The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 11 (March 1, 1928)
Stolen Railway. — Amazing—and Typically Irish—Story of the Birr-Portumna Line
Amazing—and Typically Irish—Story of the Birr-Portumna Line.
Writing in “The Irishman,” Senator J. T. O 'Farrell, the well-known Labour Leader, says:—
The report to hand some time ago of the “theft” of a mountain railway at Kohenberg in Austria, recalls to mind a similar incident in Ireland about 30 years ago, when the Birr and Portumna Railway was actually stolen. The full circumstances, as amazing as they are humorous, were related in evidence before the Vice-regal Commission on Irish Railways (1906-10), and are briefly recorded in paragraph 100, page 41, of the Commission's report.
Finances of the System.
The line, which was twelve miles long, connected the Great Southern and the Western system with the River Shannon at the Portumna bridge. The capital amounted to £80,000, of which £13,000 was subscribed by the Great Southern and Western Railway, and £12,000 was advanced on the security of the ill-fated undertaking by the Public Works' Loan Board of England. The remainder of the capital was subscribed mainly by local investors, who saw great possibilities in the venture.
The line was opened in 1868, and was worked by the Great Southern and Western Company under an agreement whereby they supplied the rolling stock, and undertook to run two trains daily in each direction retaining 40 per cent, of the gross receipts. From the beginning the line proved a financial failure. It was alleged before the Commission by the Loan Board's representatives that the working company never made any serious attempt to work the line to the best advantage, that only the minimum number of trains were run, and those at times when hardly anybody could use them. Be that as it may, on the expiration of the agreen ent in 1878 the Great Southern and Western Company, finding that they had been losing on the transaction, refused to renew the agreement, and ceased to work the line. The Board thereupon took possession as mortgagees and tried to sell the line to the Great Southern and Western Company, but the latter would only have the “white elephant” as a gift.
Searching for a Railway.
The “generous” offer was refused by the Board, who remained in possession of the silent line as virtual bailiffs for five years, in the course of which they spent £1,230 on repairs and maintenance. In 1883, the Treasury, on the advice of the Board, decided to spend no more money on an undertaking which was neither productive nor ornamental, and forthwith “temporarily” abandoned the line, intending to re-open at some future date in circumstances calculated to make it self-supporting. Alas, for their simple faith in human nature! By degrees (by no means slow) the rails, the fittings, sleepers, gates and all other movable material, were abstracted until nothing was left but the earth foundation and the bridges. Stray cows and donkeys soon browsed in peace where once the locomotive roared its way to and from the Shannon.
Years passed and the Board bethought itself of the forgotten line. The time had come when it might, with some hope of success, be given another chance! Engineers were sent to ascertain “what repairs (if any) were necessary” to put the line into running condition. Fancy the feelings of these honest English gentlemen on finding considerable difficulty in ascertaining from the local people where exactly the Birr and portumna Railway had once been.
A Loss of Thousands.
The Commission's Report sums up the incident as follows:—
“The net result of the whole transaction is, that the shareholders lost their money, the Great Southern and Western lost £13,000 in addition to their loss on working, the Public Works' Loan Board lost £12,000 in addition to £1,230 spent on maintenance, and the district lost the benefit of the line, which in its dismantled and derelict condition, remains a monument of ill-advised action.”
There is no confirmation of the statement that the Government propose appointing a Commission to inquire into the whereabouts of the “Lost Line.”
Seventy-One Certificates Presented to Railway Ambulance Enthusiasts at Palmerston North.
A pleasant function was held in the Railway Social Hall on Saturday evening when the certificates won by members of the Railway Division of St. John's Ambulance Brigade, were presented by Mr. J. A. Nash, M.P.
Mr. H. Langford, superintendent, presided.
The chairman welcomed Mrs. Z. Gill and lady members of the Brigade, and also Mr. J. Stone who was an original member of the railway division in Palmerston North. He also read several apologies for absence, including one from members of the Railway Board.
Mr. Nash was received with applause and made complimentary reference to the nature of the gathering. He expressed his pleasure at the presence of Mrs. Z. Gill, superintendent of the ladies' division in Palmerston North, and recalled the growth of the brigade and its work over a period of 25 years. Thanks to the generosity of the Palmerston North public, the brigade had made rapid strides. “The people of Palmerston North,” he said, “did not realise the splendid services the members of the brigade were rendering. The very nature of a railwayman's calling made a knowledge of ambulance work an essential part of his training, and an asset to the Department and public.”
Mr. Nash congratulated the Palmerston North division in having secured 100 per cent, of passes, and, amidst applause, presented 71 certificates to successful candidates.
The Palmerston North Railway Ambulance Class (No. 1), 1927.
Back Row: R. Britton, J. W. Stone, C. D. J. Hanly, W A. Wackrow, E. J. Kriven, W. Fraser (Committee), W. F. Jardine, C. Heath, J. Fitch, A. K. Carruthers.
Third Row: N. P. Gill, E. J. Ralph, W. W. Aldrich (Committee), A. Kilgour, W. H. Gilmore, H. C. Wilson, A. W. Rogerson, A. Goudie, R. Jacobs, V. White, A Dalgleish.
Second Row: C. G. W. Johnson, W. J. McCormick, P. Nolan, R. H. Andrews (Drill Instructor), H. L. Lang-ford (Chairman), J. Muirhead (Hon. Sec.), H. Hepworth (Supervisor), T. H. Barnes (Committee), L. R. Walker, J. H. Henry.
Front Row: L. E. Read, W. McArley, J. Heaphy, J. K. Kelly, Master Eric Johnson (patient), G. H. Kenyon, H. J. Burd (Committee), M. J. Fir[gap — reason: illegible] Absen [gap — reason: illegible] G. M. Kenyd [gap — reason: illegible] Chalk, R. J. [gap — reason: illegible] R. W. Biggs.