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The Suir Lee Knot Railtour recap

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

The "Suir Lee Knot" railtour was an experiment on a number of fronts. Would a railtour out of Cork fill? Would a railtour using railcar stock be popular? Read on to the find out the answer...

The Suir Lee Knot railtour logo

Our special railtour logo designed by Innis Mennie.

A railtour out of Cork? Suir Lee Knot?

Saturday April 15th dawned bright, as our stewards made their way to Cork Kent's station near the banks of the River Lee. Our train, a four-piece 2600 class railcar set made up of vehicles 2608+2607+2614+2617, stood in one of the south-facing bay platforms normally used by the Cobh and Midleton line services. But the tour was going to Waterford, you ask, surely that's that's the wrong platform? Normally, yes. However, our friends in the signaling dept. at Cork had arranged an unadvertised surprise 'bonus move' for the track bashers on-board...

As we loaded supplies etc onto the set, passengers started to gather and photographs a plenty were taken. While some seasoned Irish railtour afficiendos had travelled down from Dublin, we also had a healthy turnout from Cork locals, some of them enthusiasts, some of them general day-trippers. Despite being Ireland's second city, railtours out of Cork are fairly rare so there was clearly an appetite for one. With our 120 passengers on board and a green signal, Driver Ken Fox eased our railcar set out of the bay platform and headed out past the running shed towards Cobh. Don't worry, we weren't lost. A quick change of ends and we were soon heading north and taking the former goods avoiding line around the station, rarely used by passenger trains. While 'thrash' tends to be associated with locomotive-hauled trains, Driver Ken Fox proved that the 2600s are far from quiet, treating us to a cacophony of Cummins engines as we ascended the steep gradient up the Cork tunnel.

The Suir Lee Knot railtour passing Cork station

The railtour set snakes it away around the Cork station avoiding line, an unadvertised surprise move. Photo: Tom Ryan

It's a long way to Tipperary...

Our first stop was Mallow, where a good few local passengers joined us. We then proceeded north along the Cork mainline towards Limerick Junction; our railtour was the first passenger working of a 2600 on the mainline north of Mallow in many years, with them having been almost exclusively used in the Cork (and, very occasionally Limerick) area for the past decade or so.

The next stop for our railtour was the 'knot' of our title, Limerick Junction. Some passengers joined us here, including a few who'd travelled down on the 09:00 train from Dublin. With the headboard swapped to the Cork end of the train, Driver Fox then brought our train out of the station towards Limerick, stopping in the pocket loop. Then our second reversal of the day took place, after changing ends our driver proceeding east over the Cork mainline and towards Tipperary, with the Comeragh mountains welcoming us to the Golden Vale. Meanwhile, our raffle team lept into action, led by Martin Hoey who's been a staple of Irish railtour raffles the past few years. Top prize was a 3-piece Magnestite wagon pack generously donated by our friends in Irish Railway Models, quite appropriate given they travelled from Cork to Waterford on their way to the former Pfizer plant in Ballinacourty. Sadly, we couldn't retrace their footsteps beyond Waterford, but it was close enough. Incidentally, if you missed out on the wagons, they still have some available here at the time of writing.

Happy passengers on the Suir Lee Knot railtour from Cork to Waterford

Just some of the Cork enthusiasts who turned out for the trip, we *think* they enjoyed it. Photo: Tom Ryan

Contrary to the song, it was not a long way to Tipperary at all. Here, the track bashers had another treat, as the railtour ran through the lesser-used Tipperary loop rather than the platform road, we think this was the first passenger train to use the loop since the late 2000s (even non-passenger trains rarely traverse it). Our 2600 class set ploughed its way on through the Golden Vale, quite unfamiliar surrounding for the units which have always been rare visitors to the line. We sailed through Cahir and in seemingly no time at all we were at our first photostop of the day, Clonmel. As a treat, participants were given access to the impressive signal cabin, which is one of a few left in Ireland to control semaphore signalled and ETS-worked sections at both ends.

Driver Ken Fox on the Suir Lee Knot railtour

Driver Ken Fox poses with the Electric Train Staff (ETS) at Clonmel.

Introducing our railtour's special guest star

C Class diesel 226 at Carrick on Suir during the visit of the Suir Lee Knot railtour

At Carrick-on-Suir crowds gathered to view the Irish Traction Group's C Class diesel No.226, now in the final stages of restoration.

After Clonmel, our next photostop was Carrick-on-Suir, something which proved to a highlight of the railtour for many. As our railcar set rounded the curve into the station, we were greeted by a rather shiny looking C Class loco outside the Goods Shed. Our friends in the Irish Traction Group had burned plenty of midnight oil during the preceding weeks to get C226 looking shiny for our visit. In fact, some of their volunteers were up until 03:10 the night before, that's dedication! But great she looked (and sounded) as railtour passengers and locals alike gathered to see the 1950s vintage Metrovick loco, with the classic sound of a GM 645 engine being music to the ears of many. Locos such as 226 were staples of the old West Cork railway in its later years, striking a chord with our Corkonian passengers.

We wander to Waterford

Having rounded up all our passengers, some of whom nearly had to be pulled away from the C Class, we carried on to Waterford where it was time for a much-needed lunchbreak. Waterford station is a congested place these days, so the railcar set adjourned to the yard during the layover.

The Suir Lee Knot railtour on arrival in Waterford

2617 at our destination, Plunkett Station, Waterford.

Back along the Golden Vale

After over two and a half hours exploring the Deise capital and it's eateries, everyone made their way back across the Suir. We waited for the afternoon train from Dublin to arrive and then shunt away, before our railtour set returned from the yard. A few photos and we were off again, retracing our steps along the banks of the Suir and then off up the former Waterford, Limerick & Western Railway mainline again. This time it was non-stop through Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel, with a photostop taking place in Tipperary. Some of the more hardy photographers made a pilgrimage to the footbridge near the level crossing, certainly upping their step count for the day and then some. There was time to view Tipperary's charming little signal cabin, in fact one nameless steward was so engrossed in it that he neglected to board the train as it was about to depart for Limerick Junction...

The Suir Lee Knot railtour at Tipperary

Passengers get their pictures of a 2600 class railcar in the unusual surrondings of Tipperary station.

After the short journey from Tipperary town, we crossed the Cork mainline once more and waited for a Limerick-bound 2800 class railcar to depart, before arriving back in Limerick Junction Pocket Loop. A change of ends by the driver, and we pulled into Limerick Junction station, where some of our Dublin-passengers disembarked to catch a connection home. Thanks to a kind local, our 'missing' steward was returned to us by road and was actually waiting for us on the platform as we arrived. Next was a photostop in Charleville loop platform, before continuing on towards Mallow and Cork to set our passengers down. On arrival back in Kent station, our train of happy passengers and crew disembarked while the set retired to the sidings for a rest after its big adventure beyond Cork.

A successful railtour?

The Suir Lee Knot railtour in Cork

The railtour set on arrival back in Cork.

All things considered, all our participants seemed to have enjoyed the day any doubts that may have been had about running (1) a railcar railtour and (2) a railtour out of Cork were well put to bed. In fact, no sooner had we arrived back in Cork than we had people wondering when the next tour out of Cork would be...

It's always dangerous listing people by name (lest we inadvertently leave someone out), but the railtour owes its success to many people including: David Fiddis, Ian Walsh, Ken Fox, Kieran Marshall, the late Mick Collins RIP, Neil Dinnen, Raphael Collins, Stephen Hackett and Stephen King, all in Iarnród Éireann and to Fiachna Mac Murchú, Bob Twigg, Leigh Walsh, Jonathan Phelan and Aidan Brosnan of the Irish Traction Group. Special thanks also to Innis Mennie for designing our fabulous railtour logo.

And of course, to our own team of stewards: Derek Dunne, Wesley Molloy, Martin Hoey, Jonathan Beaumont and Lexie Richardson.

Huge thanks also to our sponsors: Irish Railway Models, Avant Money and Casino Model Railway Malahide.

Suffice to say, while Dublin won't be forgotten we'll definitely (Suir Lee?) be running railtours out of Cork again. In fact, we already have some ideas...

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