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The 201 class—the Irish GM fleet with more than meets the eye.

Updated: 2 days ago

The most powerful locomotives ever to run in Ireland, the Canadian-built GM 201 class locomotives tend to be the poor relation of the Irish GM family when it comes to garnering an enthusiast following. Various reasons have been given for this, some cite the 071s as louder and more ‘thrash’ worthy. That being said, the 201s are far from quiet, and for the doubters, we recommend you sit in the carriage next to the loco on a train being pushed up the tunnel out of Cork. Another reason cited by some is that they were very common on services emanating from Dublin Heuston. That was true for a period, but these days you’ll practically never see one on a passenger train off the Dublin to Belfast or Cork services. In fact, for the past 13 years, it’s actually been easier to get 071 haulage on the other routes than 201s.

There's nothing quiet about a 201, have a listen to this.

Since the last loco-hauled passenger train arrived at Dublin Heuston from Westport in 2009, 201s have found themselves fairly restricted in terms of passenger train use. The only regular passenger turns for the big GM locos have been the Dublin to Belfast “Enterprise” trains and Dublin to Cork services (and even here, some of them are operated by Intercity Railcar sets). As such, the 201s have rarely if ever hauled a passenger train on other routes. This has even applied to railtours, which have been dominated by 071s, leaving 201 haulage on tours being an extremely rare event. The exception to this of course was the premium Belmond Grand Hibernian luxury train, but this only ran from 2016 to 2019 and at a price tag beyond that of most enthusiasts. While they have seen usage on freight routes, principally between Ballina, Dublin, and Waterford, the 201 class have become as rare as hen’s teeth on routes that do not see regular freight flows. The Tralee line is a prime example of this, and something that adds to the novelty of our “Premier Rose” railtour. Permanent Way workings for 201s were relatively uncommon until very recently but the past two years have seen them start to make an appearance on rail and ballast trains, though 071s still tend to dominate these.

Around the same time, the non-push-pull 201 class variants started to be placed in ‘cold storage’ at Inchicore; their lack of push-pull ability made them unsuitable for the remaining passenger links, with sufficient 071 class locomotives being available at the time to cover freight workings alongside the push-pull fitted fleet. Push-pull locos 216 and 225 also spent considerable time out of service, 216 being eventually returned to traffic for the Belmond Grand Hibernian luxury tour train, while 225 spent nearly a decade out of traffic following a collision with a tractor, finally making a comeback in 2019. At the time of writing, 224 and 230 remain out of traffic following damage.

To further complicate the scene, since the refurbishment of the Enterprise carriages in 2015/6 only certain 201 class locomotives can now operate the sets, these being Nos.206-209, 227, 228, 231, and 233. In addition, 216 is fitted with TPWS for crossborder working from its days on the Belmond Grand Hibernian tour. As such, 201s outside this pool tend to be restricted to Dublin Heuston-Cork services as far as passenger trains are concerned, now rarely gracing the platforms of Connolly.

More liveries than any other Irish GM loco?

The 201 fleet has probably carried the most diverse range of liveries Ireland has seen in the diesel era (and possibly steam). Since their introduction in 1994, the 201 class has worn over 8 livery variants (and with some quirks even within these).

Principally, they've worn:

  • Iarnród Éireann orange (original) 1994-mid 2000s.

  • Northern Ireland Railways blue 1995-1997.

  • Enterprise grey/purple (original) 1997-mid 2010s in most cases.

  • Intercity silver and green, 2005-mid 2010s.

  • Iárnrod Éireann orange (revised with yellow front) 2005-present (all of these are stored).

  • Enterprise grey/purple (revised with yellow front) mid-2000s-mid 2010s. (207, 233).

  • Enterprise grey and black (8208 only, 2008-mid 2010s).

  • 'Refurbished' Enterprise livery, 2015-present.

  • 'Common user' livery 2016-present (locos 231 and 233). Designed to blend with either the refurbished Enterprise livery or the green & silver mkIV carriage livery.

  • Temporary light green livery 2016 (216 only).

  • Belmond Blue, 2016-present (216 only).

  • New logo silver and green, mid-2010s-present (variation on 'Intercity' but with 'Iarnród Éireann' and the new logo replacing the Intercity one; nameplates picked out in yellow.

The gallery below displays all the liveries they carry or have carried. Special thanks to John Healy, Martin Hoey, Wesley Molloy and David Walsh (a namesake of our committee member !) for helping us put this together.

This livery list is by no means exhaustive; there have been plenty of detail variants (for example, when the original four Enterprise locos were painted as such, no two were 100% the same. Nameplate details have also varied. Some carry a full set of Irish and English names, some are missing certain plates, 8208 only has them in English and, 8209 carries none at all (but was allocated the name 'River Foyle'). Class leader 201 sports an additional nameplate along the solebar above the fuel tank. 226 actually carries two names at once; in addition to its 'river' name, it also carries plates commemorating the 150th anniversary of Thurles station. In contrast, the older 121, 141, 181, and 071 classes have carried a relatively small range of liveries, restricted to orange, black, and grey colour palettes.

Now with nearly 30 years of service under their bogies, the 201 class adds a splash of colour and variety to an Irish railway scene that's otherwise dominated by a sea of silver railcars and clouds of grey freight locomotives. It's time for their story to be sung and judging by the number of photographs appearing across the interweb, it seems their diversity has finally begun to be appreciated by enthusiasts and train fans. And while unfortunately, opportunities to travel behind them on secondary and branch routes have been almost non-existent for over a decade, we hope that our first railtour can change that by providing a rare chance to travel behind one over the Tralee branchline. All proceeds will go towards helping Irish heritage railway groups, so what's not to love? Find out more here.

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