Train loco on fire: Photo PSNI Newry & Mourne via facebook

Train loco on fire: Photo PSNI Newry & Mourne via facebook

I have a lot of sympathy for the train passengers whose journey from Belfast to Dublin last night was disrupted by a fire on board a locomotive at the tail end (from what I see in the picture) of the 18:05 Enterprise service from Central station to Connolly. Reports of the incident carried by BBC News and other outlets say there were 114 passengers on board the train when the driver (presumably at the other end) realised there was a problem in the engine compartment. He was forced to bring the train to a halt at the former Goraghwood station in County Armagh, a few miles from Newry.

Goraghwood Station on the GNR Enterprise service: Photo Wilson Adams: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Goraghwood Station GNR Enterprise service: Photo Wilson Adams: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Goraghwood station was closed in 1965. It used to be the stop for the customs check by HM Customs & Excise, although the process was speeded up for train passengers from 1947 when customs checks were added at Great Victoria Street station in Belfast and Amiens Street station in Dublin. A General Order issued by Customs in London in 1923 following partition and the creation of a land boundary noted as follows:-

*Note. ____  There are three Customs Stations on the G.N.R. Main Line in Northern Ireland, viz.: Goraghwood, Portadown and Belfast. Trucks from the Free State for Railway Stations short of Portadown will be cleared at Goraghwood; all others for any stations short of Belfast, at Portadown; and trucks for Belfast, at Belfast. Passengers will be dealt with at Goraghwood or at Portadown, according to which is the first scheduled stop at each train.

A former customs man, Ronald, remembers his time on duty there:-

“The main railway line between Belfast and Dublin passed through the Border Railway Station at Goraghwood in Newry.  The Daily Express Trains, ‘The Enterprise’ stopped at Goraghwood for Customs Clearance, a staff of LPM’s  boarding the trains and obtaining declarations from the passengers, any Revenue payments being called for by the Preventive Officer in attendance. Bars on board the Dublin/Belfast services were sealed after declaration by the Catering Staff. Secondly, the Guinness Supply Train en route from Dublin to Belfast, stopped at Goraghwood every night with its load, which was examined, samples being taken by the Officer i/c for submission to the Government Chemist“. HM-Customs-Waterguard-L Archives 19 NOV 2007 

I wonder did they ever get a chance to sample any of it themselves!

However it was not a customs check that stopped the main rail service between the two cities last night but rather the problem of an engine fire. A few observations about the incident. I have not used the Enterprise service in recent times, preferring instead to go by car on the new motorway. A journey from South Belfast to South Dublin can now be done in under two hours. The train runs eight times daily (Monday to Saturday) with a reduced service on Sundays between the cities but often with stops, which means the journey from city centre to city centre usually takes two hours and ten minutes. The Aircoach service goes from Great Victoria Street (Glengall Street) to O’Connell Street in Dublin in the same time and is generally cheaper, as is the frequent Translink/Bus Éireann express service. So the cost and the road have played a major part in the reduction of passenger numbers on the Enterprise, which were also reduced at the time the viaduct at the Malahide estuary partially collapsed in August 2009 and was closed for three months for repairs.


Enterprise Train at Lisburn: Photo © Michael Fisher

My recent contact with the Enterprise has been sightings of one of the trains in various locations. I noticed it going through Adelaide station in Belfast, with black smoke coming from the exhaust and I thought it was not very environmentally friendly. I saw it in Lisburn station heading for Belfast at the time I was going to the Balmoral Show last month and I got a picture of it. A few days ago as I headed on the A1 to Dublin outside Newry, I noticed the Belfast-bound train going across the Craigmore viaduct near the station at Bessbrook. The first thing that came to mind was how dirty the front engine looked and that it was a poor advertisement for what is supposed to be a “flagship service”, according to Translink.

I am not certain how many train units are currently in service. But according to the records, there are nine 201-Class locomotives built by General Motors (1994-5) in use for the Enterprise. Two of them (8208 River Lagan and 8209 River Foyle) are owned by Translink, the other seven belong to Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail). The Wikipedia entry records that the locos have had a chequered service history and that “the authors of Jane’s Train Recognition Guide noted that IÉ had had problems with engine fires and bogie cracks” (Harper Collins, London 2005). Last night’s was not the first such incident.

Translink advised on twitter that there was already a problem with the 16:50 Dublin to Belfast service: “1650 Dublin – Belfast is now 35 minutes late – Will be formed of 4 coaches. 1st class not available & catering is reduced.” When the problem on the 18:05 service to Dublin arose, the company initially advised that “Replacement road transport will be provided between Newry and Dublin Connolly.” But after ensuring that the passengers were led to safety in the opposite end of the train, they were kept waiting until an Iarnród Éireann train arrived on the other track and the passengers were led across a ramp from one train to the other, assisted by the Northern Ireland Transport Minister and local MLA Danny Kennedy and Translink staff. The passengers arrived in Dublin after 1am, nearly five hours late.

Fire on board Enterprise locomotive: Photo: PSNI Newry & Mourne via Facebook

Fire on board Enterprise locomotive: Photo PSNI Newry & Mourne via facebook

At the end of the day, no-one was injured. Mr Kennedy said there would be a full investigation. The loco involved was number 230, River Bandon, and is part of the Iarnród Éireann stock. They are model type JT42HCW, fitted with an EMD 12-710G3B engine of 3200 hp, weigh 112 tonnes and have a maximum speed of 164 km/h (102 mph). The Enterprise locos all operate on a push-pull basis.