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Membership landmark achieved

posted Mar 17, 2015, 12:12 PM by Steve Edge   [ updated Mar 19, 2015, 2:06 PM ]
John Huxley writes: 

At the start of March, the embryonic Tralee and Blennerville Steam Railway Group achieved a notable landmark, when they recruited their 555th member to their 'Facebook' page.

The attaining of 555 members for the group had a particular resonance as the sole surviving Tralee and Dingle locomotive No.5T currently awaiting restoration in Tralee was works number 555 when it was constructed by Hunslet of Leeds in 1892. Number 5T has another place in railway history as it was the first inside-framed 2-6-2 tank engine to operate in these Islands!

The route that 5T worked from Tralee to the Atlantic port of Dingle, included the steepest grades on any Irish railway being  1 in 29 over the Slieve Mish mountain range. The little engines hauled anything from cattle and fish to emigrants searching for new lives. The line itself became synonymous with railway enthusiasts, particularly during the cattle fair trains during the early 1950's. Household enthusiast names such as Ivo Peters, Patrick Whitehouse and W.A Camwell all travelling to this western outpost at some stage to record its marvellous character.

5T left the Tralee and Dingle section, of the then nationalised railway company, known as CIE or Coras Iompar Eireann, in 1949. The loco was in bad need of major refurbishment. 5T was subsequently stored at Inchicore Works in Dublin. CIE chose to transfer 5T to another Irish narrow gauge system rather than send it back 'home', the Cavan and Leitrim section. She moved there about 1951 and was mainly used on Arigna Coal trains. The line closed in 1959 with 5T hauling the last Arigna Branch train.

The locomotive was then exported to America thanks to the intervention of Edgar Mead an American railway enthusiast. It is ironic that 5T essentially emigrated like so many an Irishman. It was based at Steamtown Museum in Vermont before being re-patriated to Ireland in 1988. It was restored to a steamable condition and worked on the newly created Tralee and Blennerville line, until 2006 when it was withdrawn with boiler problems. It is currently in a dismantled state at Blennerville in store.

The Blennerville operation ran into difficulties and closed in 2008, largely as a result of a lack of development and no diesel at all. Now the newly formed Tralee and Blennerville Steam Railway Group has set itself the target of re-opening the one and half mile line and securing as much of the original Tralee and Dingle Railway’s history as possible. We already have amounted a collection of suitable artefacts for display, and would welcome others to come forward.

Recently a brand new tourist amenity known as the "Wetlands" park has been developed within the vicinity of the running line, with platform built especially for use. Making this railway an ideal tourism amenity for the locality of Tralee and the region.

Group spokesperson Darragh Connolly said: "Reaching such a remarkable landmark with our membership is really encouraging, especially in such a short pace of time.

"Surely a historic and unique locomotive such as 5T deserves a better fate than its current state of existence and we want to ensure this important locomotive in Irish railway history is put on proud display as a monument to both Irish industrial history and our local Kerry heritage.

"I would ask those that have an interest in seeing this project succeed to please support our online group campaign by becoming a member of our Facebook page . The more members we recruit, the better.

"Or alternatively please subscribe to our campaign by becoming a paid up member of the society. Membership forms are available by contacting our group secretary (to be decided locally) via email or by post (to be confirmed).

"There's quite clearly interest in the Tralee and Blennerville in the railway fraternity and we want to translate that into direct on the ground action to save the line."

Written by John Huxley.

This media release is issued by the Tralee and Blennerville Steam Railway Group on 16 March 2015.