How do you take only one cow to market?



The Listowel and Ballybunion Railway. Photo Wikipedia

(Click to see an enlarged copy of the photograph and copyright details.)

The Listowel and Ballybunion Railway was a steam-powered Lartigue monorail that linked Listowel and Ballybunion, in County Kerry in Ireland. It was 9 miles (14.4 km) long and opened on 1 March 1888. The locomotives were of 0-3-0s  with tenders equipped with boosters for use when climbing steep gradients. They were built by the Hunslet Engine Company and had two boilers in order to balance, one of which had to be stoked by the driver. The tender wheels were driven by a two cylinder booster engine via spur gears. A smaller vertical-boilered engine nicknamed the “coffee pot” was said to have been used during the railway’s construction.

One challenge with the Lartigue system was that it was not possible to build conventional level crossings. Where roads crossed the track, an attendant-operated device to lift the track, resembling a double drawbridge was provided. Where a farm track crossed the line the railway track could be slewed out the way by means of turntables. These were locked and the farmer provided with a key. Once unlocked the track could be swivelled to one side to allow vehicles to cross. Both the swivelling and drawbridge type crossings were automatically linked to signals which stopped any approaching trains. Curved turntables also served the same function as points on an ordinary railway. See photograph above.

Passengers could not pass from one side of a carriage to another while in motion. A pair of steps was built into one end of some of the passenger coaches, while at least one pair was carried on a separate wagon. This allowed passengers to cross from one side of the line to the other while the train was stopped at a station. Heavy loads had to be evenly balanced. If a farmer wanted to send a cow to market, he would have to send two calves to balance it, which would travel back on opposite sides of the same freight wagon, thereby balancing each other.

The line was closed in 1924 after the track was damaged during the Irish Civil War.


In 2003 the Lartigue Monorailway Restoration Committee, a voluntary organisation based in Listowel, opened a 1km length of Lartigue monorail on the trackbed of the former North Kerry line in Listowel. The line is worked by a diesel locomotive built to resemble the original steam engines.

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One Response to “How do you take only one cow to market?”

  1. Robert Hall Says:

    It is seems that the final nail in the L & B’s coffin, on top of the civil war damage, was that in the preparations for amalgamation at the beginning of 1925, of virtually all the railway undertakings located wholly in the 26-county Irish Free State, as the Great Southern Railways; the nascent GSR refused even to entertain the idea of taking on something so utterly weird as a Lartigue monorail line. Had things been otherwise, the railway might have been saved at least for a while – all was in too bad a state, for its survival as an independent company. One can see the GSR’s point of view; but it’s hard not to feel, “What spoilsports!”

    It is tempting to think that this is something which could have existed only in Ireland; in fact, though, the L & B nearly came to have a French counterpart. The location was in the département of Loire, in central France: the short (under 10 km I think) route between Feurs and Panissières. The line was constructed, commencing in 1895, as a steam Lartigue monorail very similar to the set-up in County Kerry. Various trial runs were made, but the whole scheme was stillborn: there were many administrative and physical difficulties, including an unfortunate derailment of a special which had been put on to allow a group of local notables to inspect progress on the railway. The line never opened for public traffic: the entire undertaking was abolished, and the track dismantled, in the first couple of years of the 20th century.

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