The Bessbrook & Newry Tramway

The Bessbrook and Newry Tramway was opened in October 1885 and closed in January 1948. It was the second hydroelectric tramway in Ireland. Two power cars were supplied by Ashbury and fitted with motors supplied by Mather and Platt. This early photograph shows the original No 1 Power Car at Millvale.

It had a 10 seat first-class compartment and a 24 seat second-class compartment. It was 33ft long. The No 2 Power Car was of a similar design with a single compartment with seating for 24 second-class passengers. It was 21ft 8in long.A passenger trailer, No 3, was supplied by the Starbuck Company, Birkinhead. It had two compartments, each seating 22 second-class passengers. It was 33ft long.

In addition to the passenger rolling stock the tramway had a number of goods wagon of both open and closed type. These were fitted with flangeless wheels so that they could be drawn by horse when off the tramway. Immediately outside the tram running rails were smaller rails placed 7/8 inch lower. The goods wagons ran on these rails and were kept in position by the higher rails which acted as check rails. A simple ramp was provided at each terminus for running the wagons on and off the rails. The tyres of the wagon wheels were 2in wide and the wheels ran loose on the axles, which were not fixed but ran in journals. This meant that there was enough freedom in both wheel and axle to reduce friction on curves to a minimum. The front part of the wagon was supported by a fore carriage which could be pinned or run loose as in an ordinary road vehicle. The buffers were all fixed to the truck frame. A chain brake controlled by the guard could be coupled up to the wagons. The wagons were always marshalled between a motor car and a passenger trailer. In the early days of the Tramway there were two special goods brake vans for this purpose. The speed limit on such a train was 10 m.p.h. and the system worked satisfactorily. Whenever a goods wagon left the rails it could be unloaded and manhandled back on the rails by all ablebodied passengers. When running through the public roads in Newry the wagons were hauled by horses, shafts being fitted to the forecarriage. In later years tractors replaced horses for this purpose. The weight of each wagon was 23cwt. and the load carried was 2 tons.

In 1921 the original No 1 Power Car was scrapped and a new No 1 was supplied by Hurst, Nelson and Co., Motherwell. It had a body length of 29ft and a seating capacity of 40. The same company supplied No 4 Power Car which was of similar size. However it had a luggage compartment and could seat 32 passengers. At the same time a new open passenger trailer, with seating for 20, was supplied. It was numbered 5.Shortly after this a new closed passenger trailer was built. It had a seating capacity of 12 and was numbered 6. In 1928 two closed passenger trailers were purchased from Dublin United Tramways Company. Their original numbers were 24 and 27 but they were officially numbered 7 and 8 in the BNT stock list. Their seating capacities were 26 and 24 respectively.

In 1942 the bodywork of the original No 2 Power Car had fallen into such a poor state that the car was re-bodied using a body from the Dublin and Lucan Electric Tramway No 7. The original motor, undercarriage, driving platform and chassis were retained but the chassis was lengthened by 3ft 4in to accommodate the longer body. The newly bodied tram had a forward compartment with 5 windows and a rear compartment with 4 windows. It was entered by a platform at the rear. The glass panels of the motor compartment were replaced by a double wooden sliding door. The re-lettering read: Bessbrook & Newry Tramway Co. No.2. This car is more often remembered by locals in its original form when it was known as the 'fast car'. After its rebuilding it seems to have been little used. It is however the only power car to have survived. At the same time the open passenger trailer, No 5, was renumbered No 7 and the remaining passenger trailer from Dublin & Lucan Electric Railway, no 8, was renumbered No 5. When the tramway closed in 1948 all the rolling stock, rails and accessories were sold to G Cohen & Sons, Sydenham, Belfast for scrap. The No 6 passenger trailer was purchased by the Convent of Mercy, Bessbrook, where it is still in use, minus wheels and buffers, as a summer house.

The rebuilt No 2 Power Car was repurchased by Mather and Platt, Manchester, who refurbished it for use as a cricket pavilion for visiting teams at Park Works. In 1955 the presented it to Belfast Corporation for inclusion in the Transport Museum. It is now on view at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, Cultra.

The tram station at Bessbrook is now the only surviving building of the tramway

The trackbed from Millvale to Craigmore is still open. It passes under the Craigmore Viaduct which was built in 1852 to carry the Belfast and Dublin Junction Railway (later to become the Great Northern Railway (Ireland)).

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