Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway

Gauge: 3ft (915mm)

The Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway operated a broad gauge line in north-west Ireland from 1863. A 3ft gauge line from Carrowen to Letterkenny was opened in 1883, and the original broad gauge line from Londonderry was re-gauged to 3ft. With various extensions, the company operated 100 route miles by 1911.

The company was an early adopter of road transport, and two of the lines had closed by 1940. After the war, the move to road transport continued and the network closed in 1953. The company continued running its bus services until 2014.

Intended to link Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly across the Inishowen peninsula in north Donegal, the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway was incorporated in 1860. The engineer of the line was the celebrated Irishman Sir John MacNeill. The railway opened on 12th November 1863 as a 5ft 3in gauge line, running from Londonderry to Farland Point with a branch to Buncrana. Farland was closed in 1866.

The Letterkenny Railway opened on 30th June 1883 from Cuttymanhill to Letterkenny to a gauge of 3ft. It was worked by the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway, and absorbed by them in 1887. To avoid transhipment, and under pressure from the Government, the Company relaid its original line to 3ft gauge in 1885. In 1901 the Company extended its line from Buncrana to Carndonagh with a Government grant of 80% of the costs. The 49¾ mile Burtonport extension of 1903 was worked by the L&LSR with nominally separate engines and stock. The Company operated 100 route miles in 1911.

After partition the L&LSR was not included in the Great Southern Railway merger of 1925 since 3 miles of its line was in Northern Ireland. It continued to keep its equipment in first class condition along with its suspicion of Government. It decided to transfer the whole of its business to road transport. The lines from Buncrana to Carndonagh and from Gweedore to Burtonport were abandoned in 1935 and 1940 respectively. The closure of the remainder of the system had to be deferred due to wartime shortages of petrol and oil for the replacement road services. By the end of the war years the Company was carrying nearly 500,000 passengers per annum on its rail services from Derry to Buncrana and Gweedore.

With the ending of hostilities the line from Letterkenny to Gweedore was in a dangerous state of disrepair and the Company re-embarked on its policy of replacing rail services by road transport. The daily goods service between Letterkenny and Gweedore was withdrawn in January 1947, the line finally closing in June. Regular passenger services ceased on the Derry to Buncrana and Tooban Junction to Letterkenny sections in September 1948. Freight workings and occasional passenger specials continued on these lines until 8th August 1953 when the remaining rail services, immaculately turned out to the last, were withdrawn.

The L&LSR continued to operate road services even after the Company was sold in 1981. By this time, the L&LSR had become one of the longest-lived railway companies in either Ireland or Britain, having outlasted nearly all the others by many years.

The “Swilly” buses continued to run until it closed down on Saturday 19 April 2014, having gone into liquidation. The final service was a bus from Derry at 18.00 to Letterkenny where it arrived at 18.40.

Number / NameManufacturerTypeNotes
Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway
1 J T MackyBlack, Hawthorn & Co. No.684 of 18830-6-2TScrapped 1911
2 LondonderryBlack, Hawthorn & Co. No.742 of 18830-6-2TScrapped 1912
3 DonegalBlack, Hawthorn & Co. No.743 of 18830-6-2TScrapped 1913
4 InnishowenBlack, Hawthorn & Co. No.834 of 18850-6-2TScrapped 1940
5A Robert Stephenson & Co. No.2088 of 18732-4-0TEx industrial loco 1884. Sold 1887
6ARobert Stephenson & Co. No.2089 of 18732-4-0TEx industrial loco 1884. Sold 1887
5Hudswell, Clarke & Co. No.518 of 18994-6-2TScrapped 1954
6Hudswell, Clarke & Co. No.519 of 18994-6-2TScrapped 1954
7 King Edward VIIHudswell, Clarke & Co. No. 577 of 19014-6-2TScrapped 1940
8 Hudswell, Clarke & Co. No. 562 of 19014-6-2TScrapped 1954
9 AberfoyleKerr, Stuart & Co. No. 845 of 19044-6-2TScrapped 1928
10 RichmondKerr, Stuart & Co. No. 846 of 19044-6-2TScrapped 1954
11 Hudswell, Clarke & Co. No.746 of 19054-8-0Scrapped 1933
12Hudswell, Clarke & Co. No.747 of 19054-8-0Scrapped 1954
13Hawthorne, Leslie & Co. No.2801 of 19104-6-2TScrapped 1940
14Hawthorne, Leslie & Co. No.2802 of 19104-6-2TScrapped 1943
Letterkenny & Burtonport Extension Railway
1Andrew Barclay & Sons No.933 of 19024-6-0TScrapped 1940
2Andrew Barclay & Sons No.934 of 19034-6-0TScrapped 1954
3Andrew Barclay & Sons No.935 of 19034-6-0TScrapped 1954
4Andrew Barclay & Sons No.936 of 19034-6-0TScrapped 1954
5Hudswell, Clarke & Co. No.985 of 19124-8-4TScrapped 1954
6Hudswell, Clarke & Co. No.986 of 19124-8-4TScrapped 1954