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Locomotive C231 was built for Coras Iompair Éireann (CIE), the Irish State owned transport company, by Metropolitan Vickers at their premises at Dukinfield, Manchester, in 1956. C231 was part of a class of 34 Bo-Bo locomotives, designated ‘C’ class and numbered C201 – C234 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 thirty-four ‘C’ class locomotives were constructed by Metropolitan Cammell at their Midland Works in Birmingham between 1956 and 1958. 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’ premises at Dukinfield, Manchester, for fitting of their engine/generator sets, bogies and for testing prior to shipping to Ireland.

C231 entered traffic with CIE on 1st January 1958. When built, these locomotives were originally fitted with a Crossley ESTVee8 engine of 550 hp. However, the Crossley engines proved to be extremely troublesome and unreliable. In 1969, the decision was taken to re-engine the whole class with General Motors 8-B645E engines of 1100 hp. C231 itself was re-engined on 24th February 1972, and subsequently re-numbered B231 to reflect its higher power classification. Eventually, the letter prefix ‘B’ was dropped, and the locomotive became 231. Locomotive 231 continued in service with CIE until it was stored unserviceable on 9th July 1983. The locomotive was officially withdrawn on 18th September 1985.

Following several years stored in the scrap line at Iarnród Éireann’s Inchicore Works in Dublin, 231 was purchased by the Irish Traction Group on 16th November 1992, originally as a source of spare parts for 226, for the sum of I£ 930 plus VAT. It was moved from Inchicore Works to Carrick-On-Suir for storage in December 1992. However, as this locomotive was virtually complete and the ITG had already acquired a good stock of spare parts from other withdrawn ‘C’ class locomotives, it was decided that 231 was in too good condition to dismantle for parts, and was now an excellent candidate for restoration as well.

In December 1995, after spending nearly three years in store at Carrick-On-Suir, 231 was first moved to Waterford, and then back to Inchicore Works in readiness for its eventual display at the ‘Inchicore 150’ open weekend in June 1996. Over the following few months, various corroded sections of the locomotive’s body side were re-panelled. The locomotive was eventually repainted into CIE green livery and renumbered C231, a few days before the open weekend. Following the event, the locomotive remained at Inchicore Works.  

In June 1999 Iarnród Éireann offered the Group the opportunity to have the locomotive shipped to the UK on a low-loader that would otherwise have gone back empty. Negotiations were started with RMS Locotec at Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, to have C231 returned to working order. The locomotive was subsequently moved to Dewsbury on 30th September 1999. Whilst there, the locomotive was completely re-wired and the cooler group overhauled, with some parts being manufactured to replace rotten items. The locomotive’s engine was successfully started for the first time in seventeen years on 14th July 2000.

Following this, the locomotive was shipped back to Inchicore Works, Dublin, in August 2000, following its display at the Old Oak Common Depot open weekend on 5th and 6th August 2000. It was then the intention to have Iarnród Éireann undertake further work on the locomotive to complete its restoration. However, this never happened, but most of the remaining work has since been undertaken by ITG volunteers.

Locomotive C231 was moved by low-loader from Inchicore Works, Dublin, to the West Clare Railway, Moyasta, Co. Clare, at the end of November 2009 for display in a museum that is due to be constructed at the site.

Since a good deal of preparatory work had already been done to C231, a decision was made late in 2013 to move the locomotive to Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway (DCDR), with a view to completing the work and returning C231 to an operational condition. This move was carried out between 4th and 7th June 2014, the locomotive arriving at DCDR at around 3am on the 7th June.

Over the course of the morning, C231 was carefully unloaded with the help of locomotive G617, prior to being moved through the carriage shed and onto the running line. Locomotive 146 completed the shunt, moving C231 to its new home in the Maghera shed where the tarpaulins were finally removed and it will undergo extensive checks to identify the work required to bring it back working order.

C231 prior to restoration.

C231 awaits shipping for restoration.

C231 on display at Old Oak Common Depot. 05.08.00  Photo - Paul Winter

C231 on the low loader at Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway and almost 12 hours later, alongside 146 and ‘big brother’ A39. 07.06.14 Photo - Innis Mennie

After C231 had been ‘unwrapped’, volunteers got straight to work carrying out some essential initial checks.  This continued on the 8th June and late in the afternoon, after installing a freshly charged set of batteries, it was decided that an attempt would be made to start the engine.  Oil was pumped round the engine until it appeared in all the places it should be.  At approximately 16:10, the start handle was turned and 11 seconds later, the engine burst into life with minimal clag.

The engine was stopped after a few minutes and then restarted with the purpose of fault finding in mind.  A number of issues were noted and the engine shut down for the night.