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A Historic Tour of Cork's Railway Station Termini, Past & Present.

Updated: Jun 22

With 2024 marking the 175th anniversary of the arrival of railways in Cork, we thought the time was right to take a tour of the railway's history in the city to date and the various railway termini Cork city has played host to. While it now only has one terminus, Cork once had no less than six open at the same time. Indeed, it’s had a more complicated history of railway termini than Dublin or Belfast, with various temporary termini on the outskirts of the city remaining open for years while significant engineering works took place to bring the railways closer to the city centre.

Blackpool/Kilbarry Station

While strictly speaking not within the city proper, Blackpool (later known as Kilbarry) was Cork’s first station, acting as the terminus when the line from Dublin was completed by the Great Southern & Western Railway in 1849. Progress on the tunnel through to the city would take another 6 years (having already been under construction since 1847), meaning Blackpool remained the main terminus for Dublin to Cork trains until 1855, after which it was replaced by a terminus at the other end of the tunnel at Penrose Quay. While long since closed, it is proposed that a station will be opened here as part of the expansion of the Cork suburban rail network.

City Park (Victoria Road) Station

Cork City Park Railway station building

The original Cork, Blackrock and Passage Railway terminus, City Park, in the 1860s.

A relatively short-lived terminus, Cork City Park was located on Victoria Road and opened in 1850 to serve the Cork, Blackrock & Passage Railway’s line to Passage West, in conjunction with the company’s steamer services from the latter location. However, this station closed in 1873 when the company opened a new terminus closer to the city centre at Albert Street.

Albert Quay Station

The former Cork, Bandon & South Coast Railway terminus, Albert Quay was opened in December 1851 by what was then known as the Cork & Bandon railway (prior to its opening, the company operated trains from Bandon to Ballinahassig, with horse-drawn vehicles providing the connection from the latter into Cork city). Adjacent to the terminus was the C&BSCR’s Rocksavage works and depot. The company’s network would extend over the years, with Albert Quay becoming the gateway to an extensive system of railways throughout West Cork, with lines running to locations such as Kinsale, Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Bantry, and Baltimore. An extensive signal straddled the tracks outside the station, an unusual feature for an Irish station (Waterford being another example). From 1866 to 1879, Albert Quay was also used as a terminus by the Cork & Macroom District Railway, although the relationship with the two railway companies would become quite strained during this period. 1912 saw Albert Quay (and the CB&SCR system in general) connected to the rest of the Irish railway network when the Cork City Railway was opened through the city’s streets, allowing for trains to run through to the GSWR terminus at Glanmire Road. In 1924 the Cork, Bandon & South Coast Railway became part of the Great Southern Railway (Great Southern Railways from 1925) and in time Macroom line trains reverted to the former CB&SCR terminus. The rise of motorised road transport would gradually chip away at the viability of the lines served by Albert Quay, with the Kinsale branch closing as early as 1931. The GSR became part of CIÉ in 1945, which introduced modern AEC railcars and diesel locomotives in the 1950s. Seaside excursion trains remained popular on the system, but this was not enough to save the line and Albert Quay, along with the rest of the West Cork network, closed in 1961.  Albert Quay would continue to function as a railhead for a few years after the closure of the West Cork system, with it remaining in use as a freight yard into the 1970s. This saw it visited by modern locomotives and rolling stock that were built after the West Cork system closed, 141/181 class GM diesels, and bogie fertilizer wagons. It finally closed in 1976.

Penrose Quay Station

Black and white photo of Penrose Quay station in Cork

Cork's Penrose Quay Station in the 1850s.

There have, in effect, been two stations on this site. The first, Penrose Quay, opened at the mouth of the 1,355 yard Cork tunnel in 1855 (Prior to this, trains from Dublin used the Blackpool terminus on the other side of the tunnel). Directly adjacent to the station was the Cork & Youghal Railway’s Summerhill terminus, situated over the tunnel mouth. In 1893, a new station was opened known as Glanmire Road, catering for both the GSWR’s mainline to Dublin and the trains of the former Cork & Youghal Railway to Youghal and Queenstown. A fine red brick station, it’s built on a curve and currently has two through platforms and a number of bays servicing trains on the lines to east Cork. An extensive locomotive depot is situated to the south of the station, with a major goods yard to the left and carriage sheds to the right. Much of this has now been swept away although the depot area continues to play an important role in maintaining the local fleet. An impressive signal cabin stood at the south end of the station until as recently as 2023, while another was situated inside the station itself. 

Dunkettle Station

Like Blackpool, Dunkettle was a temporary terminus rather than one by design, opening in 1859 to serve the Cork & Youghal Railway’s line to Midleton (extended to Youghal in 1860). With the opening of their city terminus at Summerhill in 1861, Dunkettle became a through station and remained open until 1966. As with Blackpool, there is a proposal to reopen the station as part of the Cork suburban rail upgrade.

Summerhill Station

The site of the Cork & Youghal Railway terminus at Summerhill today, its proximity to GSWR station can be seen to good effect.

The Cork & Youghal Railway opened its city terminus at Summerhill in 1861, initially, horse worked from Dunkettle prior to locomotives taking over a few months later (the Dunkettle to Midleton section actually opened in 1859, with the Youghal following in 1860).  The line to Cobh opened in 1862, adding another destination for Summerhill passengers. The Cork & Youghal did not last long as an independent concern, being taken over by the Great Southern & Western in 1866, with a direct connection between their line and that to Youghal and Queenstown in 1868. A small site with just one platform, Summerhill was the scene of a collision in 1882, when a train from Youghal ran into another waiting in the platform, with 300 people injured. In 1893 the station was closed and Youghal/Queenstown line trains transferred to the new Glanmire Road station. However, the line itself remained intact and once a year an empty train operated into the station to preserve the right of the way, this practice is known to have continued until at least the 1930s. While the tracks have long since been lifted, the site of the station is still quite evident and worth a look should you find yourself with time to spare in the area.

Albert Street Station

Newspaper photo of the last steam train leaving Albert Street Station in Cork.

Newspaper photo of the last train from Albert Station in Cork - The Cork Examiner.

Cork Albert Street station was opened by the Cork, Blackrock & Passage Railway in February 1873, accessed via a new length of line of approximately 1.5 miles in length,  deviating from the original at Marina. While the Cork, Blackrock & Passage was initially an Irish standard gauge (5’3) system, in 1900 it was converted to a 3ft narrow gauge double track system. The next few years would see the gradual opening of an extension to Monkstown (1902), Carrigaline (1903), and Crosshaven (1904). As with the other narrow gauge railways located entirely within what was then known as the Irish Free State, the CBPR was absorbed into the Great Southern Railways in 1925 and, as with many other lines, rationalisation quickly ensured. The line was singled in 1927, with services beyond Passage West ceasing in May 1932, with the rest of the line following that September. Today, the route has been opened in parts as a greenway.

Capwell Station

As mentioned, the Cork & Macroom District Railway used the CB&SCR’s terminus at Albert Quay initially. However, the arrangements were never satisfactory, some would say fraught. In 1879 the Macroom line opened its own terminus at Capwell. Relations between the two companies remained less than pleasant, with the Macroom removing their connection. Indeed, it was not reinstated until the Admiralty forced them to do so in 1918. Ultimately, this rivalry would come to nothing for in 1925 the C&MDR was amalgamated into the Great Southern Railways, who later decided to close the station as a passenger terminus and transfer such trains back to Albert Quay. Capwell then became the main headquarters for the GSR’s bus operations in the region. However, this was not a complete end of rail services to Capwell; it would continue in use as a goods station until 1953, although the line would not be completely closed until 1960. Despite this, it nonetheless continues to play a very important role in Cork’s transport network to this very day, being the main maintenance depot for Bus Éireann services in the region, which inherited it from the GSR through CIÉ.

Western Road Station

Located on Lancaster Quay, the second of Cork’s narrow gauge railway termini, Western Road was opened in 1887 to serve the 3ft gauge Cork & Muskerry Light Railway’s line to Blarney. A branch to Coachford followed in 1888, with the Blarney line being extended to Donoughmore in 1893. As with Cork’s other railway companies, it became part of the GSR in 1925. Motorised road vehicles affected the line just as they did those to Macroom and Passage and the GSR saw fit to close the route and, accordingly, the Western Road terminus in 1934.

Glanmire Road (Kent) Station

Our Suir Lee Knot railtour train at Cork Kent station.

Our "Suir Lee Knot" railtour is seen at Cork Kent station on 15th April 2023.

In 1893, a new station was opened by the Great Southern & Western Railway to replace its Penrose Quay terminus. The new station was known as Glanmire Road, and in effect replaced both the Penrose Quay terminus and the former Cork & Youghal terminus at Summerhill. A fine red brick station, it’s built on a curve and currently has two through platforms and a number of bays servicing trains on the lines to east Cork. An extensive locomotive depot is situated to the south of the station, with a major goods yard to the left and carriage sheds to the right. Much of this has now been swept away although the depot area continues to play an important role in maintaining the local fleet. A cattle area was installed on the site of the old Penrose Quay terminals, with an avoiding line curving around the station for use by freight trains. Steeped in railway heritage, since the 1950s the station has been home to Ireland’s oldest surviving locomotive, GSWR 2-2-2 No.36, built by Bury & Co. in 1847 (check out our badge of this loco here). The station was renamed Cork Kent in 1966 as part of the Easter Rising 50th Anniversary celebrations, commemorating Thomas Kent. It’s a name that has stuck in the local vernacular perhaps more so than has been the case with the other non-Dublin terminal, often referred to locally as ‘Kent Station’ and even just ‘Kent’. The station took on the role of Folkestone for the filming of the 1979 movie The First Great Train Robbery, starring Sean Connery. An impressive signal cabin stood at the south end of the station until as recently as 2023, however, another, located within the station itself, survives. Currently the busiest station on the Iarnród Éireann system outside of Dublin, Cork Kent is serviced by hourly express services to Dublin, along with an intensive suburban service to Midleton and Cobh, in addition to some local services to Mallow. There are also direct services to Tralee. Work is currently underway towards constructing a new platform on the outside of the station, as part of a major investment programme in the Cork suburban rail network. While it may be the city’s only surviving terminus station, it’s certainly set to enjoy a bright future.

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