Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway

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Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway
Type Private company
Founded Ireland (1853)
Headquarters Londonderry
IndustryPublic transport, Freight

The Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway Company is an Irish public transport and freight firm, incorporated in June 1853. Despite the company's name, it does not operate any railway services, its last railway line having closed in July 1953. However its successor company the Swilly Bus Company still operates bus services over much of its old routes between Derry and northern County Donegal, as well as some services in County Londonderry.


Initially planned as the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway Company when an application for incorporation was filed in 1852 after spurning the construction of a canal network to connect the two inlets, the company opened its first line, a standard gauge link between Derry and Farland Point on December 31 1863. A branch line to Buncrana followed in 1864, with much of the Farland Point link being closed in 1866. An extension to Letterkenny was constructed in 1883, and the network was converted to narrow gauge in 1885.

Carndonagh was served by an extension constructed in 1901 and Burtonport in 1903. These two lines were constructed as joint ventures with the British Government, with ownership and liabilities shared between the two parties. During this period the company did not turn a profit, and struggled to meet its debts.


Routes eventually included:

Foyle Road Station, Middle Quay and Graving Dock Stations to Pennyburn level crossing, all in Derry where the depot was. Then east into Inishowen to Galliagh Road, Harrity's Road (approximate site of current border between NI and the Republic), Bridge End, Burnfoot and Tooban Junction. At Tooban Junction (as the name implies) the railway branched, north into Inishowen and south into County Donegal proper. Northwards it ran through Inch Road, Fahan, Buncrana, Ballymagan, Kinnego, Drumfries, Meendoran, Clonmany, Ballyliffin, Rathkenny, and Carndonagh. Southwards it ran through Carrowen (near Farland Point), Newtowncunningham, Sallybrook, Manorcunningham, Pluck, Letterkenny, Old Town, New Mills, Fox Hall, Churchill, Kilmacrenan, Barnes Halt, Creeslough, Dunfanaghy Road, Falcarragh, Cashelnagore, Gweedore, Crolly, Kincasslagh Road, Dungloe and terminating in Burtonport.

Transfer to road operations

Starting in 1929, the company began to acquire bus assets throughout Donegal. Further expansion followed rapidly. It entered profitability in the early 1930s off the back of these ventures. Acquisition of freight operations followed, and this led to a reduction of rail services, and eventual closure of lines. The Carndonagh branch was closed circa 1935, with the Burtonport line closing entirely in 1940, with a section temporarily re-opening in 1941 to Gweedore, closing finally in 1947. The Buncrana section of the line lost its passenger service in 1948, with its freight service, and the remaining Letterkenny services all closing on August 8 1953.

Following this entire cessation of rail services, the company moved solely to road transport. Second hand vehicles were purchased from a number of operators including Ulsterbus, and vehicles were obtained on loan from CIE. However, it failed to be profitable throughout the 1970s, and was purchased from bankruptcy by Patrick Doherty, a Buncrana businessman, in 1981.

The company has continued to exist to this day, operating passenger bus services, freight services, and holiday tour services; as well as providing the school bus services for many schools in Donegal. However, problems still exist for the company, with an attempt to withdraw bus services from Donegal in June 2003 met with resistance, and it is believed that the services are now being subsidised by the Irish Government, as they are seen as crucial to the often elderly and rural population they serve in Donegal. Their Northern Irish domestic services are generally subsidised by the Rural Transport Fund

The company has a small depot, as well as its registered offices, in Derry City, and a far larger depot as well as dump for out-of-service buses, in Letterkenny. The majority of their bus fleet, with the exception of those used for holiday touring, is in excess of 20 years old. The firm has no web presence, with timetables and contact information being generally difficult to obtain.

The end of rail operations

The last train to run on the line was the 2.15pm from Letterkenny to Derry, on 8 August 1953. It was laden with 14 wagons of cattle and turned in 50 minutes late! Bob Turner was the driver with Paddy Clifford as fireman. As the Derry Journal reported at the time "... the guard, Mr. Daniel McFeeley, or anyone else, did not call out 'Next Stop Derry'. Everyone knew that the next stop would be the last stop - the last ever."

Source: The Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway - Edward M. Patterson, 1964.

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