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75 years of the Enterprise train

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

11th August 2022 marks an auspicious date for Irish railway enthusiasts, it being the 75th anniversary of what may well be Ireland's most famous named train, the "Enterprise". It's certainly the longest-lasting one. At Táilte, we're all about celebrating Ireland's railway heritage with both enthusiasts and the general public alike, so let's take a brief look at the history of the Belfast-Dublin "Enterprise" service.

Ireland's first long distance non-stop express service

While these days, the Enterprise stops at Drogheda, Dundalk, Newry, and Portadown, when first launched it actually ran non-stop from Belfast to Dublin. Indeed, it was the first regular non-stop train in Ireland to travel over 100 miles. On 11th August 1947, the very first Enterprise service was hauled from Belfast Great Victoria Street station to Dublin Amiens Street (as Connolly Station was then known). The locomotive was Great Northern Railway of Ireland (GNR) V Class steam locomotive No.83 Eagle. A sister engine, No.85 Merlin, is now owned by the Ulster Transport Museum and is currently on loan to the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland. At the time, trains crossing the border were required to undergo customs checks. In the case of the Enterprise, arrangements were made to have these carried out in Dublin and Belfast before departure, thus allowing for the non-stop run. At the time the GNR was facing competition from the emerging airline industry, indeed one school of thought suggests that their cream and blue carriage livery was an attempt to emulate those found on planes.

Such was the success of the Enterprise, that a Dublin-based working was added in 1948. Incidentally, the original intention was to name it Endeavour but the Enterprise name was ultimately used for this too.

Did you know that the Enterprise once ran through to Cork?

Our namesake, 800 class 4-6-0 No.802 Táilte ready to take Enterprise on to Cork from Dublin Amiens Street (now Connolly), while the loco is CIE (ex-GSR) the carriages are GNR ones. Photo from the Philly Maher Collection, courtesy of Billy Maher.

From 1951 to 1953, the Enterprise actually ran on to Cork after arriving in Dublin. A GNR locomotive would haul the carriages from Belfast to Dublin, where a CIE engine would take over for the run to Cork. These were generally big 4-6-0 locomotives such as the 800 class (including No.802 Táilte, for which our tours committee is named). These would have been the largest locomotives to be used on the service, as the GNR was restricted to 4-4-0s due to the size of its works at Dundalk. The Cork service ended in June 1953 but for a few months after a carriage for Cork passengers remained on the Enterprise, this being attached to a regular CIE service to Cork on arrival in Dublin from Belfast.

A plethora of different locomotives and rolling stock have been used on the Enterprise

These days, Enterprise services are normally operated by 1994/5 built GM 201 class diesels and 1996 built carriages built by Die Dietrich in France. They're related to those originally used on Eurostar services through the Channel Tunnel—if you look at photos of the stock pre-refurbishment you'll see some similarities, inside and out. These have been used on the service since 1997, for longer than any previous type in fact. However, a variety of locomotives, railcars and carriages have seen use on the Enterprise since 1947. Originally the mainstay would have Great Northern Railway (Ireland) V and VS Class 4-4-0s, though other types of steam locomotives were used too such as the GNR's S Class 4-4-0s. Railcars, built by AEC, were used throughout the 1950s. CIÉ began to use General Motors diesels in the 1960s, such as the 121, 141, and 181 class (several of which have been preserved by the Irish Traction Group), with 70 Class railcars seeing use at the UTA/NIR end from the late 1960s. One carriage from a 70 Class set can now be seen at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway, which also has some 80 Class railcars—these too were not unknown on the service. In the early 1970s, the NIR workings were handed over to new mk2 rolling stock hauled by specially-ordered Hunslet 101 class Bo-Bo diesel locomotives (one of which, No.102 Falcon, is preserved in the Ulster Transport Museum at Cultra). On the CIE side, laminates and Cravens stock were common at this stage, with some Cravens even being converted to 1st Class using reclining airline-type seats in the early 1970s. CIE's own mk2 stock arrived in the 1970s, which, along with Cravens sets, saw use throughout the 70s and 80s, with mk2s carrying the service into the 1990s prior to eh current Die Dietrich stock arriving. CIE's larger 071 class GMs arrived in the late 1970s, with NIR obtaining three of the type in the early 1980s (known as their 111 class). The current carriages underwent a major refurbishment program over the course of 2015-2017.

An Enterprising future ahead

The Enterprise has developed and evolved over the past 75 years. It shows no signs of stopping either. Plans for an hourly service are underway, along with the eventual upgrade of the rolling stock itself. While the service currently uses Lanyon Place station in Belfast, it is intended to eventually move the Enterprise back to its original terminus of Great Victoria Street when redevelopment there is complete. This will bring passengers right into the heart of Belfast, with the new and improved station to be known as Belfast Grand Central. The future of the Enterprise is as exciting as its past. Just what will it look like in 75 years time?

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