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Top - A39 during during body restoration work (17.01.07)

Bottom - nearing completion at Inchicore (02.06.07)

©2014 Irish Traction Group

A39 under construction at the Metropolitan Cammell works in Birmingham.

Photo - Metropolitan Cammell Archive

Locomotive A39 was built for Coras Iompair Éireann (CIE), the Irish State owned transport company, by Metropolitan Vickers at their premises at Dukinfield, Manchester, in 1956. A39 was part of a class of 60 Co-Co locomotives, designated ‘A’ class and numbered A1–A60 inclusive, which were ordered as part of the drive to eliminate the majority of steam traction from the railways of the Irish Republic in the late 1950s. The contract to build these locomotives was signed at Heuston Station, Dublin, on 5th May 1954.

The bodies for the sixty ‘A’ class locomotives were constructed by Metropolitan Cammell at their Midland Works in Birmingham between 1954 and 1956. The English Steel Corporation constructed the bogies in Sheffield, and Crossley Brothers at Openshaw, Manchester, supplied the engines. The electrical equipment for these locomotives was provided by Metropolitan Vickers Electrical Co. Ltd. The completed locomotive bodies were then transported by low loader to Metropolitan Vickers’s premises at Dukinfield, Manchester, for fitting of their engine/generator sets, bogies and for testing prior to shipping to Ireland.

A39 eventually entered traffic with CIE on 14th May 1956. When built, these locomotives were originally fitted with a Crossley HSTV8 engine of 1200 hp. However, the Crossley engines proved to be extremely troublesome and unreliable.  In 1968, the decision was taken to re-engine the whole class with General Motors 12-645E engines of 1325 hp. A39 itself was re-engined on 23rd July 1969, and subsequently re-numbered A39R. Eventually, the letter classification system was dropped by CIE, and the locomotive was renumbered to 039.

In early 1994, the Irish Traction Group were asked by Iarnród Éireann to nominate three 001 (A) class locomotives for possible preservation by the Group. The three locomotives selected by the Group as being in the best condition at the time were 001, 003 and 039. Locomotive 001 was subsequently ruled out as it suffered a cracked fuel tank, which left 003 and 039 as the two locomotives to be preserved by the Group. 039 was selected by virtue of the fact that it had the most recently overhauled engine fitted, and had received a rewire and body overhaul in March 1990.

A39 (then A39R) at Ballinasloe, 25th May, 1975

Photo - Jonathan Allen

039 at Inchicore Works while still in service  with Irish Rail

Locomotive 039 was eventually taken out of traffic by Iarnród Éireann on 14th March 1995 with a bogie defect. Its last working was to haul a defective ex-BR steam van from Mallow to Inchicore. However, unlike the other withdrawn 'A' class locomotives, 039 was not added to the scrap line at Inchicore, but was locked away in secure storage in Diesel No. 2 Shop. The last 001 (A) class locomotive in traffic was 003 and this was taken out of service on 5th April 1995, after 40 years in service.

During early May 1995, 039 was taken into Diesel No. 1 Shop at Inchicore to receive a replacement bogie to return it to full working order, and was later noted in the Main Running Shed on 13th May 1995 receiving an ‘AB’ exam. Following this work, 039 was then moved back into secure storage in Diesel No. 2 Shop. In August 1995 Iarnród Éireann announced its intention to run a farewell to the ‘A’ class locomotives on Saturday 23rd September 1995 using 039. In early September the locomotive was repainted back into its original silver livery and renumbered A39.

Following its use on this railtour, A39 was locked away in Diesel No. 2 Shop once again pending eventual sale to the ITG, which eventually took place on 13th November 1995. A39 then remained at Inchicore Works, being started up occasionally to keep everything in working order. At this point the ITG was attempting to arrange its own insurance for main line running, but finding a willing broker was proving difficult.

In September 1997, the ITG received an approach to use A39 for a filming contract in connection with a joint RTÉ/BBC drama called ‘Amongst Women’. Filming was to take place at Castlerea Station, Co. Roscommon, and would involve A39 working under its own power on the main line for the first time in preservation, hauling a rake of RPSI coaches in the station area. The locomotive was to be covered by the RPSI’s insurance for this contract, as the ITG had still not been able to arrange its own main line running insurance at this time.

On Wednesday 15th October 1997, A39 left Inchicore Works for the first time in over two years when it was hauled to Westport along with a rake of RPSI coaches for stabling, prior to being hauled back to Castlerea the following day for the start of filming.

Following arrival at Westport, it was decided to take A39 on a light engine test run out towards Castlebar, as there had been no chance to test the locomotive on the open road previously. However, A39 suffered an electrical fault around 3 miles out, and was unable to take power. Iarnród Éireann had to send a light engine from Westport to haul A39 back to the town. Despite working long into the night, the fault could not be rectified. The following morning, A39 and the RPSI coaches were hauled back to Castlerea ready for filming to start. At this point it was intended to put A39 on the front of the train and propel the train backwards and forwards using the Iarnród Éireann locomotive hidden away at the back of the train.

Fortunately, the early filming only required shots of the inside of the train, and also general station scenes, which did not require A39 to be used, which gave the ITG fitters more time to try and trace the fault. After a few telephone calls to Inchicore the fault was eventually diagnosed, and a temporary repair undertaken to enable the locomotive to work under its own power once again. Over the next two days, A39 worked several movements in and out of the station, culminating in a final run of approximately five miles towards Roscommon, during which the locomotive managed to reach approximately 50 miles an hour. Following the filming, A39 and the RPSI coaches were hauled back to Inchicore.

Towards the end of 1998, the ITG finally managed to obtain the necessary insurance cover to start main line running. At approximately 12:15 on Friday 18th December 1998, A39 set off light engine on a test run from Inchicore Works to Sallins and back. A second test run took place on 21st January 1999, followed by its first passenger working two days later on 23rd January 1999, when it operated the ‘Silver Cloud’ railtour from Dublin to Waterford, Waterford to Rosslare Europort and back from Rosslare Europort to Dublin. Over the next twelve months A39 operated four railtours, these being:

Although these railtours managed to re-coup the hefty insurance costs, falling passenger numbers meant that it could not be sustained for a second year. The decision was taken to suspend main line running for an indefinite period until it was deemed financially viable once again.

However, as we still had around two months worth of insurance cover left, it was decided to run a final ‘mini-railtour’ in connection with the Group’s 10th Annual General Meeting which was being held at Inchicore Works on Saturday 13th November 1999. This railtour was only open to those members who attended the AGM, and invited guests. The railtour ran from Dublin Heuston to Wicklow and back, formed of a short rake of RPSI coaches. Following the railtour, A39 returned to store at Inchicore Works, where it remained until 2009.

Between November 1999 and mid-2001 the locomotive was started periodically to keep it fully operational. In 2001 the Group was approached by contractors engaged to undertake track relaying work on Northern Ireland

Railways with a view to hiring the locomotive to haul track relaying trains. The locomotive was made ready to be moved north, but the deal fell through at the last minute. It was then decided to ‘mothball’ the locomotive until such time that future work could be found or the insurance issue was resolved.

During the intervening period, the engine room was gradually cleaned out and repainted. In 2006 it was decided to make a start on returning the locomotive to working order once again. However, by this time the external appearance of the locomotive was starting to look a bit tatty, and so it was decided in 2007 to completely repaint the outside of the locomotive as well into CIE black livery. In addition, a considerable amount of mechanical and electrical work was also carried out in 2007 to prepare the locomotive’s engine for starting.

A39 following a complete repaint. 22.12.07

The engine room of A39 following repainting. 13.12.08

In early January 2008 a set of replacement batteries were obtained and fitted into locomotive A39. On Tuesday 8th January 2008, the batteries were connected together and an attempt made to start the engine and at around 10:20, A39’s engine burst into life for the first time in six years. The only immediate problem discovered on starting the engine was that one of the horn buttons was stuck, and as the control air pressure built up, the horn started to sound. This was immediately rectified, and a start was then made on checking some of the locomotive’s auxiliary equipment.

Over the following few weeks, most of the auxiliary equipment was tested including the windscreen wipers, cab heaters, foot heaters, headlights, marker lights, hotplate, and cab lights. Oil levels in the engine, compressor, exhauster and governor were all checked and were found to be full. A brake test was undertaken, and although the vacuum was a bit low at 18 inches (the correct reading being 21 inches), the brakes operated correctly. Each of the four power controllers were checked in turn, and the locomotive took power each time. The train radio was checked and found to be working correctly, but this was in need of replacement anyway with the new type. The fitting of the new radio equipment was eventually completed on Saturday 23rd February 2008.

Locomotive A39 was moved by low-loader from Inchicore Works, Dublin, to the Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway, Downpatrick, Co. Down, at the end of November 2009 on loan. The locomotive is currently used primarily on empty stock movements, shunting and standby duties. It also operates a number of private charters as well as regular passenger services where the booked steam locomotive has been unavailable.

A39 at Downpatrick & County Down Railway. Photo - Mike Beckett

During the summer of 2015, some work was carried out to repair leaking windscreens at both ends of the loco.  After this was complete, and some debate had taken place, it was decided to give the entire loco a repaint as there were a number of areas where rust was apparent and the current livery was looking very tired. The new livery was chosen by the ITG chairman and work began.

The entire loco was sanded down to provide a good surface on which to paint and areas of rust were taken down to bare metal, before being treated with red oxide paint.  The new livery was then applied over a period of months until the loco was finally revealed sporting it’s new paint scheme (and number).