Great Southern Railways

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Great Southern Railways
Dates of operation1 January 192531 December 1944
Predecessor Midland Great Western Railway
Great Southern and Western Railway
Dublin and South Eastern Railway
Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway
and others [1]
Successor CIÉ Railways Division (1945-1987)
Irish Rail (1987-present)
Track gauge 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)
3 ft (914 mm)
Length854 miles (1,374 km)[ citation needed ]

The Great Southern Railways Company (often Great Southern Railways, or GSR) was an Irish company that from 1925 until 1945 owned and operated all railways that lay wholly within the Irish Free State (the present-day Republic of Ireland).


The period was difficult with rising operating costs and static to failing income. The early part of the period was soon after infrastructure losses of the Irish Civil War. The Emergency or Second World War at the end of the period saw shortages of coal and raw materials with increased freight traffic and restricted passenger traffic. [2]



Civil unrest in Ireland had led to the assumption of governmental control of all railways operating in Island of Ireland on 22 December 1916 through the Irish Railways Executive Committee, later succeeded by the Ministry of Transport. Control was returned to the management of the companies on 15 August 1921. The Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 establishing the Irish Free State and subsequent Irish Civil War all combined to be damaging to the railways of Ireland widespread and extensive damage to infrastructure and rolling stock. Between 1916 and 1921 revenues had doubled while operating costs and wages had quadrupled. When the GS&WR, by far the largest of the companies, announced it would cease operations on 8 January 1923. The Irish Free state had already recognised the importance of the railway system and had set up the Railway Commission to advise on ownership in April 1922. The impending collapse led to the process that was to create the GSR.{ [3]


Provision for the creation of the company was made by the Railways Act 1924, which mandated the amalgamation (in the case of the four major railway companies) and absorption (of the 22 smaller companies) of all railways wholly within the Irish Free State. Only cross-border railways, most notably the Great Northern Railway (GNR), remained outside its control. [1]

First amalgamation

The Great Southern and Western Railway Company, the Midland Great Western Railway Company of Ireland and the Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway Company agreed to terms for amalgamation, forming the Great Southern Railway Company by way of the Railways (Great Southern) Preliminary Amalgamation Scheme of 12 November 1924 (SI no. 31 of that year). [4]

DSER joins

The Great Southern Railways Company was formed when the fourth major company, the Dublin and South Eastern Railway (DSER), joined these companies under the Great Southern Railways Amalgamation Scheme of 1 January 1925 (SI no. 1 of that year) and the Great Southern Railways Supplemental Amalgamation Scheme, also 1925. The DSER was substantially British owned and had wished to merge with the GNR but was overruled. [4]

Smaller Companies

The smaller companies were absorbed under several successive statutory instruments. [4]

List of companies amalgamated to form Great Southern Railway/Great Southern Railways
Company [5] OperatorGaugeRoute MilesLocomotives [6] Notes
Argina Colliery Extension RailwayCLR 3 ft (914 mm)   4  0 [7]
Athy Wolfhill Colliery Railway GSWR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)  12  0
Athenry and Tuam Extension Railway GSWR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)   17  0 [8]
Bantry Extension Railway (CBSCR)CBSCR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)   11  0Operated by Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway
Ballinrobe and Claremorris Light Railway MGWR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)   12  0Nominally 12 miles
Baltimore Extension Railway CBSCR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)   8  0
Castlecomer Railway GSWR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)  12  0Nominally 12 miles
Cavan and Leitrim Railway (CLR)CLR 3 ft (914 mm)  59  9
Clonakilty Extension Railway CBSCR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)   9  0
Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway (CBSCR)CBSCR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)  94 20
Cork, Blackrock and Passage Railway (CPBR)CBPR 3 ft (914 mm)  16  4
Cork and Macroom Direct Railway (CMDR)CMDR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)  24  5CMDR tried to avoid joining GSR by physical independence [9]
Cork and Muskerry Light Railway (CMLR)CMLR 3 ft (914 mm)  11  7
Cork City Railways 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)   1  0Tramway connecting docks, CBSCR and GSWR, mileage nominal [10]
Donoughmore Extension Light Railway CMLR 3 ft (914 mm)  8  0
Dublin and Kingstown Railway DSER 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)   6  0
Dublin and South Eastern Railway (DSER)DSER 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) 161 41Route mileage may include closures and operational track
Fishguard & Rosslare Railways & Harbours Company GSWR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) 104  050% joint GSR/Great Western Railway
Great Southern and Western Railway (GSWR)GSWR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)1100326Route mileage may include closures and operational track
Loughrea and Attymon Light Railway MGWR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)   9  0
Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR)MGWR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) 538139Route mileage may include closures and operational track
South Clare Railway WCR 3 ft (914 mm)  0
Schull and Skibbereen Railway (SSR)SSR 3 ft (914 mm)   15  4Company was West Carberry Tramways and Light Railways Co. Ltd.
Southern of Ireland RailwayGSWR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)  28  0 [11]
Timoleague and Courtmacsherry Light Railway (TCLR)TCLR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)   9  2
Tralee and Dingle Light Railway (TDLR)TDLR 3 ft (914 mm)  38  8
Tralee and Fenit Railway GSWR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)   7  0Mileage nominal
West Clare Railway (WCR)WCR 3 ft (914 mm)  27 11
Waterford and Tramore Railway (WTR)WTR 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)   7  4

Omissions and Anomalies

CIÉ previously maintained a full online list of the twenty five companies which constituted the Great Southern Railways in 1925. [5] This is not entirely accurate, as it includes the Fishguard & Rosslare Railways & Harbours Company which still exists today, although GSR took over 50% of its shares upon its creation, the other 50% being held by the UK Great Western Railway. The respective shareholdings in the company, now essentially a shelf company, are held today by Iarnród Éireann and Stena Line.[ citation needed ]

Two companies that were not amalgamated but whose tracks the GSR retained operating rights over were the City of Dublin Junction Railway, [lower-alpha 1] and the New Ross and Waterford Extension. [12]

Early years

The GS&WR was the dominant constituent in terms of area, route millage and rolling stock. The GSR's headquarters were established at Kingsbridge and Inchicore becoming the chief engineering works. The former Dublin and South Eastern section in particular had become extremely run down and needed extensive remedial work on its rolling stock with about one third condemned with immediate effect.[ citation needed ] Revenue for passengers decreased from £1.91m in 1925 to £1.28m by 1931, that for freight decreasing from £2.27m to £2.05m. [13]

Buses and hotels

From 1929, when it acquired a stake in the Irish Omnibus Company, the company also ran bus services. These operations became the responsibility, from 1 January 1934, of the Great Southern Railways Omnibus Department.

The group owned a number of hotels, and in 1990 the hotel group was transferred from Córas Iompair Éireann to Aer Rianta, in the ownership of which it remained until 2006. The hotel group formed by the company, Great Southern Hotels, continued to bear that name until its privatisation in 2006. Only the Sligo hotel continued to use the Great Southern name as of 2016, but in January 2018 The Malton Hotel in Killarney reverted to its original name of the Great Southern. [14]


Worldwide economic conditions continued to be difficult and affected Ireland also, passenger and freight revenue decreased to £1.27m and £2.05m by 1939. [15]

Second World War

Although the Republic of Ireland was a neutral country railway transport was severely disrupted by The Emergency. Lack of high quality coal fuel in Ireland and the need to import from England was severe and desperate alternatives such as turf-burning had only extremely limited success. By 1944 most non-suburban passenger services were restricted to Mondays and Thursdays only with some curtailed altogether. [16]

Transfer to CIÉ

The Transport Act 1944 dissolved the company and transferred its assets, together with those of the Dublin United Transport Company to Córas Iompair Éireann, from 1 January 1945.

Route network

Over the period of the GSR's existence the total route network was reduced slightly from 2,181 miles (3,510 km) in 1925 to 2,042 miles (3,286 km) at the end in 1944. [17] Among the few lines closed in the intervening years were the former Midland Great Western lines from Galway to Clifden (in 1935) [18] and from Westport to Achill (in 1937). [19]

The stretch of line that was double track was reduced more significantly, from 438 miles (705 km) to 276 miles (444 km) in the same period. [17]

Locomotives and rolling stock


GSR 4-6-0 locomotive "Maedb", preserved at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum GSR 4-6-0 800 "MAEDB".jpg
GSR 4-6-0 locomotive "Maeḋḃ", preserved at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

A wide variety of locomotives and rolling stock was inherited from the constituent companies. 1925 records show 526 broad and 41 narrow gauge steam locomotives remaining inherited from the originating companies. [6] Locomotives were renumbered into the GSR class number scheme whereby the lowest numbered engine in the class was used as the class identity. There was a parallel Inchicore scheme that used a letter to indicate the axle layout and a number to designate different groups within the class.

When the GSR passed into CIÉ at the end of 1944 the total number of broad gauge steam locomotives was about 475 of which 58 had been built by GSR. About 28 narrow gauge steam locomotives remained. [6]

Rolling stock

The total number of passenger vehicles including post office, parcel, and brakes vans was 1670 in 1925, falling to 1337 by 1944. [17]


The GSR introduced four Sentinel steam railcars in 1928 with the power unit similar to the GSR Class 280, operating range of over 150 miles (240 km) and a passenger capacity for 55. All were withdrawn in the early 1940s. A subsequent order from Claytons in 1928 were less successful and withdrawn in 1932, a model exists in the Fry railway collection. Four Drewry petrol powered railcars of which two were narrow gauge were also introduced around 1927, with all four also being withdrawn by the mid 1940s. [20] The innovative Drumm Battery Train was successfully operated on the DublinBray route from 1932.

Senior people

General Manager
Chief Mechanical Engineer/Locomotive Superintendent [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

CIÉ Statutory transport organisation of Ireland

Córas Iompair Éireann, or CIÉ, is a statutory corporation of the Republic of Ireland, answerable to the Irish Government and responsible for most public transport in Ireland and jointly with its Northern Ireland counterpart, the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company for the railway service between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The company is headquartered at Heuston Station, Dublin. It is a statutory corporation whose members are appointed by the Minister for Transport.

A wide variety of steam locomotives have been used on Ireland's railways. This page lists most if not all those that have been used in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Irish railways generally followed British practice in locomotive design.

Great Southern and Western Railway Major railway company in Ireland (1844–1924)

The Great Southern and Western Railway (GS&WR) was an Irish gauge railway company in Ireland from 1844 until 1924. The GS&WR grew by building lines and making a series of takeovers, until in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was the largest of Ireland's "Big Four" railway networks. At its peak the GS&WR had an 1,100-mile (1,800 km) network, of which 240 miles (390 km) were double track.

Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway Defunct Irish railway company and system

Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway (CB&SCR), was an Irish gauge railway in Ireland. It opened in 1849 as the Cork and Bandon Railway (C&BR), changed its name to Cork Bandon and South Coast Railway in 1888 and became part of the Great Southern Railway (GSR) in 1924.

Dublin and South Eastern Railway

The Dublin and South Eastern Railway (DSER), often referred to as the Slow and Easy, was an Irish gauge railway in Ireland from 1846 to 1925. It carried 4,626,226 passengers in 1911. It was the fourth largest railway operation in Ireland operating a main line from Dublin to Wexford, with branch lines to Shillelagh and Waterford. The company previously traded under the names Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow & Dublin Railway to 1848, Dublin and Wicklow Raillway (D&WR) to 1860 and Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway (DW&WR) until 1906.

Midland Great Western Railway Former railway company in Ireland

The Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR) was the third largest Irish gauge railway company in Ireland. It was incorporated in 1845 and absorbed into the Great Southern Railways in 1924. At its peak the MGWR had a network of 538 miles (866 km), making it Ireland's third largest network after the Great Southern and Western Railway (GS&WR) and the Great Northern Railway of Ireland.

The MGWR Classes F, Fa and Fb are a group of similar classes of 0-6-0 steam locomotives of the Midland Great Western Railway of Ireland which were designed and built between 1921 and 1924. The locomotives could be used to handle goods and also for passenger traffic.

SSLR 1 and 3

Schull and Skibbereen Light Railway 1 and 3 were two 4-4-0T locomotives manufactured by Peckett and Sons in 1906 and 1914 respectively. They were the Schull and Skibbereen Railway's fifth and sixth locomotives, and took the numbers of withdrawn locomotives.

Edgar Craven Bredin was an Irish mechanical and locomotive engineer and later a railway manager. Bredin was born in Canterbury on 16 April 1886 and educated at Mountjoy School in Dublin. In 1905 he was apprenticed to Fielding & Platt in Gloucester.

GSR Class 800

The Great Southern Railways Class 800 steam locomotives were built principally for express passenger work on the Dublin to Cork main line of that company. These locomotives were designed under the supervision of E. C. Bredin with his Chief Draughtsman, H. J. A. Beaumont, preparing the drawings. They were the largest and most powerful engines ever to run in Ireland by quite a large margin, and the only three express passenger locomotives to be built in an independent Ireland.

The Waterford and Tramore Railway (W&TR) was a railway in County Waterford, Ireland, that linked the city of Waterford and the seaside town of Tramore, a distance of 7+14 miles (11.7 km). The railway officially opened on 5 September 1853 and opened for normal business on 7 September 1853. The line had no intermediate stations, only the two termini, and was to remain completely isolated from the rest of the Irish railway network throughout its life. It closed on 31 December 1960.

GS&WR Class 101 Irish steam locomotive

The GS&WR 'Class 101, classified as Class 101 or Class J15 by the Great Southern Railways, was a class of 0-6-0 steam locomotives designed for working goods traffic although they did, and were quite capable of, working branch and secondary passenger trains.

Schull and Skibbereen Railway Disused narrow gauge rail line in Ireland

The Schull and Skibbereen Railway was a minor narrow gauge railway in County Cork, Ireland. It opened in 1886 and closed in 1947. The track gauge was a 3 ft narrow gauge. The formal name of the company was The West Carberry Tramways and Light Railways Company Ltd.

Cork and Macroom Direct Railway

The Cork and Macroom Direct Railway (CMDR) was an Irish gauge railway in Ireland which ran the 24 miles (39 km) from Cork to Macroom.

The Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR) C Class was a class of 4-4-0 locomotives designed and built at Broadstone by Edward Cusack between 1909 and 1915 using parts obtained from Kitson and Company. They replaced the earlier 7-12 class. The class survived through the Great Southern Railways (GSR) era from 1925-1944 and were withdrawn in the 1950s under Córas Iompair Éireann.

The GS&WR 400 class or CIE class B2/B2a were a class of ten 4-6-0 steam locomotives built for the Great Southern & Western Railway (GS&WR) between 1916 and 1923 for express passenger duties on the Dublin to Cork main line. They proved initially unreliable but rebuilds from four to two cylinders between 1927 and 1937 for the seven survivors produced locomotives yielding satisfactory performance with the last two being withdrawn in 1961.

Limerick–Tralee line Railway line in Ireland

The Limerick–Tralee line, also known as the North Kerry line, is a former railway line from Limerick railway station to Tralee railway station in Ireland. It also has branch lines to Foynes and Fenit. Most of the line today has now been converted into the Great Southern Trail.

Broadstone railway works

Broadstone railway works or simply Broadstone or the Broadstone was the headquarters for mechanical engineering and rolling stock maintenance for Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR). The complex grew around the Dublin Broadstone railway terminus.

The Great Southern Railways (GSR) Class 670 consisted of five 0-6-2T tank locomotives built by Inchicore railway works in 1933 for suburban services south of Dublin to Bray and Greystones.

GS&WR Class 37 Class of 6 Irish 4-4-2T locomotives

The Great Southern and Western Railway (GS&WR) Class 37 consisted of six 4-4-2T tank engines. The first two built by locomotive superintendent Henry Ivatt (Snr.) were based on a previous 2-4-0T design by McDonnell, as were some 2-4-2Ts Ivatt produced two years earlier for the Kerry branches.



  1. Westland Row to Amiens St.


  1. 1 2 Clements & McMahon (2008), pp. 13–14.
  2. Clements & McMahon (2008), pp. 11–20.
  3. Clements & McMahon (2008), pp. 11, 13.
  4. 1 2 3 Clements & McMahon (2008), pp. 13–15.
  5. 1 2 "LIST OF RAILWAY COMPANIES WHICH WERE ABSORBED WITH THE GREAT SOUTHERN RAILWAYS IN 1925". Córas Iompair Éireann. Archived from the original on 10 April 2013.
  6. 1 2 3 Clements & McMahon (2008), p. 350.
  7. "New railway line for Cavan". RTÉ. Archived from the original on 15 April 2018. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  8. "Athenry and Tuam Extension to Claremorris Railway". Grace's Guide to British Industrial History. Archived from the original on 15 April 2018. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  9. Clements & McMahon (2008), p. 174.
  10. Langford, John (June 2008). "CORK CITY RAILWAYS" . Irish Railway Record Society (166). Archived from the original on 30 November 2017.
  11. Casserley (1974), p. 79.
  12. Casserley (1974), p. 148.
  13. Clements & McMahon (2008), pp. 17.
  14. Scales, Joan (13 September 2017). "What's in a name? Great Southern hotel returns to its roots". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 11 November 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  15. Clements & McMahon (2008), pp. 16–17.
  16. Clements & McMahon (2008), pp. 19–20.
  17. 1 2 3 Clements & McMahon (2008), p. 343.
  18. "History of the Route". The Connemara Greenway. Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  19. McNally, Frank (21 August 2013). "Great Western Greenway: the long and winding road without a car in sight". The Irish Times . Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  20. Clements & McMahon (2008), pp. 298–307, 380.
  21. "Great Southern Railway(s)". Irish Railwayana. Archived from the original on 20 August 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2018.