County Donegal Railways

Gauge: 3ft (915mm)

The County Donegal Railways were located in North West Ireland, and were formed from a number of railways which at their peak amounted to a total of 124½ miles.

The Glenties branch closed in 1947, the Strabane-Derry line closed in 1954 and the rest of the passenger services ended on 31 December 1959. Much of the railway was closed completely by February 1960.

The origins of the County Donegal Railway lay in the Finn Valley Railway opened in September 1863 between Strabane and Stranorlar to the Irish standard gauge of 5’3″. From the mid-1870s representations were made for the extension of the railway westwards. In July 1879 an Act was passed empowering the West Donegal Railway Company to construct a line, eighteen miles in length from Stranorlar, through the Barnesmore Gap to Donegal town. This was to be built to Ireland’s second “standard gauge” of 3ft 0in. The WDR chairman, Lord Lifford, and many of the officials were also closely involved with the FVR.

Progress on the WDR was hindered by lack of money and the line was prematurely terminated four miles from Donegal. Nevertheless the line opened to traffic on the 25th April 1882, passengers being brought into Donegal by horse drawn carriage. Eventually finance was raised to bring the line into Donegal in 1889. To work the line, three 2-4-0 tank engines were purchased from Sharp, Stewart & Co. Transhipment of all passengers and freight to the broad gauge was, of course, necessary at Stranorlar.

The Light Railways (Ireland) Act of 1889 aided development of the railway system in Ireland by offering state aid to new light railway companies, in return for a commitment to operate the lines. Profits would be divided between the company and the state. Under the terms of this Act the West Donegal Light Railway opened in 1893 running for nineteen miles between Donegal and the port of Killybegs. The following year the Finn Valley Railway opened a twenty-four mile stretch of line alongside the Finn and Shallogan rivers between Stranorlar and Glenties. Both were 3ft 0in gauge.

By this time the FVR and WDR had merged under Parliamentary sanction in 1892 as the Donegal Railway Company. The opening of these new lines gave the Donegal Railway Company 75½ miles of track. The broad gauge FVR section was re-gauged to 3ft 0in in July 1894. Problems of transhipment at Stranorlar were simply transferred to Strabane. The advantages of securing independent access to the city and quays of Derry were recognised. Despite opposition from the Great Northern Railway, Parliamentary approval was obtained for the Donegal Railway’s own line from Strabane to Derry, opened in May 1900. At the same time, approval was granted for a branch line to Ballyshannon and this opened in 1905.

This growth began to take its toll on the company’s finances, and led to the purchase of the system in 1906 by an association of the Great Northern Railway and the (English) Midland Railway. Thereafter the DR became known as the County Donegal Railways Joint Committee (CDRJC). Under the new arrangement, all lines were operated by the CDRJC, except for the Strabane to Derry section which became the sole property of the Midland.

The final extension, a branch line from Strabane to Letterkenny, was opened in January 1909. A separate company was formed to construct this line, though both the GNR and the NCC had financial involvement. Trains were operated by the CDRJC, bringing the total mileage worked to 124½ miles.

With partition in 1921 six of the nine counties of Ulster were formed into the new Northern Ireland while the remaining three, Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal, became part of the new Irish Free State. This caused considerable inconvenience to the CDR as trains now had to negotiate customs inspections at Strabane (Northern Ireland) and Castlefinn or Lifford (Free State) which often led to long delays and timetable disruption.

Meanwhile a number of economy measures had been introduced, including the pioneering development of railcars – both petrol and diesel, which enabled the system to survive longer than many of its contemporaries. Even so after the Second World War, traffic on the system began to decline as a consequence of the competition from road transport. The Glenties branch closed to regular passenger and goods traffic on the 13th December 1947 and eventually to all traffic in March 1952.

Since 1948 the Derry section had come under the control of the Ulster Transport Authority. As losses mounted, the UTA applied for closure. By now, much of the permanent way was in need of repair and capital for replacement was not available. Formal application for complete closure of the system was made in May 1959 and all services ceased on 31st December 1959.

Number / NameManufacturerTypeNotes
Class 1
1 AliceSharp, Stewart No.3023 of 18812-4-0TScrapped 1926
2 BlancheSharp, Stewart No.3021 of 18812-4-0TScrapped 1909
3 LydiaSharp, Stewart No.3022 of 18812-4-0TScrapped 1910
Class 2
4 MeenglasNeilson & Co. No.4573 of 18934-6-0TScrapped 1935
5 DrumboeNeilson & Co. No.4574 of 18934-6-0TScrapped 1936
6 InverNeilson & Co. No.4575 of 18934-6-0TScrapped 1931
7 FinnNeilson & Co. No.4576 of 18934-6-0TScrapped 1931
8 FoyleNeilson & Co. No.4577 of 18934-6-0TScrapped 1931
9 ColombkilleNeilson & Co. No.4578 of 18934-6-0TScrapped 1937
Class 3
10 Sir James Neilson, Reid & Co.6103 of 19024-4-4TScrapped 1933
11 HerculesNeilson, Reid & Co.6104 of 19024-4-4TScrapped 1933
Class 4
12 (9) EskeNasmyth, Wilson & Co. No.697 of 19044-6-4TScrapped 1954
13 (10) OweneaNasmyth, Wilson & Co. No.698 of 19044-6-4TScrapped 1952
14 (11) ErneNasmyth, Wilson & Co. No.694 of 19044-6-4TSurvived until closure. Scrapped 1968
15 (12) MourneNasmyth, Wilson & Co. No.700 of 19044-6-4TScrapped 1952
Class 5
16 Donegal / 4 MeenglasNasmyth, Wilson & Co. No.828 of 19072-6-4TRenumbered and renamed 1937. Now at FVR
17 Glenties / 5 DrumboeNasmyth, Wilson & Co. No.829 of 19072-6-4TRenumbered and renamed 1937. Now at RPSI
18 Killybegs  / 6 ColumbkilleNasmyth, Wilson & Co. No.830 of 19072-6-4TRenumbered and renamed 1937. Now at FVR
19 Letterkenny / 7 FinnNasmyth, Wilson & Co. No.831 of 19072-6-4TRenumbered and renamed 1937. Scrapped 1940
20 19 Raphoe / 8 FoyleNasmyth, Wilson & Co. No.832 of 19072-6-4TRenumbered and renamed 1937. Scrapped 1955
Class 5A
21 Ballyshannon / 1 AliceNasmyth, Wilson & Co. No.958 of 19122-6-4TRenumbered and renamed 1928. Scrapped 1961
3A Strabane / 3 LydiaNasmyth, Wilson & Co. No.957 of 19122-6-4TRenumbered and renamed 1928. Scrapped 1961
2A Stranorlar / 2 BlancheNasmyth, Wilson & Co. No.956 of 19122-6-4TRenumbered and renamed 1928. Now at UFTM
Internal Combustion
1Alldays & Onions of 1906Petrol inspection carNow at UFTM
2FordPetrol RailcarEx-Derwent Valley Railway 1926. Withdrawn 1934
3FordPetrol RailcarEx-Derwent Valley Railway 1926. Withdrawn 1934
2Built at CastledergPetrol RailcarEx-Castlederg and Victoria Bridge Tramway 1933
3DrewryPetrol RailcarEx-Dublin & Blessington 1934. Converted to trailer 1944. Survives
4FordPetrol RailcarEx-GNR 1928
6Great Northern and O’Doherty 1930Petrol RailcarRebuilt as trailer 1945
71930Diesel RailcarScrapped 1949
81931Diesel RailcarScrapped 1949
9Reo converted to rail by CDR 1933Petrol RailcarScrapped 1949
10Reo converted to rail by CDR 1933Petrol RailcarDestroyed by fire 1939
12Walkers of Wigan of 1934Diesel Railcar Now at FVR
14Walkers of Wigan of 1935Diesel Railcar 
15Walkers of Wigan of 1935Diesel Railcar Now at DRC
16Walkers of Wigan of 1936Diesel Railcar 
17Walkers of Wigan of 1938Diesel Railcar Destroyed in accident 1949
18Walkers of Wigan of 1940Diesel Railcar Now at FTR
10Walkers of Wigan of 1932Diesel Railcar Ex-Clogher Valley Railway 1942. Now at UFTM
11 PhoenixAtkinson Walker Waggons of 1928Converted to dieselEx Clogher Valley 1942. Now at UFTM
19Walkers of Wigan of 1950Diesel Railcar Sold to Isle of Man Railway 1 March 1961. Survives.
20Walkers of Wigan of 1951Diesel Railcar Sold to Isle of Man Railway 1 March 1961. Survives.

Current Locations: UFTM = Ulster Folk & Transport Museum; FVR = Foyle Valley Railway; RPSI = Railway Preservation Society of Ireland; FTR = Fintown Railway; DRC = Donegal Railway Centre