thus ill suited to permanent infrastructure. Since temporary track is only used at very slow speed for short periods of time, niceties normally afforded railway lines, such as grading, leveling, and drainage, aren’t considered.
This telephoto view exaggerates the undulating quality of a roadside Bord na Mona spur used to access an area of bog ready for harvesting. This particular section of track may be left in place for years to tap short-lived harvesting spurs.
This photographic adventure is among my works in progress; I plan to display more images of Bord na Móna in upcoming posts.