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Locomotive B124 was built for Coras Iompair Éireann (CIE), the Irish State owned transport company, by General Motors at their premises at La Grange, Illinois, USA in 1960. B124 was part of a class of 15 single cab Bo-Bo locomotives, designated ‘B’ class and numbered B121 – B135 inclusive. These locos were based on the American ‘switcher’ type design, more specifically, the EMD GL8 loco, and were the first General Motors built locomotives to enter service with CIE. When built, the locomotives were fitted with a GM 8-567CR engine of 950 hp.

B124 entered traffic with CIE on 29th March 1961. The letter prefix ‘B’ was dropped from 1972 onwards, and the locomotive eventually became 124.

The 121 (B) class locomotives could be seen operating all over the Irish Rail network, hauling both passenger and freight services. However, due to problems encountered with driver visibility when running bonnet first, their sphere of operation when running singly was restricted as they had to be turned on turntables at the end of most journeys so that the cab was leading each time. In the early days this was not too much of a problem, as most terminal stations still had operational turntables left over from steam days. However, as the number of operational turntables gradually reduced over a period of time, this restricted the number of routes that the class could operate over when running singly. As such, the locomotives were then regularly marshalled in pairs, operating in multiple with their cabs outermost, or coupled in multiple with 141 (B) or 181 (B) class locomotives, again with the 121 class’ cab outermost.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, pairs of 121 (B) class locomotives were the staple form of motive power on the Dublin Connolly to Sligo line and also the Dublin Connolly to Rosslare Harbour line. However, two notable duties did still remain for a single 121 (B) class locomotive. Firstly, there was the early morning Dublin Heuston to Cork passenger/mail service, which returned from Cork to Dublin Heuston during the late afternoon. In the later years, this train was usually formed of just one Travelling Post Office, one Cravens passenger coach, and one Steam Generating Van. This service continued until the transport of mail by rail was discontinued in January 1994. The other passenger duty for a single locomotive was the Bray to Greystones push/pull shuttle service, which was formed of former AEC railcar vehicles built between 1951 and 1954, which were converted to push/pull hauled stock in 1972/73. The 121 (B) class locomotives took over operating this push/pull service in 1985/86, following the withdrawal of the 201 (C) Class locomotives which had previously operated this service. The use of 121 (B) class locomotives on this working eventually ended in September 1987 when the AEC-built push/pull set was finally withdrawn.

The first casualty was locomotive 125, which suffered a major electrical fire on 6th March 1986, and never ran again, spending the next 16 years stored at Inchicore Works, Dublin, before it was finally scrapped in 2002.

In 1988-89, a new duty for these locomotives operating singly was introduced, when the Mark 3 push/pull sets were introduced onto the Dublin Suburban services between Dublin and Drogheda/Dundalk. The locomotive was coupled to one end of the train, with the cab outermost, with a Driving Trailer coach at the other end of the set. Thirteen of the class were modified for this type of operation; the only locomotives not fitted with push/pull equipment were 121, 125 (already stopped following fire damage) and 135, although not every locomotive fitted had this equipment commissioned for operation. Locomotive 124 was a regular performer on these services. 121 (B) class locomotives continued to operate these services until replaced by the new 201 class locomotives in 1995/96. After that, the 121 (B) class locomotives were mainly to be found operating in pairs on freight services and engineer’s trains.

124 stands at Athlone Midland with an express from Galway to Dublin in May 1971. Photo- Jonathan Allen

124 at Dublin Connolly with a push/pull suburban working on 16th February 1992. Photo - Jonathan Allen

124 and 134 are stabled at Limerick station on 27th March 2007. Photo - David Bowden

The next 121 (B) class locomotive to go was locomotive 132, which suffered an electrical fire on 19th May 1994. Locomotive 121 was the next of the class to be taken out of service, again after suffering fire damage on 29th June 1995. This was closely followed by locomotive 126 which suffered serious engine damage during July 1995.

During the course of their operating lives, several of the 121 (B) class locomotives had their original engines exchanged with GM 8-567CR engines from 141 (B) class locomotives or GM 8-B645E engines recovered from former 201 (C) class locomotives. Locomotive 124 was to eventually receive a GM 8-567CR engine from a 141 (B) class locomotive during its period in service, which it still retains to this day.

It then looked as if the 121 (B) class locomotives would get a new lease of life in 2001/2002, when the decision was taken to refurbish the class. This work included a body overhaul and the interior of the cabs being refurbished. In the end only four locomotives were so treated, these being 123, 124, 131 and 134, as a policy change resulted in a decision being taken to now phase out these locomotives. The remainder of the class then continued in service until withdrawals commenced in mid-2002, with all locomotives bar 124 and 134 being withdrawn by the end of March 2003, although locomotive 123 was also kept in use as Inchicore Works pilot locomotive until August 2003. All the remaining locomotives were then scrapped.

One passenger duty did still remain for the few remaining 121 (B) class locomotives in their later years, this being the Limerick to Limerick Junction push/pull shuttle service that was formed of a Mark 3 push/pull set. Again, locomotive 124 was a regular performer on this duty until the shuttle service went over to railcar operation on 9th March 2004.

Locomotives 124 and 134 continued in service with Iarnród Éireann, usually running together as a pair on engineer’s trains, until both were taken out of service on 31st March 2008. During their extended period in service, these two locomotives were a popular choice for railtours. Following their eventual withdrawal, both locomotives were then stored at Inchicore Works awaiting preservation. Locomotive 124 was secured for preservation by the Irish Traction Group on 7th November 2009, and was sold to the Group for the nominal sum of €1 plus VAT.

Locomotive 124 was moved by low-loader from Inchicore Works to the West Clare Railway, Moyasta, Co. Clare, on 26th November 2009 for eventual display inside a new museum that is due to be constructed at the site.

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