With the growing commercial importance of Passage West, a railway link to Cork City was an obvious development. Although mooted for years, work on the laying of the railway line did not start until 1847. The first sod was turned by the wife of the famous architect Dean, with an appropriately inscribed silver spade to great cheering. The route of the railway was from Cork City to Blackrock, through cuttings and over embankments to Rochestown and then along a scenic riverside embankment to the quays in Passage West. The Passage West railway station was situated between Railway Quay and Steam Packet Quay. The construction of this 4.3 metre high riverside embankment alone was a huge feat, involving the movement of 130,000 cubic metres of material. Most of this material was got from the side of the adjacent roadway. So that locals could continue to draw seaweed from the shore, a limestone bridge was built over the embankment at Ardmore. From Horsehead to the Passage terminus, a new quay wall and two iron-topped bridges had also to be built.
Three years later, on 8th June 1850, the line opened for public business. Ten trains ran to and from Cork each day. It took 18 minutes to get from Cork to Passage but this was improved on in later years. Fares were set at 6d. for first class travel and 4d. for second class travel. Because the train ran only to Passage for the first 50 years of its life, first class passengers were able to take an omnibus to Monkstown for an extra 1d.
The railway company knew that its business was suffering because the city terminus was so far from Cork city centre. It became a priority to shift the city terminus further upstream and plans to extend the railway line downstream towards Monkstown were consequently shelved. To keep the business they were losing to river transport, the CB&PR launched its first paddle steamer, the Queenstown, in July 1851. During the next few years, the company purchased three more steamers.
Competition between the CB&PR steamers, known as the “Green Boats”, and other steamer-operators on the river was fierce. Fares fluctuated wildly. To take one of the Green Boats from Passage down the River Lee and around the harbour cost only 3d 6s, lunch inclusive. The CB&PR found it most profitable to combine railway and steamer services, connecting the railway terminus at Passage to Monkstown, Cobh, Haulbowline, Aghada, Currabinny, Ringaskiddy and Crosshaven. By 1853, the service had been extended through East Ferry to Ballinacurra.
In 1866, discussions began about extending the railway as far as Currabinny. However, this would have meant crossing Monkstown Bay via a causeway at Raffeen. The causeway would not have a bridge but merely a culvert to allow water from Raffeen creek to flow into the sea. As the culvert was inadequate to permit free passage to lighters collecting quarried limestone from the quays at Raffeen, it was decided that the railway would cause more harm than good to the area. Instead, a horse-omnibus connection was to link the railway terminus at Passage to Monkstown.
ON TO CROSSHAVEN
The extension of the railway to Crosshaven did not gain approval until 1896. Even then, it did not meet with unanimous approval. The loss of the foreshore between Passage and Raffeen was not welcome, nor was the running of trains through streets in Passage. The existing station at Passage was to be converted into the company’s principal workshop, whilst a new station was to be built opposite the convent. A level crossing and footbridge were to be provided where the train crossed the public road. The line was to proceed in a tunnel of 450 metres length through the town, emerging in Glenbrook opposite the then Glenbrook Club. The Glenbrook railway station was to be sited immediately opposite this. A new station was to be provided at Monkstown close to the pier, to a design specifically suited for picking up steamer traffic. A level crossing and footbridge for the public were also to be provided at Monkstown. It was the recommendation of the CB&PR’s engineer, Richard Perry, that the whole railway line would be converted to a 92cm narrow gauge system. Mr. Perry suggested that this would save the company some £30,000.
The proposals were implemented in full and the Passage to Monkstown section of the line was opened on 1st August 1902. It took 25 minutes for trains to get from Cork City to Monkstown. Unusually for a narrow gauge system, there was a double line section from Cork to Blackrock. This railway was also unique for a narrow gauge system in having an intensive passenger service. The new narrow gauge engines were fitted with bells to warn road users at the Passage and Glenbrook crossings. Monkstown became the new base for the steamers services. At this time, the company was successfully operating five steamers.
The boring of the tunnel through Passage West to Ferrypoint was particularly troublesome and caused much of the delay in completing the railway extension project. The first 50 metres at the Passage end of the tunnel was built by a process called “cut and cover”. This meant that a trench was cut, an arch was built over it and then the arch was covered with excavated material. A large shaft was built to permit the release of smoke and steam. Cavities some 2 metres high and 1 metre long were incorporated along the tunnel length so that anyone trapped inside could escape the path of an oncoming train.
The extension to Carrigaline, running through Raffeen, was ready in June 1903. On 1st June 1904, the entire Cork to Crosshaven railway was officially opened. By the summer of 1909, 13 trains were running each way on weekdays between Cork and Monkstown. Of these, 11 ran to and from Crosshaven.
In 1911, the CB&PR route was 26 km and the company had 4 locomotives, 28 coaches and 29 goods vehicles. The locomotives were originally green, subsequently black, with white and red lines. The coaches were green and 12 were for 1st class travel, while 16 were for 3rd class travel. The goods vehicles were generally open wagons, vans and cattle wagons.
During World War I, the CB&PR ran the train service at a loss. This being its contribution to the war effort, it believed that it would be compensated when the war was over. During 1917 and competing with the British Military recruitment campaign, the company had difficulty in getting staff. As an alternative, the company employed eight female ticket checkers. The experiment was a noted success and these eight women were believed to have been the first women employed by an Irish railway company.
The railway’s fortunes did not improve after the war, as was hoped. Civil strife continued in Ireland, the war of independence against British occupation was raging. After the truce between the IRA and the British Government and the subsequent treaty Civil War broke out in Ireland in 1922. On the 8th August in that year, the anti treaty Republicans destroyed one of the spans of the Douglas Viaduct with explosives. Then raiders burned the station buildings at Blackrock, Monkstown and Passage to the ground. The signal boxes at these three stations and at Rochestown were also destroyed and the railway workshop in Passage was badly damaged. The CB&PR could not afford the rebuild, particularly of the Douglas Viaduct and, until Government money was forthcoming, the railway was out of action.
By early 1924, all the damaged station buildings and the Douglas Viaduct had been repaired. The station buildings at Passage and Monkstown were reconstructed. All that had not been rebuilt was the workshop in Passage. The trains were running again. However, there was little work to be had in Passage. The Haulbowline dockyard had closed. The summer was wet. This poor season marked the beginning of the decline of the CB&PR railway. The company had long lamented government policy of using taxation to maintain roads. Unable to compete with cars and the omnibus, the Monkstown to Crosshaven section of the line closed on 31st May 1932.
Despite public outcry for retention of the Cork to Monkstown section, the last train ran along the CB&PR line on 10th September 1932. By February 1933, the removal of railway equipment had begun. All the carriages were scrapped. The engines, wagons and vans were sold off to the Cavan and Leitrim railway (C&LR). The footbridges were auctioned in 1943.
Today in Crosshaven, the boys national school is built on the site of the Crosshaven station and most of the lovely river walk from Carrigaline to Crosshaven occupies the Crosshaven railway track. The river walk was developed by two local Crosshaven residents; Bill Condon RIP and Eddy Cogan. Eddy's efforts over the last number of years involved the erection of railway signals and track on part of the walk.