Rails to Achill – A West of Ireland Branch Line, by Jonathan Beaumont


A fascinating history of the Westport to Achill rail line, which ran from 1894 to 1937. Packed with black and white photographs from the era along with tables, charts and illustrations, this 160 page paperback book was published in 2002 and is essential reading for anyone interested in railway history or the history of Achill.

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The Westport to Achill railway ran from 1894 to 1937 and provided travellers with ‘one of the most scenic railway journeys in these Islands’ as well as opening economic and tourism opportunites to Achill, Mulrany and Newport. This 160 page book details the history of the railway in all its various aspects, from planning and engineering to its operation and impact on life in the area. First published in 2002 and revised in 2005, this paperback edition includes numerous black and white photographs from the era as well as illustrations, tables and charts packed with technical information and operational statistics.

Index of Contents:

  • 1. Setting the Scene
  • 2. Building the Railway: Wesport to Mallaranny
  • 3. The Achill Extension Railway: Mallaranny to Achill
  • 4. Proposals for other Railways
  • 5. A Journey over the Line
  • 6. The Early Years
  • 7. The Line’s Heyday
  • 8. Mishaps and Incidents in MGWR Days
  • 9. The Great Southern Era
  • 10. Train Services
  • 11. Locomotives and Rolling Stock
  • 12. Road Services
  • 13. The Westport Quay Line
  • 14. Recollections and Anecdotes
  • 15. After Closure
  • Appendix 1: Working the Railway
  • Appendix 2: Traffic Statistics Relating to Closure
  • Appendix 3: Level Crossings and Bridges
  • Appendix 4: Tourism and the Mallaranny Hotel
  • Appendix 5: Achill Mineral Railways

From the Introduction:

If you travel from Westport in the west of Ireland through Newport and Mulrany to Achill Sound today, here and there you will see overgrown sections of railway embankment, bridges and a couple of tunnels, as well as the magnificent stone viaduct across the river in Newport. These are the surviving remnants of the old Achill line – a branch line built at the close of the 19th century to help develop the area and link it with the outside world.

The promoters of the line had high hopes for its future, and the railway was opened to the public in several sections in 1884/5. It proved to be a great social and economic asset to this area of County Mayo, but traffic never consistently reached the levels originally anticipated, and as a result the line was not profitable for much of the year. Development of road traffic in the 1930s sealed the fate of the rails to Achill, and the last train ran in the autumn of 1937 – a mere 42 years after the line had opened. Since then, trains have operated from Dublin just as far as Westport, which is now the railhead for the area. The track onwards to Achill was dismantled in 1938.

Today, the remaining stone and earthworks, along with the old railway station buildings at Newport, Mulrany and Achill Sound stand in mute testimony to the line; the local businessmen who promoted it, the builders, and the people who used it. The course of the line is still very identifiable for most of its length, despite over 60 years now having elapsed since the last train ran. Here and there, parts of it have a new use now. The viaduct in Newport is a beautifully restored prominent local landmark with a path along the top, giving the visitor a glimpse of the spectacular views that were possible from the train. Newport goods shed is now a small chapel, while Achill station has become a guesthouse.

This is the story of the ‘Achill Railway’ – described by travellers at the turn of the 20th century as ‘one of the most scenic railway journeys in these Islands’.